Standing out from the crowd(fund)
When lockdown closed their doors before they’d even had chance to open, Mish and Jai Laird asked their local community for help, as they tell ParentFolk’s Jade Wright
It’s the moment that business owners dream of – finally getting the keys to their long-imagined premises. But for Mish and Jai Laird, taking possession of their beloved new ‘parent hub’ Cub & Calf happened on the day the whole country went into lockdown.
‘Never in a million years did I imagine this is how it would all happen,’ says mum-of-three Mish. ‘We’d waited months for everything to complete, and as it happened the agent could only chuck us the keys, keeping a 2 metre distance.
‘We’d planned to get the builders in, get everything ready and to already be open by now. Obviously that hasn’t happened – the builders couldn’t even get the materials they needed – so it has all been put on hold – and we’re hoping we may finally open in September.’
Cub & Calf is the culmination of a long-held dream for the couple. They’d found the perfect spot in leafy West Kirby on the Wirral coast, close to where they live, and got everything in place to build the perfect hub for parents and children.
‘The idea came from our own experiences as parents,’ explains Mish. ‘When we had our eldest daughter, Evelyn (now five), we carried on going out to the places we’d always gone as a couple, and you quickly realise that not everyone wants a crying baby or a boisterous toddler running around their beautiful tea shop or cool bar. Then when we had our second daughter, Nancie (four), we had two to juggle and they started going to soft play centres, but they’re not really built for parents’ comfort.
‘I spoke to a lot of mums who said they’d lost their old friends when their babies were small. People without kids don’t really want to spend their weekends sitting on uncomfortable chairs drinking bad coffee in a play centre, but nor do mums want to be on edge in grown-up coffee shops, nervous about their toddlers running between the tables. So who we had our youngest daughter, Imogen (20 months), we designed our own perfect place for children and parents – and their friends too.
‘We wanted comfortable sofas, chairs that allow mums to breastfeed easily, big nappy changing areas, architecture which cuts down on noise – basically all the things we’d wanted when our girls were babies. But we also wanted great tea and coffee, sourced from brilliant local independent companies, really good cakes, baked by Wirral bakers, and a chef making delicious food you could eat with one hand, while holding a baby in the other. Basically a home from home for parents and children under five, to take the stress away, and give them a place to socialise and have fun.
‘There’s nothing like it where we are, and the response we’ve had from parents has been fantastic.’
The set-up – which includes a double slide for races, rock climbing, a rope bridge, an infinity mirror, balance beams and a den – has been years in the planning, but no-one could have predicted the global pandemic that forced the country into lockdown.
‘Obviously we can’t complain because we are healthy, and that’s the most important thing, but business-wise, it has been really bad timing,’ admits Mish. ‘If we’d been trading 11 days earlier we’d have been eligible for government grants to keep us afloat. Rather than the £10,000 grant for properties paying rates, the council are actually charging us an empty property charge. We’ve paid out for equipment and work that can’t take place, and we are stuck in limbo until lockdown ends.’
To keep their dream alive, Mish and Jai launched a crowdfund appeal, but not without a lot of soul searching.
‘The last thing we wanted to do was to go round asking for donations, particularly when a lot of people had lost their incomes or were having hard times with work too,’ says Mish. ‘But I was speaking to a friend and she suggested maybe doing pledges, so that people could buy a coffee and a cake in advance, and then come and enjoy it when we’re open. That way people can support us, and still get something for their money.’
Mish and Jai set their crowdfunding goal to £10,000, with pledges ranging from a £5 hot drink and a slice of cake to £400 for a full party package. In an added bonus, NatWest pledged £5000 to help out, on the condition that Cub & Calf hit the full total on time, with at least 100 local backers.
‘We can’t believe how amazing the community has been, backing us all the way,’ says Mish. ‘We’ve got more than 100 backers now, and we are almost at that magic £10,000 mark. After all the stress of starting a business during lockdown, to know our local community believes in us really is a dream come true.’
Join the crowdfund at www.crowdfunder.co.uk/cubandcalfparenthub