Founder Ann Nkune reveals how the parent workspace and on-site crèche first came to be
My little girl was just three when a very good friend – a talented, young mother – took her own life. Michelle’s tragic death forced me to face up to some stark truths about parenthood and the pressures we’re under – often without even having acknowledged them. Michelle was devoted to her two small children and had plenty of friends. We often met in Corams Fields or other drop ins and chatted while our little ones played. She was also full of entrepreneurial spark, a brilliant cook and party organiser. But she was facing challenges I couldn’t imagine. Our friendship network had not been enough to stop her doing the unthinkable when those challenges just got too much to bear.
I was going through some profound changes too – adjusting to parenthood, the change in my adult relationships and the dilemma of whether to try to get back to my fulfilling but stressful career in criminal justice. I had recently accepted an offer from a friend to take over the ‘Bloomsbury Babies’ blog, a support network for local parents. Michelle’s suicide sealed my decision to go it alone as a social entrepreneur and grow something which offered fellow mums more than just small talk in the park as we all tried to shape our new identities as parents.
It soon became clear that many of the parents I was surrounded by were frustrated entrepreneurs too, nurturing creative business ideas, but not sure whether or how to pursue them. They often lacked the time, focus, confidence and business skills to take the next step.
In 2013 our first group of entrepreneurial women (and one man) worked together to grow business ideas and support each other with the joys and stresses of parenthood, with the extra support of a creche provided by the Calthorpe Project for those who needed it. Together we seeded the idea of a collaborative learning and workspace where we could be close to our babies, but have the head space to think about ourselves – an alternative to the cripplingly expensive childcare on offer at regular nurseries, which so often prevent women from taking the necessary risks to embark on new business ventures.
This was how my new venture Bloomsbury Beginnings was born. We provide a baby-friendly co-working cafe at the Calthorpe Project in central London where parents can come and work, knowing their children are cared for by capable staff in another room close by. We also offer courses providing expert advice in all sorts of areas for business startups and encourage the swapping of expertise and skills so that everyone’s business benefits from the experience of others. Networking opportunities are vital too – both to provide support and feedback on a business idea but also creating a community outside of the home.
At the heart of both services is the idea that we need to collaborate to break free from the pressures of guilt, reduced confidence and the lack of focus, time and money that often come with being a mum. We also actively encourage dads to come along.
I’m delighted to say that we’ve already helped at least 30 new businesses get off the ground, relaunched many a career and supported over 300 parents to get some guilt free time for themselves. We have ambitions to reach many, many more women and to help prevent the heartache that claimed Michelle’s life from effecting other mothers. We’d love to hear from you if you want to collaborate with us in our venture!