Louise Webster talks to Workingmums.co.uk about setting up her website Beyond the School Run.
Louise Webster set up her own communications business in anticipation of starting a family and working more flexibly. But when she actually had her first child she realised that, although she was working flexibly, she was also working all the time. “It was not the type of flexibility I had in mind,” she says. She took some time out, had another child and last year started a website, Beyond the School Run, which aims to open up choices for parents, to inspire and engage them and to signpost them to organisations which can help.
The website will relaunch this month with more content and greater collaboration with other organisations, including those offering voluntary and paid opportunities.
Louise, whose children are now aged seven and three, used to work in pr and communications for Fox Kids and left after around six years when it was bought by Disney to set up Rare Communications, an agency that specialised in kids and parenting. Louise, who had just got married at the time, says she was looking to start a family and wanted a working life that would fit with having children.
Rare Communications was successful – it launched Moshi Monsters, for instance – but when Louise had her first child she realised she was thinking about work all the time. She says: “I was still programme to ‘do it all’ and I was guided by that rather than my own instinct.” She had a very short maternity leave and says it may have looked to observers like it was all quite exciting, but in reality she was exhausted. “I was on a high from having Finlay, but I needed time to let everything repair and to find my own pace. I didn’t understand the impact on my body and didn’t have time to process my emotions,” she says.
She decided to sell the business and take some time out. “I found it very liberating. I had not realised how institutionalised we are by work,” she says. The family moved out of London to Buckinghamshire and two years later she had her daughter. Six months later she was ready to re-engage her work brain, even if only for an hour a day.
It was while trying to re-engage with the world of work that the idea for Beyond the School Gate came to her. “I could not commute to London and work the way I used to. I decided to freelance, but went for a junior which I could have done easily. It took a lot of organising childcare to get there for the interview. I knew the company well, but they gave the job to someone else as they said I was too experienced. I found that very frustrating. Why get me to go to all that trouble. I thought they should have understood better,” says Louise.
She set up Beyond the School Run to open up new possibilities for parents, providing a site for them to talk about life beyond the school run and an umbrella organisation for the possibilities that might be open to them.
She connected with two other women – a lawyer who she met at the school gates and another mum who had run a website before. Louise used the money she had got from selling Rare Communications. Early on she emailed David Cameron about the site. “I was outside John Lewis. My daughter was sleeping and I emailed him a letter,” she says. The next thing she knew she was invited to Downing Street to talk about how to keep stay at home mums engaged with the workplace and the wider world. She has since visited again to talk about women and social enterprise. “I think there is a big focus after becoming a parent on doing work that helps to improve our lives,” she says.
Louise built up the website gradually, mainly through regular newsletters she sent out to build a community. She is in favour of collaborative working with other like-minded organisations. “If we work together we will get to where we want to be more quickly,” she says, pointing to issues such as gender diversity and using women’s talent as key ones for the site.
She says the first one and a half years of the site has been focused on helping parents to start their journey beyond the school gates. The second phase will take them further along the way through new content and greater collaboration with other organisations.
Louise still mainly runs the website on her own and initially worked from home because it was easier when her daughter was smaller. Now she prefers to work remotely but from different locations like a hub or from hotels. “It provides a different vibe from home with lots of different people about and I get to reserve home for family,” she says.