A few months after I had my first child back in 2008, I knew one thing for certain; I wanted to return to work and further my career. However, like most new mums, I was reluctant to be far from my baby and wanted somewhere I could work in peace whilst my little one was cared for nearby. My husband was also studying for a self-funded MBA at the time and therefore his working hours weren’t what you might call ‘traditional’ hours either. Yet as hard as we looked, nowhere seemed to offer us a workable solution to our childcare conundrum. So, we decided to take matters into our own hands. As such, me and my husband, Yusuf, decided to set up Third Door, the UK’s first coworking space with an onsite flexible nursery.
Ten years ago, the idea for Third Door was, quite frankly, ground breaking and mostly unheard of. I mean people didn’t even know of the term ‘coworking’ back then. Likewise, the childcare industry was pretty inflexible as a childcare option, with for example, most nurseries requiring a certain number of days’ minimum commitment per week. We also considered a childminder but with our situation and location this didn't work for us either. We wanted to do something entirely different. Our aim was to develop a childcare solution that was 100% flexible with the aim of helping new parents going back to work, those who are part time, freelance parents, shift work parents, those who wanted to set up their own business and everyone in-between.
As Third Door has grown over the past 10 years, I have watched with interest as the concept has become more widely understood. And of course, I have been very interested to see how others have tried to replicate the concept (which I have welcomed). Demand for flexible childcare has grown as careers become less tied to traditional nine to five office hours, and remote or flexible working becomes more widespread. Parents love the fact that at Third Door they can simply subscribe to a bundle of childcare hours per month and use them as they need, depending on their work schedule or holiday plans. For example, parents can sign up for as little as 30 hours a month, or in contrast, can sign up full time. And most importantly, all parents can flex up or down depending on their needs, swap days or even buy adhoc days if on a fixed day package. Alongside this flexibility, we welcome all the usual funding options at Third Door, such as childcare vouchers, tax free childcare, 15 and 30 hours funded and a two-year-old offer for existing customers too. It’s been amazing to see our vision really take off and parents even travelling across London for our offering.
The advantage for parents using our coworking space is that they are just upstairs and a short walk away from their children, who are downstairs. This is certainly something that brings peace of mind to many of our members. Not to mention the fact that it can cut out the daily commute almost completely and remove the risk of penalty payments if a parent were to get caught in traffic or arrive at pick up late. With the average daily commute time in London being 56 minutes, the appeal in being able to drop your child off at nursery and simply walk upstairs to your office has been revolutionary for many of our members.
The other thing parents tell us is that they love the fact we offer a welcoming and collaborative space for people who may otherwise have chosen not to, or been unable to, return to work. Often mums are returning to the workplace after a year or longer on maternity leave and it’s really hard for them. After all, going from being with your little one all day every day, to going back to work full time, alongside dealing with imposter syndrome, battling the commute and trying to get into the swing of childcare in the space of a few days is a lot to deal with, both mentally and physically. I love the fact that our mums and dads are able to ease themselves back into the workplace gently, whilst still knowing that baby is nearby and safe. The benefits it brings to mothers pumping or breastfeeding is brilliant too, with many of our mums just popping downstairs to feed when they want to. Plus, our parents always know there is someone to talk to who is probably going through something similar (or has done in the past) just the other side of the desk – and that is definitely incredibly reassuring. This is direct contrast to the loneliness and alienation people can often feel when working from home, or even when working in an office full of people, who just don’t quite get what it’s like being a working parent.
Our vision has always been to create a community of likeminded individuals and join them all together as a force for good. And this is exactly what I want to continue to do with Third Door; that’s why we intend to open in more locations too. I’m committed to creating a movement to bring about a change in the culture of working families, where it is normal to work near your children and also focus on your own career. As such, I want to encourage many more to join our movement of creating places where family and work can grow together and hopefully in the process remove the parenthood penalty altogether.
And wouldn’t it be nice if the next generation of children could access spaces like Third Door as the norm, rather than the exception by the time they have their own children? Well I certainly hope so!
About the author
Shazia Mustafa is the Cofounder of Third Door, a family-friendly coworking space with an onsite flexible Ofsted registered Nursery. In her spare time, Shazia is passionate about equal parenting. She is a member of the Women’s Equality Party, and Movement Builder for their Equal Parenting and Caregiving policy. Most recently Shazia joined the newly formed board of Pregnant then Screwed and is looking forward to helping women across the UK who suffer from discrimination at work and working to remove the motherhood penalty. Most importantly, Shazia is mum to three children who have been the inspiration for Third Door. She is currently working on the next stage of Third Door’s growth, including opening in new locations.