An idyllic childhood in Somerset forged a love of the great outdoors for the managing director of Muddy Puddles, Natasha Ascott. So she’s now helping inner city kids to get out in nature. We talk business, motherhood and kids’ outdoor clothing…
Yesterday, we spoke to Natasha Ascott about her wild, carefree childhood, being raised on a farm in Somerset. Today, we hear about how she manages the old ‘juggle’ (motherhood/career), being a woman in business and some of the incredible initiatives she’s working on at her kids’ outdoor clothing brand Muddy Puddles. For instance, providing waterproofs for refugee children and for city kids on farm visits.
Being a mum and an entrepreneur…
“You become much more focused when juggling work and children, there isn’t time not to be. I get up at 5am, work 5-6.30, go for a run until 7, get the kids up and take them to school, I’m back at my desk by 8.30 and work until 6.30pm.
I then put kids to bed at 7pm. I fit a lot into my day, mid-week, but then I don’t work on weekends and make sure I’m not on a screen when I’m around the kids. My business is selling to mothers, so it’s valuable to be a mother and to be in the same space as the customers.
I have a husband, who’s great – and a nanny, who’s also great. But I’m missing tonnes of my children’s childhood by not picking them up from school, by choosing to work – so compared to my friends who are working by being mothers, I feel absent.
It’s a big conscious choice. You’re choosing to not be a lot to your children. And they may turn around and say: “you’re always off doing things”. It makes you quite tough, having a rigid schedule; there’s less ebb and flow, so I’m not as soft these days.
On the other hand, for my marriage I think it’s good. It’s quite positive. That’s just my personal perspective. We have time together in a frazzled 8pm kind-of-way but me working puts us on more of an even footing. When I’ve not been working, I’ve felt pissed off and resentful for doing the hard slog and not being paid. So in that sense, it’s good.
I think there’s tonnes of great support for women in business. It’s only that juggling thing, which women choose for themselves. I try to fit more in, while my husband just goes off to work and doesn’t see it as a juggle. If I were an engineer, it might be different. I have friends who are barristers – in more traditionally male environments – and that’s harder. But it’s not my experience.
Muddy Puddles – kids’ outdoor clothing
We want to enable children across the UK to play outdoors. We launched Muddy Academy and work with schools and nurseries, offering a set of tools helping teachers to teach outdoors. Not just fun playtime but numeracy, literacy and science.
There are four lesson plans a month: science, maths, art – all the core curriculum topics. And it’s differentiated between early years: key stage 1, 2 – so for three-year-olds up to 11-year-olds. We’re trying to tackle this issue from the schools’ perspective so that it becomes an integral part of education.
The top down approach can be stressful but we’re providing teachers with more tools that they can add in to their lesson planning. It’s very possible to encourage outdoor learning and play in urban schools; there’s lots of green space in London – and in all UK cities.
And then we try and do exactly the same with families. Every week we run free events for families across the UK and make them as urban-friendly as possible. It started with 60 people I knew in London, we did our first outdoor event, and that list has now grown to 2000 families – in Bristol, as well as London.
In July, we’ll be getting Muddy Ambassadors to run our events. The idea is they’re things that anyone could go and do. For instance, there’s a Scavenger Hunt – that doesn’t require idyllic fields. You have to find twigs and leaves, then make a collage. Children adore it, it takes about two hours. Then there’s Mud Larking: it’s incredibly lo-fi. You go to the bank of the Thames and collect treasures: dinosaur bones, old clay pipes.
We also work with the Farms for City Children charity, set up by Michael and Claire Morpurgo. They have three farms, where inner city kids can become a farmer for a week. For lots of those children, it’s one of their most seminal primary school experiences – feeding chickens, reading stories before bed each night, no screens. But they often turn up badly equipped, so we provide waterproofs for all the kids. We’re also starting a free rail, so the kids can take home a coat when they return to the city.
Lastly, we provide coats for refugee children in the UK and Calais – all our seconds, really good returns – we put them back into the refugee drop-in I work at.
Getting my own kids outdoors…
I let my kids watch a movie at weekends, or use the computer for homework, but I limit screens because that happens in life without providing it at home. At the weekend, we often go to my mum and dads’ in Somerset; go to the farm.
But when we’re in London, we’ll be out come rain and shine. In the city, this does require more thought. But I become a complete witch if we haven’t been outdoors enough so I make it happen.
The dream for Muddy Puddles and kids’ outdoor clothing…
Global domination. I want to become a lovely, big business that is the market leader for everything we do – get kids outdoor, wearing our waterproofs. That’s the aim. I think it will take a while, but that’s the ambition.
And for my personal life…
Not to stuff anything up: my marriage, my children. Make sure that all goes well enough. I’ve not got an ambition for perfection. I’m so lucky to have healthy children, so fortunate, so I don’t want to mess it up.
If I could wake up anywhere tomorrow…
We spend all our summer in the Highlands, which I adore, so probably in the middle of the mountains, in the middle of nowhere.”
If you’re looking for kids’ outdoor clothing, Muddy Puddles have a fun, playful, unisex selection of waterproofs. Check it out, and read more about the Muddy Academy.