It's been a very difficult 18 months for everyone, but we know that people working in early years have been doing a particularly tough job.
Blerina Cenuka is a tiney childminder in north London who worked throughout the pandemic, taking care of key workers' children and building a warm, vibrant and bustling childminding business in the process. When the Prime Minister recently invited tiney's CEO and co-founder Brett Wigdortz OBE to number 10, along with a guest of his choice from tiney's community of childminders, we thought it was the perfect chance to honour Blerina's hard work. But it's not just about Blerina, of course; she represents the dozens of tiney childminders who were a lifeline for families during some seriously tough times. We're delighted that the government have now acknowledged the crucial role they continue to play.
Blerina was flabbergasted when she received her invitation, and so we thought we'd get to her to write a few words about her experience...
When I got the call inviting me to 10 Downing Street, I was amazed and shocked at the same time. At first I wasn't sure whether to attend, but when Lisa reminded me of how confident I sound when communicating with my fellow tiney home leaders it boosted my confidence. And then when Brett called me to discuss how we could best represent our community of childminders, the idea of attending became more and more important and meaningful to me.
While entering 10 Downing Street, many thoughts rushed through my head. This was the first time I had ever had the opportunity to speak up about our needs as childminders with senior figures in the government. During the lockdown we had the support of tiney, but from the government I felt we just had lists and lists of rules to follow and often I felt lonely and isolated, trying to ensure the health and safety of the children in my care and of my own family members. Working during lockdown involved putting robust rules into practice, with patience, and with empathy for the children of key workers, while their parents worked extra shifts to cover the lack of staff within the hospitals.
We were invited into the garden for drinks and a range of cocktail foods. Some Early Years attendees joked about it being a once in a lifetime opportunity, and it really was.
After a few minutes, Vicky Ford, the Early Years Minister, visited our tables and I had the chance to put forward some of the issues childminders face, such as a lack of direct funding, and not being recognised as professionals despite having to follow the same government guidelines, rules and legislation as nurseries. I stressed that childminders must receive more credit from the government and the broader Early Years community. For instance, I was the only childminder in attendance, among a whole room of Early Years leaders. If it wasn't for tiney's hard work and effort to support childminders I wouldn't have been there and childminders would not have been represented.
Later on the Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined, greeted everyone, and delivered his speech thanking the Early Years sector for working with key workers' children during the lockdown.
It felt amazing and empowering to be recognised for all our hard work and to be asked what we should learn and take forward. The Early Years Minister promised to look into some of the things we discussed and I hope some changes do happen, even in this tricky economic climate.
Overall, it was an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to join Brett and witness the amazing hard work that tiney does at such a high level to support childminders.
It was a big day for our Brett too, who added:
We went into the Rose Garden in the back of 10 Downing St and sat next to Wilfred’s play set and pram which were parked back there! There were about 20 nursery representatives and me and Blerina sitting in five tables on the grass. Waiters brought us drinks, sandwiches and snacks. The early years minister went table to table to talk to us and was really interested in tiney and childminding agencies in general. Then the PM came in and went table to table and chatted with each group. He mentioned he had just changed Wilfred’s nappy a couple of hours earlier and that he was looking for a nursery for Wilfred! And also thanked people in early years for helping to keep Britain running during lockdown.