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June O'Sullivan, LEYF CEO

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Ideas to make your head spin in Bethnal Green

I have had the most interesting week. Despite the weather and incompetent overground trains trying to keep me at home, the 209 bus and Piccadilly line ensured the commute from west London, although longer, was possible.  So hear hear for them.

Two activities spurred me on: a useful visit from a local politician with whom I could talk local community action, then two days at the School for Social Entrepreneurs exploring the intricacies of social franchise.

At LEYF we have been developing a means of franchising our social enterprise childcare model for the past year. Working with an academic partnership we have begun to codify the model and the processes. It’s no small challenge, since codifying a philosophy in a way that tells a clear story and has the right processes in place is much more complex than it first seems. The opportunities provided by the SSE to hear from commercial franchisors as well as the benefit of Geoff Mulgan from the Young Foundation proved sufficiently challenging to make my head spin.

In this climate, organisations can take two paths: one to keep small and lean, the other to grow, scale up or replicate the model.  Franchising is a good way to do the latter; and despite the doom and gloom, a well organised, canny social enterprise operator should be honing all their entrepreneurial skills to make the most of any opportunity. Indeed, we may never get these chances again.

For those of us in the world of childcare, now more than ever before, we have a real duty to do something.  Children from poorer backgrounds will be the losers in the current re-shifting of priorities, one of many clear points made in the recent Frank Field Report.

To this end, the franchise option seems to play out in three ways: the product, in our case community and Children Centre nurseries; the service we provide, and the way we do things.

At LEYF I hope to use this opportunity to hammer home what we have been saying for a long while, namely that intergenerational children’s centres are the way forward, nurseries need to be community based and socially enterprising approaches have a part to play in the nursery market place.

My week finished on an uplifting note: a cup of tea with a friend who is trying to stay positive in Tower Hamlets, followed by a fundraising carol concert for the wonderful charity Rainbow Trust, which supports children who have life threatening illnesses. The voices of the young choristers in Urban Voices rang out and uplifted us with their enthusiasm and optimism.  On a cold Friday night it was simply the icing on the cake.

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