My Early Hour: Leo Wood, PlayPen

“I don’t want to sound like a smug git whose got it all – cause I don’t – but I’m actually really happy with my work/life balance.” Leo Wood on running a co-working space, pop-up creche PlayPen and raising two young girls…

Leo Wood, 34, lives in London with her husband Ru Scott – who’s an architect – and her daughters Evie, three, and Frankie, three months

What’s your home like?
We are so lucky where we live – it’s on a hidden street; a little Georgian semi-detached house found down a garden path, so we’re of a ‘secret garden’ paradise really.

What time are you up in the morning?
5.30am on a bad day, 7am on a (very) good day.

What wakes you up?
My three-year-old crashing around.

How do you feel?
Positive, happy, tired, excited about the future, loving being a mum to a newborn baby again.

What do you do first thing?
A run to the loo with my three-year-old (glamorous). Then a few minutes to hang out in bed with my daughters and husband before starting the day with a vengeance and not stopping til the evening.

In three words, describe mornings in your home?
Typical family chaos.

What’s for breakfast?
Weetabix, smoothies, nutella on toast, yoghurt. Occasionally homemade pancakes which husband and daughter love to make together.

How might the rest of your day pan out?
It depends on the day of the week. The early days in the week are bliss with just the newborn to look after. So it’s peaceful and calm and I can get work and errands done and maybe even read or watch some TV. Later in the week, when I look after both my daughters, it’s all a bit more full on: we always have fun things planned though, whether it’s a trip into town or the zoo, or a playdate or heading to a special event or festival that’s on. We love the new app HOOP, it’s really helped us find some great kids’ activities.

What’s your workspace like?
I run a couple of co-working spaces (Winkley Studios and Cook’s Yard) but I haven’t made it into either space much since having Frankie. Both those spaces though are really homely, friendly, calm and affordable.

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My other venture PlayPen, which has been a bit of a passion project and has been running since April, is a weekly “pop up” parent friendly workspace and crèche. It takes place in an existing site (ie. not mine) in Mile End – the St Pauls Way Centre, which houses a crèche and the awesome Paper & Cup café where the PlayPen parents can work.

Where are the kids when you’re working?
At the moment I’ve got the newborn permanently strapped to my chest, so never very far. My daughter’s about to start at an amazing new Montessori nursery nearby – complete with a garden and chickens. She’s very excited!

Tell us about your business…
I used to work as an arts and theatre producer until I had my first daughter in 2013. Since then, I’ve been focussing on running my two permanent co-working spaces (the ones that don’t have crèche facilities), as it’s a far more sustainable and financially viable business with small kids. It means I’ve nearly got it cracked on the flexible working and work-life balance thing.

Then PlayPen is a secondary business/project that I’ve been wanting to set up for a couple of years but it took a while to work out the exact model for the business and also the correct site to run it from. Also I say PlayPen is a business but it’s not really – it has been established thanks to a small grant from Poplar Harca housing association and it definitely doesn’t make any profit at all!

I became really passionate about the need for more flexible childcare options for parents who want to work for themselves and only part time. There’s a real lack of options out there and it’s been a bit of a mission of mine to try and help solve this problem since having children of my own and needing high quality, affordable and flexible childcare sometimes myself.

What’s the greatest challenge when running your own business?
It’s definitely needing to be skilled in all sorts of areas, and having to do everything from being the dogsbody to running the finances, marketing, general strategy. Inevitably one person isn’t going to be so strong in all these areas so there are weaker patches in the business. A great answer to this can of course be having a really good mentor to help guide and support you on your own. Or a business partner – though I’m still looking for the perfect one of these though, it’s not an easy find.

What makes it all worthwhile?
Well it has to be my daughters and family of course. And those random, special happy moments that we have together where I’m outside of myself looking down thinking “I should record this moment in the happy memory bank”. I think also seeing the journey from a seed of an idea to a real project/business is deeply satisfying. I enjoy most of the process of setting up and running a business really.

Are there aspects of the production that you delegate to others?
I tend to do most of the work myself, as I’m a good administrator and like finance and numbers. I’ve got a brilliant person currently running my two workspaces though while I’m on maternity leave and I am getting very used to having the help – I’m not sure I could go back to all the property management, loo roll ordering side of running two co-working spaces now!

Are you a happy lone worker, or do you enjoy the buzz of a shared workspace?
I’m a very happy lone worker, but by running workspaces and having set up PlayPen and meeting lots of other working mums through that I do feel well connected and supported and part of a wider professional community.

What’s the secret to career success?
Of course this is different for everyone. For me the ultimate goal is balance – enough time to be a very present and involved mum, whilst also having half of my time dedicated to my own professional work whatever that may be. And of course earning enough money for the occasional nice spoiling holiday.

Is the juggle real for you… do you find it difficult balancing parenting/relationship/me-time/time for friends/career?
I don’t want to sound like a smug git whose got it all – cause I don’t – but I’m actually really happy with my work/life balance. I feel that at the moment I’ve got the exact balance that I want and I’m really chuffed about that. However I do feel that I’ve had to make compromises in my professional life by not working full time, not being able to or wanting to travel much with work etc. But I am fine with that – we (hopefully) all live a long time these days and there will be hopefully many decades to come when my kids are older when I can invest more energy in my business and working life.

Describe an ideal weekend?
Ideal weekend would involve both time with and without the kids – maybe some time off to head to a party or out to dinner, followed by a really nice family day at the zoo or in the park with friends. Good weather and friends essential.

If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would it be?
In my dreams… in a beautiful hotel resort by a beach being waited on hand and foot. Somewhere hot by a deliciously cool swimming pool with a book in hand and the kids busy and happy playing nearby so I can relax.

Any other comments?
I hope this all doesn’t sound too snug and happy – life with two young kids is of course dull, relentless, exhausting and all out difficult sometimes!