New Economics Institute.
It was a fascinating time, but tough in its own way, snowed in for around five weeks on the side of a mountain outside Great Barrington. I have never welcomed the first emergence of spring quite as much as I did then.
Mt children were then five and turning three, and it raised the question of schooling and childcare. Struggling into town through the ice and snow in a borrowed ancient Volvo had its own challenges, but I am very glad we did because I discovered the Great Barrington Co-operative Nursery. Both my children adored it, though the youngest took the precaution of never taking his coat off. The eldest still wears the T-shirt he was given as a farewell present.
The point is here is the business model they used. There were two members of staff and the staffing was boosted by one or two parents who helped run the nursery twice a month as part of the fees. The result was that the fees were about half as much a month as anything equivalent in the UK.
I reminisce about this because of he argument today in the UK about how to bring down the cost of childcare, and the complaints about the measures taken to day - basically to increase the staffing ratios. I have no idea whether that will bring down the cost, though it seems unlikely to make much difference, but we appear to be missing the key solution, which is mutual.
There are mutual nursery schools all over North America and Scandinavia. There were a number in this country too, which have been driven out of business over the past decade by the regulators - partly because they were non-standard, and partly because of New Labour fears that the very last people you should trust to look after children are parents.
There are survivals, like Scallywags in Tower Hamlets, and there are more starting now. Labour's Stephen Twigg has also been backing the idea. But it is extraordinary that the UK should be so late in developing these co-operative solutions, with their sensible combination of professional staff and parents as the day-to-day glue which holds the institutions together.
It is also extraordinary that perfectly normal mutual solutions have to be discovered in this country so laboriously, when they are used in so many other places.
Taylor's Bell Foundry, Loughborough
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