Charlotte G's experience - using the 50/50 rule
I established my business in 2015 and since then have built a team offering a huge amount of experience working with children, including children with learning difficulties and disabilities. We now have a dedicated team of four, all of whom have various backgrounds working in schools.
Adaptable business model
I have made my childminding business work by building an adaptable business model offering a variety of services to local families. Before lockdown, I had a busy setting looking after a total of 40 children. I also took advantage of the 50/50 rule which means that childminders can operate on non-domestic premises for 50 per cent of the time. I run a before and after school club in a local hall. It’s hard work, but it means that I have different income streams and can offer a flexible and much-needed service to local families.
There is also a benefit of offering care for children across two settings. Having two different environments - a home setting and the local village hall – brings different strengths and helps children settle into two different atmospheres. I’ve found this is particular useful to help children transition into larger, busier school environments when that time comes. What’s more, we like to take the children out to enjoy practical activities, and utilising them as learning experiences.
I’ve taken a realistic approach to running the after-school club and have had to balance paying my staff a decent wage with charging a fee that is acceptable to parents. It’s difficult to know what the demand will be as we deal with each term, but I am hoping that as children go back to school more and more, parents will be keen to use my service for wraparound care.
Adaptations for Covid-19
I was open through lockdown to just two key worker children so have made changes across my setting to ensure that we are offering a safe – but still warm and welcoming – environment to children. We have put in stricter hygiene routines, removed some of the soft furnishings, and ensured that toys and resources are cleaned thoroughly. This hasn’t meant a huge change for us as I would circulate our toys anyway – keeping some out and then putting some away. It keeps it interesting for the children, and also means that I can keep on top of the enhanced cleaning regime. It’s important for my setting to still feel like a home from home - we have lots of smiles and laughter in my setting!
As well as running my childminding business, I work in the evenings as a coach for a local gymnastics club. We’ve been delighted to be able to welcome children back to training sessions – even though practising social distancing when you are trying to help children master complex gymnastics skills is a real challenge. But seeing them grow in confidence and strength after such a long time away from training has been so rewarding.
Planning for the future
My concerns for the future is really around how we can continue to build sustainable businesses when there is such a low rate for the funded hours we offer. I offer funded hours, but I find the rate extremely low to cover the costs of offering care. I am particularly worried about those children from lower income families. I’ve focused my business on those families – I’ve tried to keep costs down so that families on lower incomes can access my services. I think it’s so important that they can rely on reliable, high quality childcare for their children as well as the wealthier families around here. But I’m fearful as I know so many in the sector are struggling to make their businesses work.
I also see the threat to the sector as parents don’t see us as early educators – they see us as a cost that they haven’t had to pay through lockdown. I’ve joined calls to change the name of childminder to early years educator – when we are so proud of our work as trained professionals, we need greater recognition for the work that we do.
I am not sure what the picture looks like for the coming months – we are certainly not full yet and a lot of parents still don’t know what is happening with their jobs and whether they will be returning to work. It’s a really worrying time.
But I’ve found having a flexible business model has provided me greater confidence as I look to the future. I am not just relying on one income stream, but have more opportunities to be able to sustain my business for the challenges ahead.
At the end of the day I really believe in the value of my work, and I am keeping as optimistic as I can to stay in the sector and help the children in my settings thrive – just seeing the impact I am having on those children every day gives me the energy to keep going.