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In Hackney, north east London, professionals at Grasshoppers in The Park work alongside parents to create childcare that is cheaper than a private nursery.
The parent-led co-operative approach is commonly used in countries such as Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Italy and combines the skill of professional workers with lived experience of families.
Luciana Talpo has been the nursery manager of Grasshoppers in the Park since September 2011. She said: “We have a combination of decent pay and conditions for staff, with control and affordability for parents who contribute time and skills to the management of the nursery.
“All parents are expected to contribute to the running of the nursery. Some take the laundry home and some help with the gardening on the weekends, whilst others are more present and help out with the general maintenance on-site.
“Although contributions vary according to their working commitments, all of our parents have a valuable role within the nursery.”
Grasshoppers in The Park was set up 15 years ago with the aim of offering families from all backgrounds high-quality, affordable childcare.
The children’s needs are met through the nursery’s partnership with parents and carers, who are considered a major factor in children’s learning, confidence-building and self-esteem.
The parents agree to be placed on the nursery's weekly rota to voluntarily work alongside the qualified staff.
In this way, the skill of the professional workers is combined with the lived experience of the families, while the children are cared for by a diverse range of people who contribute their rich variety of skills to the management of the nursery.
The parents are also able to increase their knowledge of early years through formal training and shared experiences with other parents and staff.
“The involvement of parents supports the children’s learning and development,” said Ms Talpo. “This is because the children are exposed to diverse people and ideas, particularly as parents bring their own skills into the nursery, for example music and art.”
She added: “At Grasshoppers, we have a variety of opportunities available for parents including: website, marketing, fundraising, finance and maintenance roles, and while some have represented a challenge to some of the parents, most have gained new, transferable skills in the process.”
British parents now pay an average of £116 per week for a part-time nursery place - or over £6,000 every year, according to new research by the Family and Childcare Trust. But for parents who work one day a week at Grasshoppers in The Park (between the hours of 9.30-3.30pm) £120 is deducted from their monthly fees.
Lucie Stephens, head of co-production at New Economics Foundation, previously said: “Parents are telling us time again that they want to take more control and be more engaged in their children’s early years. We know this approach works and is possible because there are similar models in the UK already operating.”
As a parent-led nursery, Grasshoppers offers parents a unique opportunity to be directly involved in the running of the nursery. This includes everything from the gardening and DIY, laundry and sewing, to social events, fundraising and accounting.
Aside from her part-time photography work, one parent helps to develop and maintain the nursery’s website.
She said: “I decided to work in the nursery to be part of my child’s development and to see what he does. I enjoy being with the children, reading to them and a having a relaxed chat.
“All parents have the opportunity to work at the nursery as part payment of fees. Through our involvement, we gain valuable skills, help to provide positive learning experiences for the children and feel a greater sense of community.
“I think more nurseries should encourage co-operative childcare because it represents a great way to be involved in your child’s life whilst making childcare more affordable.”
Ellen Broomé, deputy chief executive at the Family and Childcare Trust, believes it is a “disgrace” that parents are so often “shut out of the workplace by crippling childcare costs.” She said: “Recent Governments have rightfully invested in childcare, but too many parents are still struggling to find and pay for the care that they and their children need.
“Childcare is as vital as the rails and roads for helping our country to run: it boosts children’s outcomes throughout life and helps parents work.
“The Government must closely monitor the roll-out of the 30-hour offer and tax free childcare to make sure that all children can access high-quality childcare and all parents can make real choices about how they work and care for their children.”
Grasshoppers in The Park provides childcare for children aged between two- and five-years-old.