The Office: Elizabeth Moody-Stuart
I’m Elizabeth. I live on top of a hill in Brighton with my two kids and my husband Ben. We have an astounding view of the sea which is part of the reason why I am still sane – there is something about looking at water that puts all day-to-day pressures into perspective. Or flipping it round, I suppose our view of the sea could be why I took on so much in the first place?! Our wedding, renovating our house, giving birth to 2 kids and a business — all in 3 years.
Iris (now 7) and Max (now 5) are the reason I started my own business. I’d been working freelance for about 8 years and was planning to continue after the birth of my first – but I realised (when my baby girl was about 6 months old) that if you wanted a place in a good nursery, you had to pay for the same hours each week, for 52 weeks of the year. Maybe I was naïve, but I really felt that was unfair to all of us parents who work contracts, shifts, projects. Why shouldn’t we be able to access fantastic childcare for our little ones too, even if we couldn’t commit to a routine? So, I set up Officrèche — we opened a month before Max was born.
I am a writer at my soul – a novel, short stories, entries in a school’s guide, art journalism. However, I’ve never been one to starve in a garret for my art so I began helping to facilitate corporate change events when I quit my job in 2001. This sounds more boring than it was. In effect, a great crew of creatives — writers, artists, musicians, actors, designers, all of whom needed a lucrative part time job to support their art — came together and worked a 3-5 day event in a range of locations (Pinewood to Telford, and Paris in between), coming up with innovative solutions to help corporates understand and tackle their issues. These finite events were such a satisfying contrast to my other potentially endless projects — a novel, motherhood, setting up a business…
I bring my laptop in to Officrèche (superlight so it doesn’t weigh me down on the school run) and choose a seat at a table in our Member’s Room. I can see a pegged line of polaroids showcasing our members (with their details for easy face reminders/networking), a 70s green velour easy chair (great for curling up when you need a break from the keyboard), some photos of Chilean landscapes taken back when I was footloose and visiting friends there, and a VOIP phone so I can call down to our nursery rooms and check how my kids are doing — though they are now only here sometimes in half term/holidays.
There’s Lauren Laverne on 6 Music until 1pm and then Radio 3 until the school run — after that I’m gone and who knows what everyone else plays?! If people have fierce deadlines we turn the music off. We have a couple of editors of monthly magazines working here who appreciate the quiet the week they are putting their publications to bed. Buses go past outside, the sash windows rattle on a blustery day and there’s normally a conversation to join in with/listen to — groaning about a sleepless child, joy about an opportunity or award, or just one side of a phone call that sounds more interesting than anything on my to-do list.
With the windows open in the summer you can listen to the sound of the children playing on the deck on the ground floor. And the mothers of the littlest babies have their ears pricked for their cries or laughter — admittedly hard to hear though a concrete floor and fire doors but that’s one of a parent’s super power, extraordinary hearing.
I’m mostly in the members’ room during school hours, though sometimes I cover in the nursery over a staff lunchtime. If that’s the case, then I’m on the floor with cars, books, often a gloopy mix of cornflower and glitter (messy play?!). It’s a privilege to play with the kids and an invaluable check on the childcare team’s state of mind. I also multitask on my smartphone on buses and even (foolishly) during the steep walk to and from the school pick up. I aspire to keeping this a mindful stomp but in reality squeeze calls in so that when I am with my own children I can put my phone away and enjoy what they are interested in.
The best thing about where I work is the other people here. They are a great mixture of (mostly) parents who are all up to interesting bits of work — writers, stylists, architects, lawyers, entrepreneurs, translators, designers, directors. They are fun, friendly and really care about the community we’ve created together.
We always need more people here. With their children in the nursery on the floors below, our success depends on paying our fantastic staff the wages they deserve. To do that, we need more families to use us — those little babies keep growing up and out and into school!
This is my ideal work environment. If I could change on thing, I would have it spread over 2 floors so we could have a quiet room as well as a chatty room — at present we have a skype/beach hut where people can shut the door and make private calls.
My two kids feel hugely connected to this place since not only were they were the first kids to use the nursery but I designed the business in the months while Max was growing bigger inside me. They miss it now they are at school. My youngest recently begged me to bring his two greatest friends here and to ask their mothers to work upstairs too! He is also the boy who, at the age of 3, while I was laughing with a very pregnant lady on the bus, pointed urgently at my handbag so that I would remember to get a flyer out and give it to her. There’s a pre-school room here where they used to hang out. They go back there and play — marble run, painting, building dens, dressing up — it’s a great rest from the school curriculum.
My favourite material thing in this workspace is my old headmaster’s desk. Charles Malden was an amazing human, teacher and father. One of his daughters married one of my brothers so I host this inheritance in our members’ room – I find it inspiration and comforting to work at it, or to see someone else sitting at it.