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June O'Sullivan, LEYF CEO

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The Social Enterprise Tea Party

This week I overheard a member of staff commenting on my blog.  She had just begun to read it and was surprised at just how much it told her about what I do; about my efforts to ensure what we do at LEYF influences the world of childcare and so helps to build a better future for children everywhere.

Later in the week we had a staff forum where they made a similar observation, so I thought I would use this week’s blog to sum up our plans for franchising our model; to give some idea of what it might be like if we could successfully scale up and replicate what we do here at LEYF elsewhere. It fits into a particularly busy week of submitting tenders for nurseries, training services and strategic alliances – another means of getting a place at the table. Not surprisingly, I feel like Alice trying to get an invite to the Mad Hatters Tea Party, so we can have a turn to say our piece.

Tea Party at LEYF's Ford Road Children Centre Nursery

On the subject of teaan occasion which should, in my humble opinion, be a compulsory 4 o’clock occurrence – it featured quite a few times this week, including a spontaneous invite to share tea at the House of Lords following my outburst at the APPG on Sure Start.

On this occasion, I was provoked by the number of people whinging and complaining about government changes rather than trying to find a solution. It’s all very well saying how everything was wonderful in the past – a fact both inaccurate and irritating, which then just limits any kind of solution-focused approach and so raises my blood pressure!  For my part, I presented the option of a social enterprise Children’s Centre in my usual, outspoken way.  This naturally resulted in a range of responses – including eyes rolling, amusement, attention, clapping and the aforementioned invitation. I avoided any caustic comments by using the time to network with the great and good.

So, given that many of our own staff are beginning to read the blog, below is what I believe a LEYF franchise may mean in ten years time:

  • Social enterprise nurseries are now considered the first and natural choice for all parents; they are recognised as having a critical role to play not only in providing the best childcare but also in supporting and connecting families in the local community;
  • The design of a specifically social enterprise curriculum ensures social capital for all children;
  • Social enterprise nurseries are founded on a principle of supporting and taking care of a child’s wider abilities, leading to a growing sense of social responsibility and a readiness to act; in so doing establishing a greater degree solidarity and tolerance;
  • A quality mark exists to help parents clearly identify a social enterprise nursery in a crowded market; the mark is also a form of quality assurance, making sure the values of social enterprise are embedded and implemented to the full;
  • Social enterprise childcare has become the leading example of best practice across the sector and so a symbol of quality for all children; no longer locked within such a limiting concept as so often bestowed on PVIs of being simply ‘good enough for the poor and disadvantaged’;
  • Social enterprise childcare is now a recognised sector in itself, a real influence on corporate direction, part of corporate management programmes and considered critical to corporate social responsibility;
  • The social enterprise childcare sector has become a leading driver for change in public services;
  • Clear means of measuring and assessing the associated benefits of a social enterprise approach to childcare have been established and are now widely recognised within ‘value-added’ qualities or transitions, such as improved well-being, employability and active citizenship;
  • A strong social enterprise childcare network now exists with the weight and purpose to shape and change both Early Years policy and community regeneration, along with development and contractual procurement on a local, regional, national and international scale;
  • Links between social enterprise childcare services and the reduction of child poverty are clear, with a direct and measurable contribution to reducing the 3.9 million children living in poverty, with all the attendant health costs as they become adults;
  • An intergenerational approach to everything is explicitly embedded in the social enterprise childcare model, recognising that sometimes the younger generation is best placed to deal with issues challenging their community such as drugs, disadvantage, poverty and race.

Does the above sound like a dream to you – or a nightmare?  Let me know what you think or how you see the future of social enterprise or childcare.  Simply rate or comment on this post below and share with colleagues via Twitter, Facebook or email using the usual, handy links!