Published on January 21, 2014 | by Andrea Francke0
How many times do we have to fight the same fight?
On January 11 this year Kim Dhillon and I hosted Crèche Course, an event in north London in support of the current campaign for childcare at the Royal College of Arts (@RCAKids).
On January 21, the new Feminist Society of the University of the Arts London met at the Nursery Gallery at the London College of Communication to discuss the closure of the nursery that used to occupy that space, and the lack of childcare provision at UAL.
I have to confess that the increased interest on this issue makes me incredibly happy.
In 2010, when UAL decided to close its nursery, the parents and staff involved faced a constant battle to have the matter treated as general interest and not limited to a small community of parents.
On March 26, 2010, we received a letter announcing the start of a consultation process for the closure of the nursery.
Although we had a meeting with Rob Imeson (then dean of students) and Julia Yates (then assistant director of students services) it was made very clear that we were not part of the consultation process and that the chances of the nursery remaining open were slim to none.
We joined the strike action at UAL on May 27 by having a picnic with SUARTs at LCC. After further discussions and the protest, it became clear nothing could be done to change UAL’s position on the matter and on July 30, the nursery was closed.
This resulted in eight members of staff being made redundant and 22 parents having to look for childcare alternatives within a very small timeframe.
In my case, I put Oscar on seven waiting lists for nurseries near my residency, and he was only accepted in one of them. Other student and staff parents faced the same challenges, and some of them were not as lucky as me.
The rhetoric on cuts that attaches each cut to a specific group of users promotes the idea that if they don’t affect you directly they are not your problem.
It has been repeatedly used by the government to avoid unified protest. In the case of childcare it becomes even worse because of the usual tendency to see it as a domestic and private issue as opposed to a public and infrastructural one.
“If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” Florynce Kennedy
One of the most moving moments of ‘Crèche Course’ was when Jane Furst, one of the founders of the original RCA nursery in 1968, and Vanessa King, her daughter, reflected on the fact that this battle had been fought and supposedly won, and that we should not have to be going around convincing institutions of the importance and effect of these structures.
The current campaign to restore some type of childcare or child -friendly environment at RCA has received an incredible amount of support from staff and students. The nursery at Goldsmiths runs at full capacity and stopped losing money after its management was transferred to the student union (an option that was presented and ignored by UAL student services).
For my MA final show at Chelsea College I set up a temporary utopian nursery inside the building. For those few days, the issues and impact of that closure were visible.
It was incredible to have students dropping by and hearing from a few of their female teachers about how the nursery had been fundamental to their career paths; mothers pulling their kids inside and lecturing them on the sacrifices they had to make and what’s the real impact and choices one is faced with as a parent; alumni that would reflect on the symbolic value of seeing that their pregnancy didn’t meant the end of their student lives or careers, but that it was accepted as a normal part of life.
Since that experience, making these issues visible has been one of the basis of my practice, along with actually fighting to see structural changes.
“If childcare was an equally shared problem among genders, it would have transcended the private sphere and would be treated as a public and infrastructural issue.” Andrea Francke
Looking back on the material I printed for the project I found that one of my goals was to stop UAL erasing the nursery from its history.
In institutions where students come and go sometimes the best way to win a battle is to wait just long enough for the collective memory to be erased. To let everyone forget that something has been possible once is to somehow extinguish its potential.
It’s incredibly rewarding to see the current student union embracing the issue and bringing it to light again. If it’s sad to realise we have to fight these fights again, it’s also inspiring to find company on those battles and to feel that there is always a chance to win.
Andrea Francke was born in Peru and is presently based in London. She was a recipient of the Red Mansion Art Prize (2011), a Communal Knowledge resident at The Showroom gallery in London (2012), artist in residency at CCA Derry – Londonderry (2013), and is currently an associate at Open East School. For more information go to: http://www.andreafrancke.me.uk