Social enterprise’s childcare boosts prospects for Valleys’ families

It’s been suggested, in recent research, that improving the quality of early-years childcare provision can boost the life chances of children living in poverty. Thinking about it, wouldn’t that also enable parents to seek employment opportunities that were previously difficult to take on? Also, wouldn’t such services create jobs in their own right?

This is something that we are looking at during our current ‘Tackling Poverty Fortnight’ campaign, with a shining example being The Fern Partnership, a social business in Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Our campaign is highlighting how the Wales Co-operative Centre’s work reduces poverty and improves people’s life chances. We’ve supported The Fern Partnership through our delivery of the Social Business Wales project, which is funded by Welsh Government and the European Regional Development Fund.

We’ve received the following update from Nikki Beach, Fern Partnership’s Childcare & Community Development Manager:

The Fern Partnership, formerly known as The Friends of Ferndale, delivers quality childcare and community services, predominantly in the Upper Rhondda Fach, and has most recently expanded to offer childcare services in Cwmparc, based in the Rhondda Fawr.

The objectives of The Fern Partnership are:

1. To advance the education of the pupils by raising funds for items and activities over and above these which the LEA provides for;
2. In partnership with community organisations and businesses, assist in developing the lives and wellbeing of the community.

We believe that our objectives allow for flexibility, innovative ideas and potential to develop services and activities which the people of our community want and need, encouraging the community to develop an ‘anything is possible’ attitude.

The Wales Co-operative Centre has been invaluable in supporting us, through the Social Business Wales service, to strengthen our organisation and expand service delivery.  Prior to their involvement we were operating purely as a charity. Little did we know how liable each and every one of our trustees were, particularly with our organisation rapidly expanding.  Their level of support, guidance and networking opportunities has enabled us to meet like-minded organisations and work collaboratively with others, subsequently impacting a greater number of people.

The charity had lay stagnant since 2008, however in 2014 the decision was made to actively seek opportunities to open a crèche on site at Ferndale Community School.  This was the turning point for what was The Friends of Ferndale.

The last three years have been extremely exciting and highly rewarding.  We have;

  • Opened two ‘mixed economy’ childcare provisions, part funded by Welsh Government Flying Start, Little Ferns Maerdy and Little Ferns Cwmparc
  • Completed an asset transfer for Maerdy Library that closed due to Rhondda Cynon Taf Council budget cuts. It’s now known as a Community Hub that offers a range of services for all generations
  • Successfully delivered elements of the Communities First Programme in the Upper Rhondda Fach
  • Increased in staff numbers to currently employ 25 staff
  • Won two awards – RCT Business Club Award for Excellence in Social Enterprise and Coalfields Regeneration Award for Excellence in Social Enterprise
  • Finalists at the Social Business Wales Awards
  • Successfully obtained funding to implement our new project ‘Generations Together’ which aims to integrate generations to reduce isolation, reduce ageist attitudes, increase awareness of challenges faced by generations, increase respect and value as well as utilise knowledge and skills that generations have to offer. This project is in the planning stage and on schedule to begin delivery in February 2017.
  • Obtained a significant amount of funding to support our childcare and community delivery model. We are eternally grateful for the level of support from our funders, without which we would not have been able to deliver quality services for the community and develop as an organisation.

Why link quality, affordable and flexible childcare with community development?

We believe our success is due to our passion and drive but also due to the fact that we deliver what the communities want.  We are not prescriptive and structured in our approach and have a team of innovative childcare and community staff who work collaboratively to benefit the community and have a lasting impact on individuals and families’ lives.

Linking our childcare and community development activities provides quality development and learning opportunities for young children, setting the foundations for lifelong learning whilst enabling their parents/carers and family members to access training, activities and/or employment.

In line with community need, we expanded our hours of childcare in order to develop this model, breaking down childcare as a barrier even further.  It is essential that we are flexible and open to change.  Change can often be daunting for many individuals, groups and organisations, however we believe that change should be embraced as it creates individuals and organisations which are flexible, adaptable and strong!

In addition to this, we actively seek appropriate training opportunities for our staff for their own professional development and to enhance our service delivery.  We currently have two members of staff attending Family Links Parenting Programme Lead training, as it has been identified that parenting support can be inconsistent in the Rhondda simply due to staffing resources and funding.  We will not be duplicating services but adding value to the services which already exist, whilst working in collaboration with our partners.

Key to success is building positive and trusting relationships with partners and community members.  Communities will engage if they feel confident that their voices are heard and feel a sense of belonging and value.  All our staff, childcare and community, are paramount to building these relationships and encouraging community participation, providing additional support where appropriate.  Gaining substantial knowledge about other services available locally is essential as we acknowledge that our staff are not experts, however it is vital that they are in a position to signpost individuals and families to the appropriate services, again providing that additional support if required.

It has not been easy! We have experienced many barriers and challenges along our journey to date. However, our passion, drive and ability has enabled us to adapt and develop successful services within the community.  We are strong advocates for taking risks with long term goals, but we acknowledge the fact that with risk comes a great deal of uncertainty at times.  Our staff strive for excellence, quality and impact and focus on overcoming barriers, thinking outside of the box rather than dwelling on potential obstacles. 

Since the very beginning it has been a concern of ours that all our services are grant funding dependent.  Our business plan recognised this and we actively sought business opportunities that will generate an income to support our charitable aims.  Towards the end of 2016 we discovered the ideal opportunity and are in the process of ‘sealing the deal’.  This opportunity will not only expand and support our current delivery, providing affordable childcare but also provide our organisation as a whole with sustainability!

For more information on Social Business Wales, visit the website or call 03000 6 03000. Follow Tackling Poverty Fortnight on Twitter @WalesCoopCentre #PovertyInWales.

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