The Nanny Solidarity Network is a grassroots network of nannies and au pairs building worker power to effect change.
We spoke to the Nanny Solidarity Network’s Sara Mendes about why the network formed, why nannies are raising their voices, and how they intend to redistribute power. The Nanny Solidarity Network is part of the Breakthrough Accelerator programme 2023.
Can you tell us about your campaign group and the change it exists to make?
The Nanny Solidarity Network is a grassroots worker- and migrant-led organisation based in London that supports nannies and au pairs. One of the ways we do that is through campaigns – for example, we’ve campaigned for minimum wage for au pairs in the past and now we’re focusing on campaigning for better regulations for childcare apps. We also have a trade union branch, the first for childcare workers in the UK that supports our campaigns and casework that we do for childcare workers
What prompted you to form the Nanny Solidarity Network?
The network came together during the pandemic, where many childcare workers lost their jobs and housing, myself included—I was let go without notice. This experience made me realize that things needed to change. Initially, we set up a hardship fund to assist nannies who were left without a place to stay. This eventually evolved into a network, and we recognized the necessity to open a union branch to transform the reality for childcare workers. While engaging with the UK trade union movement, we observed they weren’t fully equipped to support childcare workers or undocumented migrants. So, through the network and the union branch, we decided to provide that support ourselves.
Can you tell us about where you are in your campaign journey?
The network has run campaigns in the past, but we are learning everything as we go. So, it feels like we need to have a better understanding of what the better tools are to use in our campaigns to effectively provoke change. Part of that is because the network is migrant-led, and even though some of us have experience in campaigning in our home countries, we don’t necessarily understand the British society, bureaucratic, and political system as much as we would like. But we are intimately connected to the issues of childcare workers. Our lived experience in the sector not only makes us passionate about provoking a change, but we understand what works for childcare workers.
Having lived experience makes you want to change this system that no one cares or even thinks about and by raising our voices, we are calling for redistributing power.”
Was there ever any hesitancy on your part to launch a public campaign on an issue you had direct experience with?
No, I think that’s what motivates me – to have an opportunity to raise my voice for something I’m living through. Being a migrant in a very different country, with a different language, and working in private homes, doing a job with not much social prestige, you don’t feel seen or heard; sometimes, you even feel voiceless. In the campaign for a minimum wage for au pairs, it was very gratifying to share our stories with governmental bodies to provoke a change.it something that we felt we never being able to do so.
How do you think having direct experience of the issue helps your campaign efforts?
When we talk about policy change and policy in general, most of it has been done in a top-down way, especially trying to keep control of certain groups to favour another. We can see this explicitly with the regulations of domestic work. No domestic worker would choose to be exempt from minimum wage, not have limits on working hours, and be excluded from collective bargaining. But that’s the legislation, and it’s no wonder that the work done by migrant women, people who have historically been excluded from political decisions, is impacted. In our case, having lived experience makes you want to change this system that no one cares or even thinks about and by raising our voices, we are calling for redistributing power.
What hurdles have you faced as a direct-experience campaigner?
The precarity of our living and working conditions makes keeping our membership engaged in a campaign a big challenge. Nannies work very long hours, often for not very much pay, and sometimes our work can be quite isolating. Managing that reality alongside campaigning and keeping our membership motivated can be very difficult.
It’s very empowering to have people like Breakthrough on your side, supporting you and advising you, but letting you lead the way.”
Since receiving Accelerator support from Breakthrough, what has changed?
Breakthrough’s support has given us more clarity about the ways in which we can make change happen but it’s also helped to make us feel more powerful too. It’s very empowering to have people like Breakthrough on your side, supporting you and advising you, but letting you lead the way.
What would you say to other direct-experience campaigners worried there’s not support out there?
I would say that organisations like Breakthrough exist and they can help you, be it through coaching or workshops, they’re there and they can support you to succeed.
What would you like to have achieved by the end of the Accelerator programme?
We’d love to be capable of designing and delivering our own campaign strategy, able to decide which campaign routes are the best to take, and to better understand the British political system.
Read more about the Nanny Solidarity Network and support their campaigning efforts at: https://nannysolidaritynetwork.co.uk/
Campaigns we are currently supporting through our programmes cover a wide range of issues from discrimination and harassment in the workplace, social housing, workers rights in the gig economy, and supporting young people during challenging times.