My little girl was just three when a very good friend – a talented, young mother – took her own life. At that time I was, like so many women with children, torn between returning to my previous career or working for myself.
The tragic event forced me to face up to some stark truths about parenthood and the pressures we’re under – often without even having acknowledged them. The mum I’d met in the park had been devoted to her two small children and had plenty of friends. She was also full of entrepreneurial spark but facing challenges none of us could imagine. Our friendship network had not been enough to stop her doing the unthinkable when the pressures of juggling the demands of parenthood got too much to bear.
All this was the impetus I needed to take the risk and go it alone. I accepted an offer to take over my friend’s ‘mummy blog’, which sealed my fate as an aspiring social entrepreneur. The blog had been initiated as a forum to provide a support network for parents dealing with the tricky balancing act of work, children and, at times, imploding relationships at home.
We hoped to grow a place which offered more than just small talk in the park and where we could work together on our new identities as parents. It soon became clear that many of the parents I was surrounded by were frustrated entrepreneurs too, nurturing creative business ideas, but not sure whether or how to pursue them. They often lacked the time, focus, confidence and business skills to take the next step.
The cripplingly expensive childcare on offer at regular nurseries so often prevent women from taking the necessary risks to embark on new business ventures.
Together we dreamt of an alternative solution - an office space we could visit which had flexible childcare on site. This was how my new venture Bloomsbury Beginnings was born!
We provide baby-friendly offices where parents can come and work during the day, knowing their children are cared for by capable staff in another room close by. We also offer courses providing expert advice in all sorts of areas for business startups and encourage the swapping of expertise and skills so that everyone’s business benefits from the experience of others.
Networking opportunities are vital too – both to provide support and feedback on a business idea but also creating a community outside of the home.
We need to collaborate to break free from the pressures of guilt, reduced confidence and the lack of focus, time and money that often come with being a mum.
We also actively encourage dads to come along.
I’m delighted to say that we’ve already helped at least 30 new businesses get off the ground and supported over 150 parents to work flexibly.
After more than 3 years of running Bloomsbury Beginnings, I still have plenty of doubts: should I have given up my previous career (and it’s salary and status)? Am I being a good enough parent? Will I achieve the ambitious goals I have as a social entrepreneur?
But I also wake up every morning excited about what I am going to learn and achieve both as a mum and a social entrepreneur that day, and happy that I made the choice to work flexibly to balance my professional life with my family life.
Ann Nkune is the founder of Bloomsbury Beginnings, a flexible co-working space for parent entrepreneurs. Help more mothers to start businesses and support their crowdfunding campaign that ends 18.8.2016.