CHILDCARE professionals in South Tyneside have united to launch the first social enterprise of its kind in the UK.
The women involved had already achieved their ambition to become professional childcarers. Now they have a stake in their own company.
Entrepreneur Angela Brown took the innovative step of working with her former students to set up The Childcare People.
She runs Training in Childcare, in Boldon, and wanted to give her 'graduates' a career and shares in a business.
Many of the women involved left school with few prospects.
Some had their own children at an early age and found themselves pushed out of the jobs market.
As they got older, many decided they wanted to get training and have a career.
They were put on the path to professional qualifications via their local Sure Start centres, who commissioned training from Training in Childcare.
Angela said: "We devised the Esteem programme in 2001 for adults who had reached a stage in their lives where they were ready to embark on, in many cases, their first professional training.
"For most, it was an enormous step to take," she says.
"They had not succeeded at school and going back to formal education took a lot of courage.
"We worked with them and supported them to build up their self-confidence, hence the name of the project.
"However, despite the need for high-quality childcare and early years education professionals in this country, many of the by now highly-qualified women found there were no jobs available."
The result was The Childcare People, a social enterprise established and co-owned by Training in Childcare, South Tyneside Council and the women themselves.
It provides qualified staff for school clubs, midday supervisors and playground assistants in schools, permanent and temporary crche facilities, nursery officers and classroom assistants.
Angela said: "The beauty of The Childcare People is its flexibility – it's a kind of pay as you go childcare, but clients are safe in the knowledge that we have a highly-qualified, professional team who have undergone the necessary checks.
"We are unique in having staff qualified in early years care, from newborn to eight, and in playwork for four to 16-year-olds.
"Like any social enterprise, it's driven forward by moral values. It also proves that taxpayers' money that went into training has paid off. It's about local people helping themselves.
"Forty women are involved at the moment, and it will grow as more come forward and go through our training and the service expands to Durham, Newcastle and Sunderland."
Over time, new shares will be issued out of any profit and passed on to the staff, so the relative shares of the council and Training in Childcare will shrink.
The group has been helped by Geof Cox, who has been involved in social enterprise for 30 years, the last 15 as a freelance social enterprise developer.
He said: "The model we are implementing in South Tyneside is the first of its kind in the country, although other areas are looking at something similar.
"The Childcare People is a joint venture between South Tyneside Council, which has set up a Social Enterprise Development Trust to deliver social enterprise, and a public spirited business run by a social entrepreneur. In that sense it's unique."
MEET THE CHILDCARE PEOPLE
JOANNE Armour, 38, from Jarrow, is a mum-of-three and grandmother-of-one.
As a member of The Childcare People, she provides cover in local crches in schools and private settings.
She said: "I wasn't very good at school and was in the bottom band, but I left with qualifications in English, typewriting, office practice, art and cookery.
"After I left school, I went to train in office practice, but fell pregnant when I was 17."
Michael, 19, and Kirsty, 15, followed Sonja, 21, and by the time Joanne reached 35, she had never worked.
"I was sick of doing nothing," she said.
"I realised I was interested in working with children. My own daughter had a baby at 21 as well, so that was extra incentive."
Joanne went on to complete Level 1 Playwork followed by Level 1 and 2 in Getting Started in Pre-school. She is currently working towards Level 3.
She said: "I've always put myself down, but now I'm proud of what I've achieved. My tutors say I've come on a lot."
LINDA Allen, 55, is a mum-of-two from South Shields.
"I was the oldest in a family of six children and I had to look after my younger siblings," she said.
"When I left school, I had no qualifications and never liked filling in applications forms because I always had to leave the education part blank, which embarrassed me enormously."
In 2005, with her own children grown up, Linda was looking for a new challenge and decided to find out more about working with children. She did the Getting Started in Pre-school Setting course and continued with her training to Level 2 in Developing Skills in Early Years Practice.
She said: "Sometimes I thought I was too old and would never be able to finish the course.
"Once I got to know the other girls, I realised I wasn't the only one who thought it was hard work.
"At 52 years of age I did my first exam, and was delighted when I passed, as this was my first and only exam that I had ever done and passed."
Linda got a job with a crche company and trained to Level 3 in Early Years.
JULIE Telford, 43, from South Shields, was working as a parent helper at her daughter's school when she was told about an open day at All Saints Sure Start.
The event was set up to help people gain qualifications which might lead them into employment.
The mum-of-four signed up for the Training in Childcare playwork course, going on to achieve several high-level qualifications.
After a work placement, she was kept on by the play development team at South Tyneside Council, providing play opportunities to children aged five to 14. She also works with Particip8, which helps children who face difficulties or challenges in life.
Now she has joined The Childcare People.
She said: "I have gained confidence and experience by working in a range of childcare environments, which has enhanced my knowledge of the development of children and my understanding that every family is different."