New base for Sparks

A popular child care co-operative in Bristol has moved premises, bought new play equipment and improved its financial resilience with the help of a loan from Co-operative & Community Finance.

Sparks Play & Care, which provides high quality and convenient out-of-school childcare for some 150 families in the Ashley Down area of north Bristol, reopened for the new school year at new premises within Sefton Park School. The building, known affectionately as the Green Terrapin, can provide care for up to 70 children aged 3-14. There is also immediate access to outdoor play and exercise space.

The new premises is only a very short distance from the Youth Centre where the after school club had been based for 25 years. Despite the proximity, the move, and the uncertainty leading up to it, was very disruptive to the business.

Carole Theyer, chief executive of Sparks, said: “Co-operative & Community Finance were very understanding. The loan has helped with the inevitable extra costs of moving and with managing our cash flow.”

Carole helped to set up Sparks Play & Care as a workers co-operative in 2005 (it had previously been run by volunteers) and register it with OFSTED. She believes that the co-operative structure makes for a better working environment, higher quality child care and more satisfied parents.

Carole said: “We offer membership to our employees whether they are full time or part time, but do require that they are with us for at least six months initially in order to get a feel for the business and the way we operate.”

Sparks runs a breakfast club (7.30-8.45am) and an after-school club (3.15-6.00pm) during term time and a holiday club (8.15am-5.45pm) during school holidays.
The play workers aim to provide an environment that facilitates children’s freely chosen play with a large range of open access materials (art and crafts, books, dressing up, den-building materials, toys and games and computers). They plan daily activities, consulting with the children for ideas, and also try to extend their experiences culturally and awareness of the wider world.

Ian Rothwell of Co-operative & Community Finance said: “It’s so clear that Sparks provides excellent child care and that the parents love them. So we were very happy to help them with a loan to see them through the difficulty and disruption of moving premises.

“For this particular loan we used money from the Avon and Bristol Co-operative Loan Fund that had been bequeathed to Co-operative & Community Finance in 2007. It is very appropriate because Sparks was the first child care co-operative to be set up in Avon and Bristol.”