By Susan McGhee, chief executive of Flexible Childcare Services Scotland

Three and a half years ago, after 30 years working in commercial childcare services, and fuelled by a growing disillusion with the impact of my role at the time, I made a career move to join the fabulous third sector. I’ve never looked back and work has never been as satisfying, as challenging, or most importantly, as meaningful as it is now.

One year after making the move I described the change using the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”. I’m still finding myself, testing the boundaries and working with my colleagues at Flexible Childcare services Scotland to disrupt outdated policy and practice, challenge the norm and drive forward change. 

Perhaps I could have worked to those targets in the commercial sector but for me they sit perfectly at the heart of our SCIO (Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation) and the 40,000 plus other organisations that make up Scotland’s third sector.

Flexible Childcare Services Scotland, or FCSS as we are more commonly known, is a relatively young organisation, registered with OSCR in May 2019 and trading since January 2020.   

We currently have 22 registered services around Scotland with four more opening in the coming few months. We find and fill gaps in provision, and offer flexible book by the hour childcare, removing barriers of affordability and accessibility and empowering parents to return to employment, education, or training. We provide services for children with additional support needs, who often miss out on the benefits of attending group services as their needs cannot be accommodated. And we create wrap around community hubs reducing the number of doors families need to knock on to get the support they need. 

Put simply, one of the simplest ways of reducing child poverty is to increase parent’s earning power by ensuring they have the support they need to allow them to work, earn and learn. That’s the support we provide, and we aim to influence other childcare services to do this too through introduction of an element of flexibility in their delivery models.

Vision

Our vision is a whole new model of childcare and wrap around family services where no child, family or community misses out.  A model that truly underpins Scotland’s economy and helps achieve the Scottish Government’s admirable goal of making our country the “best place to grow up”.

We are disrupting outdated delivery models and have created free to access childcare management software and a national sessional practitioner team, supporting other providers to move to a more flexible delivery model. We already have over 100 providers accessing these products.

We work closely with the Scottish Government’s Social Justice team and their Early Learning and School Age Childcare team and more recently the CivTech programme team too.

We are one of the partner organisations in the Social Innovation Partnership (a collaboration between the Scottish Government and the Hunter Foundation), are supported by the Catalyst for Impact philanthropy fund and are currently taking part in the Scottish Government CivTech Accelerator Programme having successfully pitched for a place in a competitive application process.  

Why?

Simon Sinek, a British-American author and motivational speaker, says we should always “start with why”. He believes that communicating why taps into the part of the listener’s brain that influences their behaviour.

At FCSS our why is the children, families and communities we can help, the parent wanting to return to work but unable to find care that is flexible enough to meet his/her variable hours contract; the key worker whose role involves shift work and who would have to give up work if they couldn’t access flexible childcare; the community that needs a central, place based, service to support its families; the family whose child has additional support needs and has very limited access to support, respite or activities. Our model makes it possible for parents to improve outcomes for themselves and their children, helping them move away from a life in or on the edges of poverty. It supports community regeneration, creating and supporting employment, facilitating wrap around activities and advice, and fostering a sense of belonging.

Learning as we go

To deliver on our why, we are bold in our thinking and brave in our actions, which of course sometimes means we make mistakes. But that’s okay, we learn, adapt, and try again. We share the learning, we’re open and transparent, happy to share our ideas and welcome feedback. All traits that I see replicated over and over in our fellow third sector organisations. Collectively Scotland’s third sector supports the local and national economy, provides grassroots community services, tackles significant societal problems, provides input on local and national policy design, and has played a part in significant change programmes nationally.

That’s a huge contribution to society and it’s something I am incredibly proud to be involved with.

Part of a bigger picture

FCSS has grown rapidly since its launch two years ago, but despite that we remain a small cog in a much bigger machine. We play an important part in a connected and engaged third sector community, wherever possible choosing to work with partner organisations who share our values, drive and commitment to deliver against the triple bottom line of social, economic, and environmental impact.

We work with funders who support creation of effective partnerships, building a portfolio of funded organisations who, although often working in different fields, can identify clear synergies in their strategic plans and can see opportunities for working together to deliver outcomes greater than the sum of their parts.

Contributing to a circular economy

In the same way we manage our partnerships to deliver more, we also expect more from our own services, our buildings, and our people, as we strive to contribute to a healthy, circular economy. A perfect example of this is our Community Asset Transfer project in Dundee, where we plan for maximum use, impact, and opportunity from a single site.

Last year we were successful in securing the asset transfer of a beautiful former farmhouse property in Fintry, Dundee. We have committed to making this building a flexible childcare service and community hub, we’ll maximise use of space providing room for wrap around activities and services. These will include:

  • a community shed to foster re-use, repair, and recycling. We’ll also have a tool library as part of this service.
  • a public living room based on the Camerados model. It will be a no agenda space where local people can just be themselves alongside others; a warm welcoming space to share the company of fellow human beings.
  • an outdoor play space for children and young people within the community to use outside the childcare service’s operating hours. Supported by Play Rangers so parents are confident in allowing their children time to play out.
  • space for support services, which will reduce the number of doors families need to knock on to get help with things like employability support, digital access, fuel efficiency, benefit maximisation, and financial wellbeing.

The space, its fixtures and fittings will support multiple uses within the community. The furnishings are a blend of purpose designed childcare resources and upcycled, vintage and reclaimed items, creating a welcoming, quirky, and fun environment. We follow this hygge-based model of fitting out all of our services reducing waste and supporting the local economy.

A valuable contributor

Leaders of third sector organisations, their teams and their trustees play a vital role in ensuring Scotland thrives as a nation. They have a solution based approach and think both commercially and charitably; they have to in order to survive in a challenging funding and trading environment. They face the same challenges that leaders of commercial organisations face but with the added task of meeting their charitable objectives, the deliverables required by their funders and their own, often aspirational, reason why.

Scotland’s third sector organisations deserve their seat at the table and I’m aiming to claim a spot for FCSS.