The Third Door is made for modern parents, which is why Nick Clegg launched Shared Parental Leave there
Listening to Yusuf Chadun telling the tale of how the Third Door nursery and workspace was set up sounds like just another tale of a mumpreneur spotting a gap in the market.
Until he puts himself into the story.
Yusuf credits his wife Shazia with the initial idea for a nursery with a flexible office place attached where mums could work knowing their kids were being looked after and having fun just a floor below. But it was he who, even at the idea stage, knew it wasn’t just mums who’d use it.
“When Shazia was on maternity leave she was frustrated that she couldn’t find anywhere to do a bit of work, to talk business ideas, she couldn’t find the time and space so she came up with this idea for a place where mums can go with their little ones and do some work. I thought it was a fabulous idea, but I said ‘I think dads would like that too’.
“When our first child came along 11 years ago my office became the nursery, my desk went on the landing, much as having a baby around was lovely, working from home became hard.”
Consequently dads were baked into the idea from the off. Even down to details like the colour scheme. Pinks and pastel shades associated (rightly or wrongly) with women were out, blue and green were in.
The fact that they thought about details such as paint colour shows just how much research Shazia and Yusuf put into the project. They only found one similar business in the world – in San Francisco, but it had more of a hippie vibe and closed in fairly short order.
The name drew on inspirations varying from the work of sociologist Ray Oldenburg to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. “It’s not the door to your home and it’s not the door to your office, it’s the third door, something else,” explains Yusuf.
But it was an all too mundane and all too familiar scenario that provided the final push to make The Third Door happen. On Shazia’s first day back at work after maternity leave and with Yusuf also in full time employment at the time the dreaded phonecall came from their daughter’s nursery – the little one had a temperature. Both parents raced back to London from meetings in the suburbs. Yusuf collected a fine for using his phone while driving because he picked up a call from the nursery en route. They decided there was a better way.
Yusuf worked up The Third Door idea into a dissertation as part of the MBA he was studying for at the time. He got a distinction. “That gave us confidence that this could work,” he smiles. Enough confidence that they remortgaged their flat to fund their scheme. Banks weren’t very keen to lend to anyone at the back end of the last decade in the wake of the financial crash, particularly untested ideas like The Third Door.
“It was intense,” admits Yusuf, who took a three month sabbatical from his day job with tech firm Dell to get The Third Door off the ground. Made more intense by the arrival of a son six months before they opened for business in May 2010. That opening coincided with the general election that year that returned a coalition administration. Within a few years then deputy PM Nick Clegg would pick The Third Door as the location to launch the government’s Shared Parental Leave policy.
That’s not the only endorsement they’ve had in the last nine years. “A month after we opened we were aware of our first copycat. But we were fine with that, it validated the need for a space like this. We’ve had visitors from Korea, Spain, Singapore, Germany and the US.”
And it’s not just the idea that’s been vindicated. Yusuf was right about who would use the facility. “One of our first members was a dad,” he explains. “We have days when it’s just dads working in the office space, I never thought that would happen. But it’s part of a global change.”
Once parents join The Third Door they can use a booking system to sign up to use the nursery and/or the office space. If they sign their kids into the nursery use of the desks upstairs come free. And members can choose to send their child to the nursery for a set number of days or they can be more flexible and only use the nursery as and when they need it. As well as the peace of mind of knowing their child is close at hand the arrangement benefits parents by reducing the commute from nursery to desk to a walk up one flight of stairs. And at the end of the day it removes that mad dash to collect the kids before nursery late fines kick in.
While the atmosphere in the nursery doesn’t change no matter whether it’s mum or dad doing the pick-up or drop-off things can be different upstairs in the office space. “There can be a bit more banter when the men are here, the conversation can be a bit different – football and that.”
And it’s not just the kids that need discipline and pastoral care. Yusuf admits there’s been the occasional squabble among the adults about which radio station to have on. But also because everyone hot-desking at the office has kids in the nursery they all share a similar experience, and that can be helpful. “We’ve had a couple of new parents who have been having a tough time of it and that support network is there. We’re not proactively providing pastoral care but we’ve all been there, we’re all in it together.”
However while Yusuf was right that there would be plenty of dads using the desks at The Third Door there are few men on the ground floor working in the nursery. “We’ve had a couple of guys working in the nursery, at one stage the deputy manager was a man but he lived too far away and there was too much travelling for him. We are trying to recruit more men.”
Like all the best ideas, it’s surprising nobody thought of combining childcare and office space in a flexible way before. Though others have followed in his footsteps Yusuf is still intrigued as to why there aren’t more. “Hybrid businesses like ours do carry higher risk, but we’ve proven the model,” he says. “We have been criticised for not making enough money, but we set up as a social enterprise – first and foremost it was about the mission, about providing a service to parents. Of course we’ve had to be financially sustainable too.”
Shazia and Yusuf looked at expanding the project opening branches or franchises elsewhere, they even went on Dragon’s Den in an effort to get some of those famous investors involved. While new sites are still a possibility Yusuf has now set up as a social enterprise consultant, advising others how to combine business and purpose successfully.
And he’s involved with the Fatherhood Institute as a trustee, bringing what he’s learned to the organisation and learning about wider issues. “It’s a fantastic organisation. We’re continually working towards a level of equality that sees dads involved from the start, from the maternity ward through early years and helping companies understand the benefits of Shared Parental Leave and how important it is.”
It seems appropriate that Shared Parental Leave was launched at The Third Door. Both make perfect sense, both appeal to a significant proportion of men and as time ticks by both are likely to be regarded as entirely normal ideas adopted more and more widely.