Flexible childcare for freelance parents

child's drawing


Freelances often have particular issues around childcare. They may not work regular hours and often face delays in being paid. Most childcare requires upfront fees and fixed hours and days. That means freelances face the dilemma of paying for childcare they don’t require, finding friends or family to help out on an ad hoc basis or struggling to work with children around.

Three mums in Bristol have come up with an alternative. They have set up a social enterprise offering mums, dads and carers deskspace, a community network and flexible childcare.

Caboodle came about after  Isabel Kearney and Ellie Freeman attended a Freelance Mum networking meeting around a year ago. The topic of childcare came up and a separate meeting was arranged about it. In the end only Isabel and Ellie were left talking about it. “We thought it is up to us and it was something we felt passionately about,” says Ellie.

Isabel’s work background is in international development. She resigned her job and went freelance after having her daughter when she was told she couldn’t go part time.

Ellie worked for 10 years in the civil service and has been working on short-term contracts ever since. Both had problems with childcare. In any event, they say the waiting list for nurseries in their area is long.

The two have teamed up with Ellie Bowie, a freelance graphic designer, who does Caboodle’s marketing. She had gone to Freelance Mum when she was pregnant. “I was pregnant and I thought they would know how to do the freelance mum thing, but no-one knew,” she says. When she met Ellie and Isabel she found out about their plans and thought that was exactly what she needed.

Isabel and Ellie had been investigating other co-working creche models such as Third Door and went on a Kickstarter training course. A lot of the groundwork for Caboodle was done with their children in tow.

They registered Caboodle in July. A big challenge was finding the right space for the social enterprise. They found a city farm which seemed ideal. Not only could they run a creche and have a co-working space there, but the farm had a cafe where parents could have lunch and they could go for a walk around the farm in the lunch break. The Caboodle team were keen to have a strong community aspect to the enterprise and for parents to be able to socialise in the lunch break. “Having a support network is vital, particularly if you don’t have family around you,” says Ellie Freeman.

Working and setting up a business

The mums admit it has been challenging setting up the enterprise while working [Ellie Bowie has been on maternity leave, but recently returned to work].

At the moment the enterprise, which is funded through crowdfunding and the mums’ own funds, only runs sessions on Mondays. Parents can book up until the Friday for a slot on the Monday.

They use a mobile creche company who are used to working with new children and they have joined a local support group for nurseries and daycare which has provided a lot of reassurance and advice. Due to Ofsted creche regulations they can only provide four hours of care. They do two hours in the morning then break for lunch followed by two hours in the afternoon, finishing in time for parents with older children to do the school run.

So far in the early pilot phase they have been used by around 15 parents and their children, with several rebooking.

The team are aware that there are a lot of self employed people in the South Bristol area where they are based and that demand for flexible childcare should be high. They plan either to go to five days a week and follow the pop-up model or find a permanent base. Ideally they would like to put on workshops on parenting issues and working so that they become a hub of support.

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