A co-working space with a childcare facility… What a brilliant idea! Meet Leo Wood, the inspiring woman behind PlayPen, cowork & creche.
ParentVille: How did the project start?
Leo: It was only since having my daughter in 2013 that I realised what a challenge childcare can be for all parents. I think that childcare really isn’t a topic of any concern for people before they have children generally.
I was specifically interested in trying to help solve the problem of the lack of flexible childcare options for freelancing parents or any parent really who wants to work part-time, around the needs of their children.
At that time I already was running a coworking space (Winkley Studios) so I felt best placed to use these specific skills and then wanted to set up another workspace but this time with a crèche.
Anyway fast forward two years (it took me a long time to get PlayPen off the ground – it’s a part-time venture and also not-for-profit so I had to prioritise other work first!) and we have finally launched PlayPen, which is a weekly ‘pop up’ workspace and crèche in Mile End.
P: Tell us more about your background and your previous ventures.
L: In addition to PlayPen, I run two small, friendly independent coworking spaces in East London (Cooks Yard and Winkley Studios). I also work as a freelance arts and workspace consultant. I currently only work three days a week so that I can also be a stay-at-home mum some of the time. I’m expecting my second child in June too. And I am researching a few other business ideas on the side, in the fields of childcare and interior design.
P: What was your biggest challenge when you first started your own business?
L: I think the challenge that I have always had is making any money! I am not naturally a very commercially minded person. I used to work for a while as an arts producer (and for a while ran a theatre production company called Independent Productions) but always really struggled to come up with any projects or business ideas that were commercial viable. Finally, and only recently, with my two coworking spaces, I have been able to earn an income that constitutes an ok salary. And with rents in London rising all the time I’m not sure how long that will be the case for!
P: Is London a good environment for starting a business?
L: Absolutely, there is so much going on in London. So many opportunities to build networks, contacts and raise funding. Although I think the one main drawback of London is that there can be ‘too many cooks’ ie too many people with business ideas competing for the same markets.
P: What is your biggest achievement so far?
L: Other than having my daughter, I would say that it has been finally reaching a point where I feel that I have a healthy and sustainable work life balance.
P: How do you maintain your work/life balance?
L: For me working 3 days a week has been the best way to ensure that I still have the best of both worlds – an independent working life and business whilst at the same time spending lots of time with my daughter. Working freelance really helps too as I have almost complete flexibility.
We have a great Nanny share set up with a couple of other families too and I am so grateful and lucky to have a wonderful nanny, and for my daughter to be happy with her and for the cost of this to be manageable. This makes my working life possible, which it otherwise wouldn’t be.
P: What are your favourite hangout places / activities as a family?
L: We love Victoria Park of course. And the Museum of Childhood is another real favourite for my daughter and I and where we can easily go and meet people.
Anywhere away from home feels like an adventure too because we spend so much time at home and it’s always lovely to have a change!
P: Is there any advice that you would give to a mum or dad who wants to start a business?
L: I think that not being afraid to approach people who you don’t know, and asking for help and advice can be extremely helpful. Having a coach or mentor can also really help clarify your work purpose and goals and a plan for reaching them. Persistence and confidence are very useful attributes too. And a supportive partner!
P: What are your future plans?
L: I’m having another baby in June so that will take me off the work radar for a bit. Otherwise I am not sure yet quite how PlayPen will develop or exactly what I want from it as a business. But just having started the project is useful as it acts as a calling card/magnet for other people who are interested in this childcare challenge from a business perspective to get in touch with potential opportunities or ideas.
P: Your funniest parenting moment?
L: I can’t immediately think of a specific moment though the whole thing has been rather hilarious if you look at it from a distance and forget the pain of the sleepless nights and endlessly tiring days!