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Simply Play is an out of school care service that operates across West Lothian county, Scotland. Simply Play was established in 2010 by Family and Community Development West Lothian, as a social enterprise and charity. The innovations of this service included implementing a singular professional set-up, having a personalised approach for each child and installing a unique booking system.
The main innovation behind Simply Play was to create one single enterprise instead of the previous set up, which was made up of several separate organisations which were ran individually by parents – and failing. This set up was proven to be ineffective, and was overall a waste of a large amount of money that the council was investing into it. To change this, the new approach by Simply Play was focused on being professional, this meant increasing the level of governance and management to a superior standard and making use of any expertise available in order to be as proficient as possible. By doing this, Simply Play could aim to help salvage a struggling local sector, improve quality, meet regulations and remove any financial difficulties to become one large sustainable social enterprise. There was a clear emphasis on doing things well, and for the right reasons, and that is where the core of the innovation lies, as within this sector it was not common for processes to be organised in such a professional manner.
Simply Play has an innovative approach to child care itself, due to the fact that they provide a high-quality, personalised experience for each individual child that attends their service. This personalised approach is what separates Simply Play from its competitors, as it is not the norm in the sector for every child’s experience to be so tailor-made, and this is again made possible by the professional structure that the organisation created. Without this, it would be much harder both financially and logistically to give each child the same amount of individual attention they receive from Simply Play.
Part of this innovation is made up of the Personalised Development Plan, which is specifically made for each child. This helps ensure that their play experience is suitable for the child, in terms of their preferences regarding different activities and what they actually want to learn about. Every child is assigned a member of staff who deals with their development plan in conjunction with the parent and the child themselves as well. By doing this, not only are the needs and wants of the child met but there is a constant line of communication which allows for more flexibility and sharing of information. This is particularly useful when a child has additional needs such as disabilities and allergies, so the development plan allows them to receive the specific support that they require. The C.E.O. of Simply Play states that; “It’s not rocket science what we do, but not a lot of people do it, it’s about being personal, making sure that every single child who comes in, is treated as an individual, they’re not groups of children, they’re all respected for their own voice”
Another aspect of the organisation's innovative approach would be that they provide a unique booking system for their service. This system is unique to child care, and was built by the organisation themselves after they recognised the inconvenience and cost caused to parents by having to book in blocks. This is one of several reasons that Simply Play is so popular, as sessions can be booked whenever it suits the child rather than being forced to adhere to fixed times, not to mention the fact that they can cancel at any time up to 48 hours in advance at no extra cost. This makes a huge difference financially to families and allows them to plan childcare around their lives rather than the other way around.
Due to the innovative approach to childcare that Simply Play has employed, the organisation was awarded the Scottish social enterprise of the year in 2014 for innovation.
The organisation’s C.E.O, Raymond Branton, played a vital role in the development of Simply Play as a sustainable, structured and efficient business. Raymond quickly realised that working with children is what he strived to do. Along the years, this vision proved to be essential as he worked his way up the hierarchy and became Simply Play’s C.E.O. Furthermore, the experience in the industry as well as achieving a Master’s Business Administration degree meant that Raymond’s range of skills made him the most appropriate candidate to lead Simply Play’s team.
Prior to Simply Play emerging as a charitable social enterprise, it’s worth mentioning that the West Lothian area consisted of 9 different clubs that offered a similar childcare service. Additionally, these clubs fell under the responsibility of parental committees that lacked a fully functioning structured management system. With significant financial investments from the council, the clubs were unfortunately still experiencing issues in relation to the identified issues. These proved to be the driving factors behind the inspiration of forming Simply Play.
Alongside a group of highly qualified set of individuals, Raymond Branton was able to provide a simplistic, yet effective service that is well run, well governed, well managed, well-resourced, and had the necessary knowledge to solve a crumbling service. Their passion and experience did not suffice, therefore a cross-fertilisation of experience, ideas and practice with the parent organisation Family and Community Development was essential. Consequently, the service lacking an efficient booking system, as well as no personalisation offered to the children, were seen as major driving forces behind the inspiration of forming Simply Play. Taking away the frustration of booking in blocks from parents and catering to individual needs of hundreds of children proved to play a vital role in the charity’s overall goal of providing an immaculate and secure service to families as well as improve the children’s overall experience.
Simply Play does not necessarily have an immediate impact on the surrounding area themselves, however, by being present in areas visible to the community it encourages children not involved to join the service and be more active. One of the most significant impacts that the service has on locals is that it allows parents to work and generate an income.
Additionally, they provide free childcare in the form of ‘Community Places’. This is where they take advantage of any unused capacity in its clubs to offer free childcare for those going through a hard time due to issues such as financial problems or a death in the family. This could be considered innovative because not only is it a morally good thing to do, but it results in no extra cost to both the organisation and the customer.
As a registered charity and social enterprise, all of the income generated goes back into improving the business and the development of the service that they provide for the children. The company now employ 80 staff, therefore providing employment and benefiting the community and economy overall.
The benefits to Simply Play from their innovation included an improvement of staff morale and profitability. Previously, the failures of the business had a degrading effect on the staff as it resulted in irregular wage payments and job security was uncertain. In turn this lowered staff morale and negatively affected staff well-being overall, causing a high staff turnover. To rectify this issue, the company decided to have a staff overhaul by carefully filtering out the best workers and releasing the rest. This began a change in the company’s working culture as those that were kept on underwent staff training and were internally developed. This has seen an increase in surplus of 50% for the business’ profitability in the first few years of the change and they are now continually sustainable on an annual basis. Apart from a 5-year deal with the West Lothian council worth £750,000, they have not received any other grants except the use of free council premises which has enabled them to maintain their profitability, sustainability and continued growth in all aspects of the business.
Simply Play has also formed partnerships with other agencies and social services such as health visitors and the police so that all their processes are coordinated in the same direction, creating a level of consistency throughout the sector. As well as this, the organisation utilised a group model through it’s positive relationship with the parent company Family and Community Development West Lothian (FCDWL) which allowed the sharing of resources and ideas. All of this results in the highest quality of care being available for the lowest price within the sector.
Simply Play takes advantage of the free use of local facilities, allowing them to organise activities that focus on encouraging the children to be more active, and have fun whilst playing together. In society today, many parents are scared to let their children out to play due to the fear of something happening to them, commonly seen as a cotton wool culture. They want to ensure all of its kids are keeping fit and healthy, within a safe environment, this is done partly by ensuring that healthy eating is promoted, improving overall health and obesity figures for the future.
Through research it was found, that dyspraxia, a development disorder of the brain hindering coordination and movement. This is due to kids being indoors and inactive, highlighting the increasing importance of encouraging kids to play outdoors.
The collaboration between the parents and the staff at Simply Play also ensures there is a strong element of trust between them when they are leaving their children. The staff also play a huge part in the social benefits the organisation provides.
The organisation implements a re-use and recycle programme to continually improve the overall environmental performance, ensuring that any waste they have is recycled in the most efficient way possible. Furthermore, Simply Play look to buy second hand furniture and technology such as computers and other office equipment. Clearly this emphasizes the businesses aspirations to be environmentally friendly and shows them having a good environmental impact throughout the organisation.
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Raymond Branton, CEO
Simply Play is an out of school care service that operates across West Lothian. Simply Play was established in 2010 by Family and Community Development West Lothian, as a social enterprise and charity. The innovations of this service included implementing a singular professional set-up, having a personalised approach for each child and installing a unique booking system. The inspiration behind this innovation was the failure of existing childcare services, where concerns were raised about management and financial difficulties. This innovation had several benefits for both the business and society, including improving staff morale and profitability as well as encouraging a healthy lifestyle. The impact of Simply Play can also be seen by the free childcare they provide to those in need which has greatly helped the local community.