I can’t take credit for the brilliant concept that is After School Nannies. That quite rightly goes to my friend Caroline Cooke who spotted a gap in the market in 2003 when she was herself looking for after school childcare. Caroline’s background is PR and Marketing and she poured all her knowledge and skill into establishing the business as the unique, market leader that it still is today.
My background is television drama where I spent over fifteen years working with writers as a Script Editor/Development Executive. My experience in that field taught me to look for the story – always find your narrative arc. More importantly, that arc needs to be “fuelled” by fully rounded, three-dimensional characters, with strong, engaging, credible and stimulating developmental arcs of their own. I have applied this simple but vital tenet to pretty much everything I’ve turned my hand to since.
And so it was when I acquired ASN in 2006. A mother of three by then (my youngest was two and a half), I looked down the lens of my own future as far as I could predict and realised that whilst needing to work I also “needed” (wanted) to be at home with my boys. Running my own business, as a working Mum, therefore “chimed” precisely with the USP that was and still is ASN. The opportunity to work (from home in my case) and enable other parents to work by supplying childcarers to plug the gap of those vital end of day hours when school is “out” but adult workplaces are very definitely still “in” felt viscerally like “the right thing to do”; for me as my own principal protagonist and for all of my clients – thousands now looking back down the years – who have peopled the ASN “stage”.
Someone once patiently explained to me in my very green script editor days that there is no drama without conflict. Well, conflict has certainly played a key role in driving the ASN business forward. In 2008 the world’s financial market was brought to its knees. Whilst many of my colleagues in other childcare agencies “dug in” to face the reality of a client market stripped of its ability to fund – or justify – full-time childcare, ASN was catapulted into the spotlight as women returned to the workplace in their droves. Gone were the heady days of temporary nannies required to accompany families on skiing holidays or long-haul trips to far flung exotic summer destinations. Now it seemed as though the whole world had had a massive wake-up call. The “personality” of our particular brand of childcare literally changed overnight and the service we were offering felt more like a cause than a service.
Working parents had always been the “bedrock” of our client base but now the workplace and those in it suddenly seemed to “grow up” as the world woke up to a tough new dawn of retribution and responsibility. The impact on family life was quietly monumental, never documented in the way that the shifting sands of our economy was, but in many ways it was just as affecting – I would argue more so. Not only did families face the immediate constraint of a global belt-tightening exercise but also the re-configuration of the day-to-day practicalities of juggling work and children. This wasn’t a new problem. For many it was and always had been endemic. What was new was that now we were all doing it. It was and continues to be at best a massive social leveller and at worst a silent crisis running through the heart of every layer of our society.
I’ve lost count of the heartfelt conversations I’ve had down the years with parents – mainly mothers – who chose to talk intimately and at times movingly about their struggle to reconcile having to work and not being there for their children at the end of the school day. As a Mum I am deeply empathetic towards every nuance of this common theme. My own “juggle” was to find a path that would allow my empathy whilst not letting it cloud my business sense. I think it’s fair to say that my personal desire to enable working parents to weather the storm was and remains the most powerful “driver” of the ASN brand. We’ve “got your back”; we know how it is and we want to do our best to help you work it out.
So what of the other key “players” on the ASN stage – our wonderful nannies? Well, the past decade has witnessed its fair share of character development within the workforce that drives our particular tale forward. In the mid-90’s the limelight belonged to Polish and other Eastern Europeans, augmented by the influx of the accession states, the newest members of the EU such as Latvia, Lithuania and most recently Romania and Bulgaria. Interestingly, many of the well established Polish community turned their backs on Britain shortly after the 2008 debacle and returned home. The gap that they left in the childcare market was soon to be filled by a steady tide of Spanish and Italians, hoping to escape the worst of their own economies’ downturn by taking advantage of the British market which was four-five years ahead of their own and noticeably more buoyant.
And what of the post-Referendum landscape? Well, the colour and vibrancy that was the “mixed bag” of the European childcare workforce has all but disappeared. I haven’t seen a Spanish CV in months and I’m told many young Europeans no longer feel welcome in London or the rest of the UK and are taking their warmth and zest and talent to places like Dublin instead… Ever adaptable, experience has taught us to bend with the winds of change and to use the challenge and conflict within any given moment of our external social progression to give opportunity to propel new characters into the limelight so that they may take their turn at populating our internal narrative and give it relevancy, three-dimensionality, colour and energy.
2018 saw Student Nannies flocking to our marketplace as the cost of tertiary education soared. And at the other end of working life, older women faced with an endlessly retreating retirement opportunity turned to part-time work in a comfort zone which they have long mastered and called their own – our After School “Grannies”.
2020 plunged the world into lockdown and childcare as we knew it ground to a halt overnight. Undaunted, we looked outward and pivoted three weeks into lockdown to bring our families a bit of light relief and support in the shape of our newest sister service – Virtual Nanny.
All good stories have to have a beginning, a middle and an end. So where is the narrative arc of ASN and its myriad characters taking us? The main “vehicle”, or force, driving the story forward remains the same as it was in 2003, albeit in a markedly different social landscape. Four months on from lockdown and we’re pivoting again. This time to re-launch as an online digital service, embracing the world’s newfound trust in online communication – arguably one of the pandemic’s most powerful and lasting legacies – and taking the next important step on our own journey.
The needs of children at the end of the school day – our “raison d’etre”, if you will – remain the same as they have been for longer than we’ve been in business. Our challenge in the latter quarter of our second decade is to bring our story to a wider audience. To enable more and more families to try our particular brand of after school provision – because it works. Time and time again, tried and tested.
Elizabeth Rackow, Founder & CEO