The brief:

Having set up my new EY advisory service in the Spring 2016, I initially emailed all my contacts to let them know and made suggestions on what I could offer by way of support. This was focussed on my most recent work as a Hampshire County Council EY advisory officer and also on my role prior to this as an EY business owner. I advised of the possibility of establishing a new EY network to support managers and business owners; I had experience having helped to develop the Southampton and Waterside Area Nursery Network (SWANN) and the Hampshire Day Nursery Network (HDNN) many years previous. I thought this would be a good idea in light of the reduced support available from the council with budgetary cuts, less free training and limited support to settings that held a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ Ofsted.

The offer:meeting-1

To establish an effective and viable EY Network to meet the needs of business owners and managers;

I had a couple of email responses expressing an interest in an EY network and coincidentally at the same time a phone call from another EY business owner.

She had been in contact with business owners on the ‘hot topic’ of the recent legislation around the National Living Wage.

What had come out of many of her discussions was the need for a forum, meeting locally in Hampshire to raise and discuss issues that particularly affected business owners and managers.

Knowing that this would be useful for herself and others, but being busy running her own business and not having the time, she contacted me to ask if I might be able to co-ordinate and facilitate a network.

One with a difference was needed. Not one that replicated those already in existence. It needed to provide opportunities to explore issues beyond EY and childcare and to cover problems, seek solutions, share ideas and expertise which business owners and managers were facing.

I set a date to have an exploratory meeting and informed providers that I thought might be interested.

There were initially 24 expressions of interest and 19 people attended the first meeting to discuss the possibility.

The Solution: meeting-2

I felt positive that I could offer something that was missing for business owners and managers.

I had first-hand experience of the issues that they had to deal with and was also well aware of the impact of the council’s cuts.

Of course there was still a core service and a range of training options that could be purchased from the council but for quality settings the support going forward was no longer tailor-made.

At the first exploratory meeting I told attendees what I could offer. Nothing was obligatory. It had to be an offer ‘fit for purpose’ where the aims and objectives of such a network could be set by the membership.

I presented a number of proposals that I asked attendees to consider. I advised that I could;

  • Schedule, co-ordinate and facilitate meetings, arrange venues, gather agenda items from members and distribute prior to meetings;
  • Seek ‘hot topics’ from members in advance of network meetings for inclusion and gather resources in preparation for discussions;
  • Provide members with a confidential ‘critical friend’ or ‘sounding board’ (1:1 telephone support);
  • Build up a database of other support services – health professionals, premises providers, financial advisors, accountancy needs, early years’ resources etc. with aim of securing a reduction in costs to the membership;
  • Offer 1:1 personal performance coaching for members or their staff;
  • Secure training tasters from other EY professionals as well as through my business;
  • Devise a system for securing shared training supplied externally i.e. through SfYC, British Red Cross and other national or local training providers – cutting overall costs to members if required;
  • Signpost members to updates provided by national organisations;
  • Gather information for members on funding/financing specific projects, research outcomes, changing legislation, policy and practise, campaigns etc;
  • Arrange an ‘Ofsted inspection experience’ from an independent adviser who had been fully trained as an Early Years Inspector under the Common Inspection Framework;
  • Secure experts/professionals in other associated fields to speak at network meetings on any particular topic required.

There was then a discussion where individuals put forward further ideas on what they wanted from the membership.

The main points raised were that attendees wanted to come together with like-minded and committed individuals. They wanted organised and focussed meetings where key topics put forward by a majority could be discussed and also to be able to share problems and experiences in a trusting and confidential way.

It was agreed that the membership should be for an individual person rather than a setting. This would ensure consistency and enable members to build rapport and trust over time.

They wanted membership to be limited to a maximum of 25 to enable debate and discussion; confidentiality was a key factor. They also agreed that there should be six meetings scheduled in advance over the coming year.

The outcome: meeting-3

Attendees were enthusiastic about the ideas put forward and asked me to present a fee structure for a year’s membership offering different options regarding services included.

I drew up the agreed ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ and presented three different membership options.

From the initial meeting 15 business owners/managers joined and then referred other business contacts and colleagues.

The membership has grown through word of mouth and is nearly at full capacity.

‘The main benefit has been the general discussions with other members and I have personally been able to gain answers to one or two pressing questions which has been hugely helpful’ (Suzanne Bourne – Busikids)

Additional benefits:

  • Helpful for developing business opportunities.
  • Members do not have to take time out of their busy daily/weekly schedules to organise the meetings which takes time and energy; often limited when working in the EY sector!
  • A forum to come together with a focus on members issues not just government and LA agendas.
  • Provides a way to reach decision-makers which might otherwise be very difficult to engage with using conventional methods.
  • Potential for a stronger voice in Hampshire as a united body as opposed to a stand-alone organisation.
  • The needs of business owners and managers changes over time so having an ‘active network’ that can easily be maintained keeps everyone informed and current in their practice.
  • There is now a workable model for a membership led EY network and I can apply similar principles elsewhere.

If you are interested in having a similar group in your very local area please make contact.

What Members Say

“Good to be facilitated by Debra as she is neutral to us all”.
Jane Dyke, (Yellow Dot Nursery), October, 2015
“It feels less lonely”.
Anna Wright, (Paint Pots DN), November, 2016
“It’s so important to create friendships within the industry & to be able to share information & resolve problems”.
Suzanne Bourne, (Busikids DN), November 2016
“In a sector with lots of changes it is very easy to miss something – having updates etc pointed out to you is great”.
Anna Wright, (Paint Pots DN), November, 2016
“Great opportunity to share challenges with like-minded people”.
Jane Dyke, (Yellow Dot Nursery), October 2016
“Sharing good practice and experiences is invaluable”.
Anna Wright, (Paint Pots DN), November 2016
“The social media presentation was extremely informative although somewhat daunting!”.
Suzanne Bourne, (Busikids DN) November, 2016
“Really good to be part of an Owner/Manager forum where one can discuss wider issues and have direct access to others who may have experienced similar issues that we can phone for a chat”.
Jane Dyke, (Yellow Dot), November 2016