Speakers, sponsors, attendees, and volunteers, gather for WordCamp London 2016 #WCLDN

WordCamp London: A Parent’s Experience

A few weekends back I had the pleasure of attending the third WordCamp London (and the first one that I haven’t organised! ). The organisers this year had a big focus on accessibility including live captioning, hearing loops, a multi-faith room, a lactation room, and a creche. These things are usually an afterthought but they were placed right at the heart of the organisation this year.

At the last WordCamp London I was four months pregnant, and so this time around I had a six month old baby, Benjamin. I knew I wanted to attend the event, but since I’m breastfeeding it’s impossible to leave him for longer than a few hours. Without a creche, my only way of attending the event would have been to have him with me all day, and he’s not yet a big fan of presentations about WordPress.

This is what he thought about the schedule:

benjypetya

As someone who knows all of the organisers, I had a lot of trust in them, but for anyone else it’s difficult to leave your kids with an unknown childcare provider and there was no information from a parent’s perspective about childcare at the event. That’s understandable since it was the first year WordCamp has had the service – so I thought I would write about it so that parents next year know what to expect.

My experience of the WordCamp London creche

Before the event

It’s really important to get all of the information you can before leaving your kid with a childcare provider. Childcare at WordCamp London was provided by Nipperbout, a well-established mobile creche service. There was a thorough information pack on the WordCamp London website in which they come across as professional and attentive to a baby’s needs, and, importantly, they are CRB checked. The WC London team were very helpful at answering any questions I had, both via email and on the UK WordPress Community Slack.

Once I had signed up I had to complete an online registration form. The form itself had terrible UX (attendees at a web development conference are probably the only people who’d care about this 😀 ), but the questions they asked, about diet, feedings, allergies, health issues, and sleep schedules, put me at ease. I was happy that they considered everything I’d want them to take seriously.

At the event

When I arrived in the morning at the creche I was impressed by the setup: it wasn’t just a few people to look after my kid – there was a proper nursery, with loads of toys, a cot, and different areas for Benjy to play in. There was so much for him to play with and so many different things to do. I didn’t feel like I was just dumping him, but that I was somewhere I’d choose to take him independent of the event.

There were gates at the front of the room which I had to stay on one side of, and I had to sign him in each time he arrived and when I took him back again. When I first arrived I thought it was odd that I couldn’t get in but it actually made me feel even more secure about leaving him there – the only people that were allowed in were the kids and the Nipperbout staff.

Every time I signed him in I told them when he had last fed and if I had changed him – all of this was recorded. When I picked him up at lunch the staff told me what he’d been doing and if he’d been changed. The staff were so professional and I was comfortable leaving Benjy. They were totally focused on him, played with him all day, and made sure he was happy and enjoying himself.

bb_nipperbout

There was a cot so that Benjy could have regular sleeps. On the first day he had a bit of a meltdown because he was overtired and struggling to sleep in the new environment, but the staff were really patient with him and did their best to calm him down. I ended up taking him away for a bit of mum time and a feed, and when I brought him back he was happy to be back. At the end of the two days I got a booklet with all of the timings of his sleeps and nappy changes, and some info about what he’d been doing, how he’d progressed, and what things I could try out with him at home.

Overall it was a great experience for me as I could go to the WordCamp, leave Benjy at the creche, and pick him up for feeds when he needed them. If there were any problems I was a maximum of a minute away. The three Nipperbout staff members were professional, friendly, and really attentive. It was  a great experience for Benjy, who loved getting to meeting new people, get loads of attention, and play with a tonne of new toys.

Why have childcare at all?

I have organised a lot of events, and I have never organised childcare at any of them. I’ve only really thought about it over the past year since having my own kid. (This is why, if you want different perspectives that address all attendee needs, it’s important to have a diverse team of organisers).

I don’t think I would arrange childcare at every event I organise but at WordCamps it makes sense. WordCamps are often held on a weekend, which means that they fall outside many families’ normal childcare arrangements, whether that’s nursery or school. This means that parents have to incur additional costs to attend the event. Also, for many families, the weekend is time spent together: going away for a conference means giving up that important family time. I don’t want to leave Benjy for a whole weekend when I spend much of the week working.

Most importantly, WordCamps are community events and if you’re serious about having a diverse community then you need to make your event accessible to as many people as possible. Each event element that comes under the umbrella of accessibility is a route into your community for someone who may not otherwise be able to participate. For me, the creche made it possible for me to attend with my young baby.

Advice if you are having childcare at WordCamp

Here is some advice if you are arranging childcare at your WordCamp:

  • get professionals in to do it. I would never leave my child with a volunteer, no matter how well intentioned. In the UK, people working with children are criminal record checked and if I was to attend a WordCamp in another country with Benjy I’d expect the equivalent.
  • provide as much information as possible to parents before the event. It’s information that helps us to make decisions. Getting other parents to write about their own experiences helps with this.
  • have a parent on your team liaise with the service provider and provide that information to other parents. Someone who is a parent themselves will know the right questions to ask.
  • make sure all of the information is easy to find. If I had one quibble with WCLDN this year, it would be that the creche information was very hard to find on the website.
  • make sure that children feel welcome at the event itself, as well in the creche. Not all children are happy about being left with strangers. Some might be okay in the morning but want to be with their parents in the afternoon, or vice versa. Be prepared to have kids showing up at your talks or mothers breastfeeding in your lunch room.

If anyone is attending WordCamp London 2017 next year and has any questions about the child care I’m happy to answer them. I’m also happy to just generally chat about children at WordCamps.

Thanks to WordCamp London for having a creche this year, and to Nipperbout for doing such a wonderful job looking after my little guy. He was so happy with the whole experience. We’ll definitely be back next year!

A tired Benjy in a taxi on his way home <3 A tired Benjy in a taxi on his way home <3[/caption]

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