How Mindstretchers began.. the journey to here.
As we reach our 10th’ ‘real’ catalogue this year I have been considering the journey I have been on to get us to this point.
It all started with a simple phone call from an advisor in North Lanarkshire called Moira Mclaren. I had left lecturing at Strathclyde University in Glasgow to be at home with my first child. The decision to resign was actually a simple one as she needed to go through many operations to realign her left hip at 18 months old. As a mother I was fortunate to be able to make a choice. One rainy day, a year later I had a call from Moira who asked if I would like to do some training on effective early years practice. I said Yes and so the journey began.
Many people have asked me about the name Mindstretchers and how clever it is. It can be seen to be the word ‘stretch’ inside the word ’ Minders’ obviously therefore being transferrable as a phrase to all people who work with all children. Sadly I cannot claim that idea, it was actually related to a book I wrote for parents when I was working in Swindon, England called Mini- Mindstretchers. It seems amazing to me that it is now on its way to becoming a global brand, available through our partners in Australia, Canada, and USA. Mindstretchers is the publisher of my books, and the manufacturer of resources designed by me. It has always prided itself on the commitment it has always had to fair trade (long before it was trendy) and the support we give to the local small companies and world wide artisans we work with (find out more here).
So having thought of a name and saved up to buy a car, I spend many years on the road on my own. Travelling, training and travelling some more! For many of you out there you will identify with me when I say that the car was my office, restaurant and thinking space. The team expanded to take on Kate Hookham and she and I became 2 people in 2 cars!
One day I met Jan Vickers at a Tupperware party (we do that a lot in Scotland, any excuse for women to get together). She agreed to join me to offer some secretarial support. We had many days and many ‘meetings’ that were hilarious and to this day I look back at those times very fondly. It was a massive thing for us to lease a photocopier for £30 a month. I saw it as a massive risk, ironic when I look at the 25 people who work with me now and the bill we pay each month for leased hardware.
Selling Resources and Publications
We had so many enquiries asking me where people could buy resources for schools and centres that were fair trade, that Jan and I decided to start a 2 page catalogue of natural materials. The resource aspect of Mindstretchers was growing when Janette Robertson joined my team, she worked hard in Scotland to make us the leading supplier of materials to support inspirational teaching and learning inside , outside and beyond the walls. Any profit we had was always ploughed back into the business mainly into the people we have supported over the last 17 years.
Setting up the Charity
Throughout my teaching career, I have always worked in challenging spaces with children who deserve far more than they are often offered. I was frustrated in my work by the ebb and flow of funding, people often expecting communities to respond to a community worker in a very short amount of time. The short sightedness of this approach meant that families would not buy in to the project as they knew the funding may well be taken away. I was adamant that I wanted my charity to work differently. A percentage of the profits from the sales of resources goes to the Living Classrooms Charity to give it a solid foundation to work with any people (0-99 years) in communities.
What started a small project with John Allan in a Tipi has gone from strength to strength working with centres, schools and communities in very practical ways to share ways to create more authentic learning for children.
The Nature Kindergartens
The final pillar of my world is the Nature Kindergartens. I was asked by a parent to be on the committee which then lead to me buying and leading the centre called Whistlebrae. The vision I had of a natural home like space with a strong thread of nature running across inside, outside and beyond in the woods or by the fishing lakes became a reality. Niki joined us to work in the centres. The second centre was set up in a small stone house 30 minutes north nr a town called Crieff. It became the key site as a hand built kinder kitchen went up, a fire house and access to three acres of mixed woodland.
The journey has seen many people come and go over the years. All of the characters have introduced a new thread to the tapestry.
The world for me now is a much larger space. We are looking for trainers to join us from around the globe (get in touch if you feel you could join us).
The family is now three children, a fabulous husband who works alongside me, 3 dogs and many chickens !!
The car has become a plane (not a personal one you understand!)
The brain is still working to write books, design materials and resources. I take Omega 3 in the hope it will help me finish my Phd! ( Oh well I can but hope).