At last!

After a long and tortuous journey, nursery provision is finally in place for the Bar. Fiona Jackson explains the background to, and the role of, the “Bar Nursery at Smithfield House”.

The problem of retaining barrister parents, particularly women once they start a family, is not new to our profession. For the self-employed Bar, the financial costs of having a family can be particularly high as they are unable to benefit from childcare vouchers and other initiatives available to employees. It must be beyond argument that as a profession and in the public interest we should be striving to ensure the retention of the brightest and the best individuals who have spent many years in training and who, we hope, will go on to become the Queen’s Counsel and judges of the future.


Accordingly, when I heard the disappointing news in mid-2010 that Middle Temple had not been able to accommodate the Bar Nursery Association’s proposal to utilise its space, I offered to assist the Bar Council in looking further into the provision of nursery care for the Bar in the vicinity of the Inns of Court. Richard Salter QC, Chair of the Legal Services Committee, extended his support and asked me to chair a sub-committee to take the project forward. Little did I realise the scale of the problem in so doing and how many hurdles would have to be overcome to achieve our goal. I would admit that this “brief” may have been among the hardest in my professional life to date, but it must also be one of the most satisfying of which to have endorsed the backsheet!

Armed with the continued and vocal backing of Baroness Ruth Deech, DBE, the Chair of the Bar Standards Board, and Michael Todd QC, then Chairman-Elect of the Bar, plus my enthusiastic and talented committee, we set to work exploring our options and quickly began to appreciate the harsh realities of finding suitable space within the Inns of Court: there was none which any Inn was willing to make available. In addition, in these times of financial constraints, we had no budget to buy premises in central London and which might have provided the ideal solution.

By co-opting a few more committee members with additional business skills, we made enough progress throughout the first half of 2012 to have a shortlist of commercial providers, all eager to work with the Bar Council to provide what we wanted. One of our committee even took himself off to research the workings of a children’s nursery in London so he could more readily understand the problems we would face when setting up such a venture.

Our interviews and then visits to the shortlist of contenders unearthed the ideal nursery in a superb setting able to take on more children immediately and offer them care of an extremely high standard. Our hopes had been realised finally of finding somewhere close enough to each of the Inns in central London to open a viable nursery for the Bar.

Co-branded as the “Bar Nursery at Smithfield House”, places are available now for children aged from 8 weeks to 5 years from 7am to 7pm, all at special discounted rates negotiated for barristers, chambers’ and Bar Council staff. The nursery offers flexible full time and part time day childcare packages, and importantly also emergency packages to cater for those who face unexpected problems with their existing childcare or who are listed at short-notice in court in central London. See the bottom of this article for the link and use the dedicated telephone number to make an appointment to visit the nursery and enrol your child.

The recent survey which many of you so helpfully completed has given us a lot of very useful feedback and convinced us that our dream to roll this provision out across the country simply has to be taken up. This is not a London-centric offering: the aim of the committee, with suitable backing from the Bar Council and the Circuits, will be to replicate our achievement at Smithfield House in our major provincial cities where the Bar has a significant presence, and address other linked childcare issues that you raised in your survey responses.

In these harsh times for many, particularly at the publicly funded Bar, the provision of a suitable day nursery close to where barristers practise should make a difference: in the Bar Council Exit Survey 2011 over a quarter of women leaving did so because of childcare responsibilities, so we hope that with the opening of this initial suitable and reasonably priced childcare facility, more will spring up across the country to prevent the drain of talent.

I look forward to seeing the Smithfield Nursery flourish and I hope each Circuit will have fruitful discussions with our committee to see what can be done locally. The committee contact at the Bar Council is Sophia Kakabadse, Marketing Manager of Member Services, who has done much to bring this about along with my fellow committee members Richard Salter QC, Derek Sweeting QC, Amanda-Jane Field, Clodagh Maguire and Chris Owen.

For further information or to book a place, please contact barcouncil@smithfieldnursery.co.uk or 020 3556 1594
and quote Bar Council.

Fiona Jackson, Chair of the Bar Nursery Committee.

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