Why is a Childcare Voucher company running a family adventure centre?

Published: 7 July 2022

Employers For Childcare's Chief Executive Marie Marin provides some background about how the organisation's latest Social Enterprise business, High Rise, came about.

This is a question I get asked a lot! Before I set up Employers For Childcare, over 20 years ago, I worked in various roles to help support parents (initially women through a community development project I led in Craigavon) to be able to work. Employers For Childcare began as a charity to encourage employers to develop and promote family friendly workplace policies (back then this was very much not a recognised ‘thing’ in the way it is now!) that would make it easier for women in particular to balance their work alongside their family life. In 2004, to support the work of our charity, I set up the first Social Enterprise Childcare Voucher provider in the UK and the only company in Northern Ireland providing this service – and that is what we are largely known for (so much so that many people refer to Childcare Vouchers as ‘Employers For Childcare Vouchers’ – I like to say we are the Hoover of the Childcare Voucher industry, especially in Northern Ireland!)

But still, what does this all have to do with why we are now running a 10,000 square foot family adventure centre on an industrial estate near Sprucefield in Lisburn?

Employers For Childcare is a Social Enterprise business meaning that 100% of the profits from administering Childcare Vouchers on behalf of employers are used for ‘social good’ – in our case, to support the work of our charity, which helps parents with dependent children to get into work, and stay in work. We do this by providing a freephone helpline and outreach service through our Family Benefits Advice Service as well as by campaigning for better support and investment for working parents with childcare.  However, the Government closed Childcare Vouchers to new entrants in 2018, meaning that our Childcare Voucher business will gradually decline as no new parents can join the scheme. So we needed a new business venture, the profits of which we could continue to use to fund our charity’s vital work with parents.

Here’s where High Rise fits into the picture!

I spent a number of years looking at various business opportunities and eventually, after extensive research (which included a weekend working in a busy soft play centre in Dundee – more on that another time!) and planning, we decided that we would open an indoor adventure centre. But not just any indoor adventure centre.

Our ethos as a Social Enterprise is incredibly important to us and the social purpose is twofold. Not only do all the profits of High Rise go into supporting the work of our charity, but we are proud that High Rise is an inclusive, accessible centre, where all our guests can enjoy themselves, whatever their needs.

So each and every visit to High Rise helps our charity to continue its work, supporting families. Just recently, our Family Benefits Advice Service helped a single mum of two severely disabled children to find out she was entitled to an additional £273 per month in financial support that she wasn’t aware of. One quick call to our team has left this family over £3,000 per year better off. This is what High Rise is about. As well as promising great fun to our guests that visit the centre, every visit helps us to continue the work of our charity, supporting families like this.

And that’s why a Childcare Voucher company set up an indoor adventure centre!

If you’d like to find out more about the history of Employers For Childcare, and our work supporting families, check out our podcast as part of the What is Social Enterprise? series recorded by Social Enterprise NI with Social Enterprise Ambassador Cate Conway.

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