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This is a guest blog by Ann Nkune who received funding for parent-cubator from RSA Catalyst.

Ann NkuneBloomsbury Babies started small: a blog for new mums and dads to discover local activities and connect with one another, at a time when their worlds were being transformed by the experience of parenthood. Four years on and - thanks to the support of RSA, RBS and UnLtd - Bloomsbury Babies is transforming too: building networks of local parents who are helping one another to grow their own businesses and social enterprise ideas. 

We're building networks of local parents who are helping one another to grow their own businesses and social enterprise ideas.

The momentum caused by the initial support I received from UnLtd and RSA’s Catalyst fund has allowed me to gain further funding (£10k from RBS) and interest from Camden Council.

We’re now looking for mentors, expert speakers and angel investors, as well as parents who wish to attend the course. If you’d like to find out more, please get in touch.

Upcoming events

• Free parent-cubator taster events: 24 September and 8 October 1.30-3pm. Register here for 24 September and here for 8 October.

• Free parent-cubator course, 5 November 2013 – 15 April 2014 (12 sessions). Click here for more details.

Both events will be held at Calthorpe Project, Grays Inn Road, WC1X 8LH

The journey so far…

I took over Bloomsbury Babies a year ago from its founder, Sabine, who had the inspiration and energy to create the site when her little boy was just a few months old. She was a Bloomsbury resident by accident after her baby was born prematurely whilst she was visiting in-laws with her partner. She fell in love with the neighbourhood and all it had to offer new mums. She started by creating an easy to read weekly timetable of free drop-ins a “pram push away” from our local park, Corams Fields. This remains our most popular page: scrunched up, highlighted copies of it lurk in the bottom of many a nappy bag! She made a household name of Bloomsbury Babies locally, with some great marketing, an invaluable site and face-to-face activities, including a breast feeding support group.

marketWhen she returned to Germany, Sabine offered me the opportunity to pick up the baton. At first it was a hobby – posting activities my 3 year old & I were going to, and hoping to enthuse others to get involved. But very soon, I realized that it had a huge potential to grow, based on its loyal following from every section of the truly diverse local parent community. I wanted it to be a platform for parents to develop new groups, perhaps based on their cultural heritage or passion for a musical or sporting activity. I also wanted to try to solve some of our over-crowding problems by swapping or selling on the baby & toddler equipment that was jamming up our small flats. The Calthorpe Project offered me space and I began to run small scale markets. (Look out on our website for more details about forthcoming nearly new and handmade markets.)

In the midst of all this, tragedy struck when a friend of mine, a young mum of two little children, killed herself. She was a bright, positive woman, always full of ideas and utterly devoted to her children. It was devastating news which few of us could believe or accept. I soon learnt more about her circumstances: things that she hadn’t felt able to tell the circle of mums she was close to. It made me determined to find ways for the many women who are dealing with difficult family circumstances to feel safe to talk about it with one another, and reach out for help. I also wanted Bloomsbury Babies to be able to honour Michelle’s phenomenal entrepreneurial and creative spirit.

RSA and social enterprisethe parent-cubator course in action

I went along to a great RSA Fellowship social enterprise event & pitched the idea of a ‘mummy blog with attitude’. I received a warm response and practical offers of support from other Fellows. I also approached UnLtd, the organization for new social entrepreneurs. Their award manager Guri Hummelsmund invited me in and grilled me – she liked my community project but wanted something more sustainable and more ambitious. I realised that I’d heard inspirational ideas from nearly every parent I spoke to: an innovation to improve the lives of parents, a great new product or a desire to make a change in their own career. So, with Guri’s help I developed the ‘parent-cubator’: a space where parents can grow their own business ideas, while their babies & children play in the crèche alongside them. I started the first 12 session course in June 2013, with an amazing group of parents whose ideas range from a breast-feeding app to life coaching notebooks, from new baby slings to comedy shows for new parents. During our fortnightly meetings members share their significant pool of skills and experience with each other and expert speakers help us plug any gaps in the groups’ collective knowledge. Halfway through the course they have already made great progress with their projects and built strong personal and professional relationships with each other.

We’re now looking for mentors, expert speakers and angel investors, as well as parents who wish to attend the course.

Mentoring

I wanted to provide support past the end of the course, and to bring the idea of the parent-cubator to a wider audience. So, I worked with some of the RSA Fellows I’d met at the network events to develop a Catalyst Bid for a mentoring programme for my current course participants and taster events aimed at any parent and featuring some inspirational women entrepreneurs as guest speakers. I was delighted that the bid was successful.

Spurred on by the success of the Catalyst funding bid, I decided to apply to other funders: I have recently won a £10k RBS ‘Inspiring Women in Enterprise’ award to run two new parent-cubator courses over the next year, launching 24 new women-led businesses. The first 12 session course starts on 5 November 2013.

Co-working

London Borough of Camden has invited me to develop a business case for a co-working space, where parents can use a work ‘hub’ alongside a crèche. If successful this will be launched in January 2014.

Complete our quick survey about the proposed co-working space, and be in with a chance to win a £20 John Lewis voucher.

Sustainability

Once the project has demonstrated positive outcomes in terms of employability, reducing isolation and improving self-confidence, it will be able to attract sustainable funding through participant fees, private & public sector investment. It could also be replicated in other neighbourhoods, perhaps using a social franchising model.

To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit www.thersa.org/catalyst

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