Recent research indicates that it’s tougher than ever for women who want to return to work after taking time out to look after their children. A study last year by PwC, Women Returners and the 30% Club, showed that two thirds of female professionals end up in lower skilled roles when they return to work after career breaks, while many others are forced to work fewer hours than they want due to a lack of flexible earning. The Institute of Fiscal Studies found that the birth of a child cuts a woman’s chances of getting promotions and pay rises. So it’s not surprising that three years ago, the London Business School found that 70% of women fear taking a career break and those who do are reluctant to return to the work place at all.
Bea Waterfield, now a Director of Baby College Ltd, was facing this dilemma fifteen years ago. Bea had a successful career in science publishing and as a multimedia project manager and producer, but after the birth of her son John in 1998 and daughter Rowan in 2000 she decided to take time out to devote herself to motherhood. But when Rowan was two, and Bea needed to earn some money, she decided to use the opportunity to change career and find a job that was both rewarding and flexible.
‘I always liked the idea of working for myself and being entrepreneurial,’ says Bea. ‘But I was thirty-five years old and I lost confidence in myself overnight after becoming a mum. The low risk option of a proven franchise business was also more appealing than starting a business from scratch.’
When she saw an advert for Baby College franchisees in ‘Primary Times’, its focus on infant development instantly appealed. John had been born premature so Bea had been concerned that he meet developmental milestones. She applied for the post, along with friend Donna Twyford, who she’d met at toddler group and who was also looking for a new challenge.
The ‘Business in a Box’ proposition seemed like the ideal solution. For a small investment for kit and training, Bea and Donna were able to set up their business and were given all the support they needed to help them get it off the ground.
‘I thought that even if I just did it for five years, it would be useful experience,’ Bea remembers. ‘It seemed a great way of learning a range of new skills, from drawing up a business plan, to accounting and marketing, and it would also be good for building confidence and self esteem. Like a lot of mums, sleep deprivation caused short term memory loss and I wondered how I’d cope. During the first class I struggled to remember everyone’s names.’
But she soon got into the swing, and has stayed with Baby College for a lot longer than five years. Now, a decade and a half on, she and Donna are both running the whole Baby College business as joint Directors and they are keen to help other mums discover the same work life balance and career satisfaction.
Devised by an associate of the Institute of Neuro-Physiological Psychology and based on medical research, Baby College began in Reading in 2000, with the aim of helping parents by boosting their confidence in how to stimulate and play with their little one and understand the milestones of infant development. By placing equal emphasis on stimulating parents as well as their babies, and including the science behind the fun, Baby College therefore significantly differs from other classes aimed at this age group.
The Baby College business franchise also offers something a little different. Franchisees have the opportunity to run their own business, either part time or full time, which fits in with family commitments and is backed by a well known organisation. A Baby College franchisee running 10 venues at full capacity (420 customers) has the potential to turnover £100k per annum (more in or near London where class fees can be higher), with a potential profit of £70k. The initial cost of purchasing a franchise is £3,950 plus ongoing yearly licence fee of £1,000 for Year 1 and £1,500 per year subsequently, granting franchisees a large and exclusive territory. The initial fee pays for full training and support and a complete kit of class programmes, plus marketing material, work shirts, website and Baby College email address.
It’s suitable for anyone who is fit and healthy, enjoys a challenge and is passionate about baby development.
Vestibular development, which is all about balance, is just one topic covered by Baby College. Children who have not adequately matured in this area might have a fear of the dark, display signs of emotional instability, avoid change or dynamic situations, and lack hand to eye coordination, for example. Simple exercises to stimulate all three planes within the inner ears include spinning, dancing, rocking and bouncing.
The Baby College programme is based around a series of gentle physical, neurological, communication and cognitive exercises to help a baby’s balance system mature, replace infant reflexes, and explore communication and connection to other people. The benefits of touch for growth, circulation and reduction of stress are explored as well as how to recognise and reduce separation anxiety. How do children learn to make friends and how can parents identify the ‘right’ amount of stimulation?
Baby College classes have been operating successfully in the UK for seventeen years, but the word is spreading faster than ever since Bea and Donna relaunched it as a franchise in 2015. They’re both passionate about the benefits offered to parents and babies and are keen to see classes running all over the country. As such, many new franchisees are rushing to sign up.
Rebecca Jennings is a former primary school teacher from Derbyshire.
’Baby College is addressing issues that I feel very passionate about,’ says Rebecca, who began teaching Year 2s but switched to foundation stage because she was more interested in working with a younger age group.
‘But even then it’s often too late,’ she explains. ‘We were seeing foundation stage pupils with lower and lower attainment levels, children who don’t know their own name, can’t sit still and listen and have poor social skills.’
Rebecca became part of a team looking at what children need to be doing in the crucial first three years, part of a government implemented base line trial exploring age related expectations. Rebecca’s school was shown to be 50% below accepted levels and she became fascinated by the importance of vestibular reflexes, for instance, which need to be stimulated before children start school. She returned to school after maternity leave, but then saw an advertisement for a Baby College franchisee and has now handed in her notice to concentrate on her new job full time.
Ali Rowland is another new franchisee. She worked for the NHS for ten years as a maternity support worker at the John Radcliffe Hospital and was looking for a new career after the birth of her third baby. Her husband often works away, making her typical of many. ‘I needed a rewarding job that would fit around child care and school holidays,’ Ali says.
Vanessa Lobato in Wokingham is an older hand, having joined Baby College two years ago. Having previously worked in PR for IT companies before the birth of her two sons, she had been out of paid employment for a decade and was very nervous about returning to the workplace. ‘Everything had moved on so fast,’ she said. She also needed a job that would fit around her children. She’d attended Baby College classes with both her boys and loved them so much that she approached the Directors to ask if she could join the company. This was a year before it was launched as a franchise, making her one of the first to sign up. She wondered how she’d manage the accounts, marketing and admin, but with all the help she received from Baby College, it’s proved relatively painless, and she’s enjoyed learning how to use facilities such as Facebook and MailChimp to promote her classes.
Baby College is now operating in countries as far afield as Malaysia and South Africa and a new international franchisee is Neuroscientist Aletheia Lee, DPhil Oxon who endorses the science behind the programme.
‘With full appreciation for the intricacies of human development, I believe that the Baby College programme powerfully addresses the various neurophysiological as well as psychological aspects of child development,’ Aletheia says. ‘The classes support and enrich the growth of individual children during these formative years. Just as importantly, the programme supports and enriches every parent, strengthening not just the beautiful bond they share with their little one, but impacting relationships that will last a lifetime.’
Bea Waterfield is equally passionate about working with mothers. ‘It’s scientifically proven that having kids makes adult brains develop. You become better organised, better at managing stress and better at multi-tasking. Everyone should employ parents.’
To explore the opportunity to become a franchisee while territories are still available:
Offering a real flexible alternative to parents returning to work, the Baby College franchise is growing from its roots in Oxford. New franchisees around the country are offering the insightful and fun parent & baby classes to parents with 0-3 year olds.