Celebrating the first year of the Hampshire Early Years Network

Known simply as HEN, the Hampshire Early Years Network is about to celebrate the first year of operation. I am pleased to have been part of it.

Made up of a great bunch of committed, dedicated and enthusiastic EY business owners and managers has meant the first year has gone very well with lots of positive feedback.

How does it work, what is included and what are the additional benefits?

Yes, it has the name ‘network’ but everyone’s perception of what a network may be is different, and that’s probably because we all have different experiences; some good and some bad.

‘The Balance’, an organisation providing information for small businesses sums up the basis of good networking; they say that ‘the most important skill for effective business networking is listening; focusing on how you can help the person you are listening to rather than on how he or she can help you is the first step to establishing a mutually beneficial relationship’.

One member stated, when asked about the benefits of being a HEN member, ‘A fantastic sounding board of like-minded nursery owners’ another stated ‘Good advice from people who understand the challenges’.

During the year, we have had debates and many professional speakers on the following;

  • 30 hours
  • Meeting the skills gap in the sector
  • Addressing staffing needs
  • Speech and Language Therapist input – communication and building a child’s profile
  • The Ofsted inspection experience – from a trained EY inspector
  • Pay scale survey and discussions regarding pay
  • Auto enrolment
  • Safeguarding/Prevent Duty
  • Staff contracts and sickness
  • Getting the best from your staff
  • Behaviour management strategies
  • Structuring of effective supervision meetings
  • Early Years Pupil Premium
  • SEN and funding
  • HCC resource on implementing 30 hours
  • Input on Early Years Initial Teacher Training
  • Forest School Leader input

How am I involved?

The network came about when in March 2016 I first launched my own business as an independent EY consultant offering a range of services known as ‘Early Years Advocacy’.

I had 29 years of experience of working in the sector, initially as a volunteer, then running my own day nurseries and more recently working as an EY advisor with Hampshire County Council.

I did not want to waste the knowledge and skills that I had acquired. I wanted to use them purposefully to help others.

I had been involved in establishing an EY network both in Southampton and Hampshire in the 90’s and had been given every indication that many business owners (and managers) now wanted to come together.

Yes, they had support meetings provided by the Local Authority but they wanted a time to talk openly about the wider issues and to have their own agenda.

They wanted to share problems and ideas and discuss ‘hot’ topics, not least the government’s forthcoming launch of 30 hours’ childcare and the impact of this on their nursery and pre-school businesses.

I called an exploratory meeting and made my intentions clear at the start; I did not want to be wasting their time (or mine!).

A network of this kind needed to be ‘fit for purpose’, meet the needs of the majority, be focused, and give members time away from their settings which was spent in a useful and relevant way. It needed to be time well spent.

My main agenda was to be supportive and to be using my skills and knowledge of the EY sector. I knew it could be an effective network if I listened attentively to what these EY professionals wanted.

Co-ordinating and facilitating such events was something I had done many times before and I had a range of EY contacts working in related fields that I could call upon to provide ‘added value’.

I had also started to make new contacts with business experts as part of what I wanted for my own EY advisory business development, so I felt sure this would be of mutual benefit to a new group of EY professionals coming together with their own thoughts and ideas on what they needed.

I listened and I focused on the attendees needs. I put forward a proposal which many liked. HEN was launched.

I now get to meet up with a group of pro-active professionals that own and/or manage nurseries and pre-schools. They have a huge range of experiences which they are happy to share and they like to air problems and seek solutions together. I am there to support this process, to chair the meetings and ensure everything runs as smoothly as possible.

How does it work?

The network has a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MoU) – all ideas were put forward by the group at the exploratory meeting.

The members retain ownership but I do the work behind the scenes to make it happen and to make it relevant and useful, limiting the organisational responsibilities for the busy EY business owners and managers.

They have no minutes to take, no liaising regarding dates and times of meetings or considerations to make to meet the needs of all; that sits with me as the coordinator and facilitator.

The members tell me what they want from the meetings and put forward topics and other professional input they would like and I arrange it.

I have called on the support of Aaron Britton NatWest Bank, Business Growth Enabler and Helen Stratton of ‘Get set for Growth’  – both have come along to a network meeting and provided valuable and interesting business support which many members have continued to use beyond the network meetings.

Over the last year, members could opt for three different annual memberships providing a range of services. This year however, I have pulled together a comprehensive offer, for a single fee which works out at less than £6 per week.

Additional benefits

The additional benefits are vast, please see Networks for further information or you can read more detail under my success stories on the page relating to Meeting the needs of EY business owners and managers in Hampshire. This includes more comments from the members.

I am more than happy to replicate something similar in your local area if you know of other interested people. Alternatively, there are a few vacancies in the existing network so please make contact if you would like to join or come along to the next meeting as a guest to see if it is right for you.

Email: debra.mcandrew@earlyyearsadvocacy.co.uk
Tel: 07470 235 250