Coffee, Cake and Chat with Bea Heath director of ICM-SE   Leave a comment

While in London for the Flourish Summit over the weekend, I took the opportunity to meet with Bea Heath. I consider Bea to be a friend although this was actually only the second time that we had met – the rest of our friendship being based on social media contact and emails – and even then due to our very busy lives, not even much contact that way.

When Bea and I met for the first time earlier this year, we both said ‘You are just like I thought you would be’ and ‘I feel like I have known you forever’.

I generally find that is how it is with some people (and many of my friends)- you share so much in common and particularly ethos, values, principles and a passion for childminding – that it does feel like you have known them forever.

And so as I have explained I had a pre arranged meeting with Bea on Friday 26th April. Much to my relief she was there at Southfields tube station to greet me after my long journey from Kidderminster to London, and the stressful (for me) navigation of the tube system from Euston to Southfields.

After a hug, the safe storage of my suitcase in Bea’s car, and with coffee and cake in hand, we settled down at an outside table, in the welcome sunshine.

I had many questions that I wanted to ask Bea – and it became apparent she had a few that she wanted to ask me.  However first we chatted about our families – we have things in common as we are both grandparents – although I have rather more than Bea. Then of course we moved onto More Great Childcare and our shared concerns.

Although we  share concerns, we do deal with these issues in different ways – I tend to react quickly and to respond to media articles etc via a blog or comment on Twitter or Facebook – which as an individual I am able to do. Bea, on the other hand retains her professional distance and rarely comments publicly or expresses personal opinion – which as a director of the newly formed Independent Childminders Social Enterprise, is the approach Bea feels she should take.

You see, it is not that Bea does not have either personal or professional opinion – believe me she does – but Bea does not want to be in the limelight, she would prefer to stay in the background and let people find out about ICM-SE and not her.

I fully understand where Bea is coming from, as I also hate being in the limelight but as I said to her, sometimes you have to do things you would rather not do, for the greater good – and as  people have a lot of unanswered questions,  she is not doing herself or ICM-SE any favours (and it seems the other directors of ICM-SE agree with me).

So it is with Bea’s full agreement that I am writing this blog and providing some answers to the questions that I personally have and maybe others have as well. Although I did not conduct a interview with Bea and nor did I take any notes, the responses here are Bea’s responses – not word for word but close enough.

Penny    ‘Why did you start ICM-SE?’

Bea          ‘ I became aware of the governments plans around the same time that you did Penny – so well over a year ago – and I had the same concerns. When I had opportunity to meet with Ms.Truss  in person, I was even more concerned and decided that childminders who did not want to be agency childminders would need support and maybe a totally different format to what was currently available ‘

Penny     ‘ How did you decide on the actual format that childminders might want or need?’

Bea           ‘ I (we) consulted with childminding colleagues over a long period of time – asking questions and discussing possibilities. We did this discretely, not making a fuss, by face to face discussion and email. You may remember that I email you about a few things, Penny?’

Penny     ‘Yes I remember’

Penny     ‘ Why is there not more information on the ICM-SE website – sometimes I don’t find the information that I want?’ (It should be noted that I am a member of ICM-SE and so have access to the member areas)

Bea     ‘There are two main reasons. The first is that I have never set up a website before and I am learning as I go a long’

Penny ‘I can relate to that as I am also having to learn as I go along – and sometimes my lack of IT knowledge frustrates me. However surely within the ICM-SE team you must have an IT expert?’

Bea   ‘ We will at some point in the future (or I will get much better at IT things) but for now we do not have the funds to pay anyone to be our expert, in fact at the moment no one is getting paid for the things they are doing for ICM-SE”

Penny ‘That may surprise some people – are you saying that you do not have any funding for setting up and running  ICM-SE?’

Bea       ‘We have not had any funding from any where and are completely self funded’

Penny   ‘I don’t think people are aware of that, when you say self funded you mean from your own pockets?’

Bea     ‘Yes’

Penny  ‘ So do you make your money from selling insurance and other things?’

Bea   ‘No, not at all. For example ICM-SE insurance is sold to our members at cost price’

Penny ‘I think people are going to be surprised about this, as some people think ICM-SE is all about trying to make money from childminders’

Bea  ‘Couldn’t be further from the truth. ICM-SE are not about making money and any profit made in the future will be ploughed back into the business to provide further support for members. Our Childminder playgroups are the same – at the moment they do not make a profit, but when they do, the profits will be ploughed back into ICM-SE”

I don’t see this current lack of funding or ability to self fund everything at once as a negative – in fact most of the long established membership organisations started like this with a few dedicated, passionate people, very little money but the desire to help and support others’

Penny ‘‘While we are talking about what people think – some people think that ICM-SE plan to be a childminder agency in the future, and that ICM-SE are involved with talks with the government’

Bea ‘ Yes I am aware of these rumours but I will take this opportunity to pass on the message that ICM-SE are totally against childminder agencies and will never support the idea or be part of it’

Penny ‘And the meeting?’

Bea ‘It is true that we are invited as ICM-SE to attend some meetings with the government – but to be honest not that many. It is also important to make clear that we are invited as independent observers and do not really have much opportunity to ask questions, however we do speak up whenever we can – usually on the lines of ‘That won’t work for childminders’ or ‘childminders can’t do that’

Penny ‘How do you and ICM-SE see the future for childminders?’

Bea ‘My personal opinion and that of ICM-SE are much the same – we don’t know, only that change will be involved’

Penny ‘ And the question you wanted to ask me, Bea?’

(Actually, I can not tell you about Bea’s question to me at the moment, as it is only an outline proposal at the moment – but if and when Bea makes the formal proposal to me – you can be reassured that I will tell you)

However as a result of Bea’s question to me about the future – I did have one more question for Bea

Penny ‘ As you know Bea – I am a active member of the Pre-school Learning Alliance and my loyalty is with them. How do you and ICM-SE feel about this?’

Bea ‘I am glad you asked this question Penny because ICM-SE believe there are enough childminders for all the membership organisation to do well. Also ICM-SE are not at all bothered if one of our members is also a member of other membership organisations or not, as it does not make any really difference. In fact we think it is beneficial for people to be members of whatever organisations they want to be members of , without feeling guilt or trying to hide the fact. It may eventually lead to more sharing of information and good practice, between membership organisations – which can only be a good thing, as in my opinion it is far better to be open and honest than to try and gain information through not being up front about membership of other organisations.

NB Bea has been in touch, as although I have not said that ICM-SE is a membership organisation – I have mentioned membership organisation in the same line (above) and Bea wants to make it very clear that ICM-SE is a Trade Association – not a membership association

So to answer your direct question Penny, It does not make any difference to us if you are a active member of the Alliance or not – and this will also apply to the situation that we have just discussed. In fact ICM-SE would like to work closely with the Alliance (and others). The only time where there might be a conflict of interests,  is if you eventually became employed by either ICM-SE or the Alliance – in which case I am sure you would act responsibly and confidentially.

Penny ‘Thank you Bea – that is a relief to me and I am sure it will be to others. As to being employed by ICM-SE or the Alliance in the future  – I don’t think that will happen.

Bea ‘Don’t underestimate yourself Penny – if we were in a position to employ you now – we would’

By then it was time for Bea to head home to look after her grandchild and for me to head off to my friends house who was kindly putting me up for the weekend.

I do hope that I will have opportunity to talk to Bea again (or one of the other ICM-SE   directors) as I have more questions to ask.

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