Employers For Childcare reflects on a busy 2022 for our charity and Social Enterprise

Firstly, it’s encouraging that our end of year review for 2022 is not dominated by Covid in the way it has been in the previous couple of years. While the dreaded ‘virus’ has not disappeared, it is clear that its impact on people, on business and on society more broadly has significantly lessened.

In our own business, we are beyond thrilled that, with the threat from Covid so greatly reduced, we were able to successfully reopen High Rise, our Social Enterprise indoor adventure centre, during the summer, having been closed for over two years. Since then we have welcomed thousands of excited guests through our doors for Clip ‘n Climb and soft play fun. The feedback has been phenomenal – 93% of guests rated their experience as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ while 95% would recommend High Rise to others. This is largely thanks to our wonderful staff team, who every single day go over and above to provide the positive customer service that our guests value so much. Thank you to each and every one of them. We know it hasn’t been easy reopening what was to all intents and purposes a ‘new’ business, but hearing the positive reviews and seeing the happy faces in the centre is proof that we have a fabulous centre that our guests love.

We look forward to welcoming many more guests – families, groups, corporate bookings and others – through our doors in 2023, particularly as we expand our services, including to reopen our innovative sensory rooms, and offer dedicated sessions for autistic guests and their families. And of course, every single visit to High Rise, whether a baby enjoying soft play or a local business hosting a team-building away day, helps us to continue the vital work of our charity, supporting parents to get into and stay in work – of that we are proud every day.

The work of our charity team also continued in 2022, with our Family Benefits Advice Service helping 10,000 people directly and identifying an average of almost £5,000 in financial support for those families that they carried out a personalised ‘better off’ calculation for. At a time when many more families than ever before are struggling to make ends meet, and affected by the cost of living crisis, this work is more critical than ever and our team have been busy signposting parents to the various forms of Government support that are available with childcare, but also assisting with the more general ‘cost of living’ packages that have been announced.

In terms of policy and lobbying, the All Party Group on Early Education and Childcare has remained an invaluable forum for elected representatives, officials and stakeholders to discuss the issues impacting on the sector at this time, and we are delighted to continue to provide the secretariat for the Group. Following the election in May 2022, new office bearers were elected and the Group enjoys the active participation of members from across all of the main political parties.

However, it continues to be hugely frustrating that the warm words that we heard from our political leaders during Covid-19 about the value placed on our childcare sector, have not followed through into continued short-term support for the sector. While important progress is now underway on a new and much needed Early Learning and Childcare Strategy, this is many years overdue and – critically – offers longer-term solutions to issues. In tandem with work on the Strategy, we need to see more immediate support for the sector, and those who rely on it. Just as costs are rising for families, childcare providers are also struggling with increasing overheads and finding it ever more difficult to make ends meet, without increasing fees to parents. We have been warning for some time about the challenges facing the sector, and as we exit 2022 these seem to be greater than ever, with many local providers warning about the viability of their businesses.

We are very clear – a crisis in the childcare sector is a crisis for all of us, whether we have children or not. If parents can’t access or afford they childcare they need to work, our entire economy and society will suffer. Childcare is a vital part of our economic infrastructure and we must see both short term support for the sector to address the current, pressing challenges, and progress on the new long-term strategy. While some progress has been made, and that is to be welcomed, we are deeply concerned with the ongoing lack of an Executive, the commitment to presenting costed options for the Childcare Strategy to Executive Ministers in March will not be met, and our childcare sector, and the parents and families that rely on it, will continue to suffer.

We absolutely must see the Executive restored as soon as possible, and childcare must be a day one priority – parents, children, childcare providers and our economy and society more broadly all depend on it.

For us there is much to do in 2023 – we will continue our work lobbying for progress on the new childcare strategy and on wider support for the childcare sector and to benefit the parents who rely on it, particularly as the cost of living crisis continues. With High Rise we are excited to continue to expand our services and grow our guest numbers, building upon the excellent standards and reputation for customer service that we have established in our first months of reopening.

Best wishes to everyone for a peaceful and happy Christmas and New Year – hopefully we’ll see some of you in High Rise with your families over the Christmas period or in 2023!

Please note our office is closed for the Christmas holidays from Monday 26 December to Wednesday 28 December (inclusive) and again on Monday 2 January. No Childcare Vouchers will be processed on these dates.