Rebecca Fleury, Managing Partner at Smart Steps Out-of-School Recreation Service, tells Donegal Woman how her first steps in business became a giant leap for the community.
Rebecca had the bright idea to set up a business in 2015 when she saw parents in the Drumkeen community struggling to find somewhere for their children to stay and play before and after school.
Being a mum of four gave Rebecca the knowledge of the limited childcare options available in the area. She decided to go out on a limb to open up a before and after school service at the local school, but little did she know how big it would become.
“I didn’t just want to create a ‘band-aid’ solution, but rather a unique and dedicated service that is child focused, age and stage appropriate and one that is beneficial to families and to the whole school community,” Rebecca said.
And so, Smart Steps was created. Rebecca explains: “Smart Steps sets itself apart from others by being the only school age childcare service in Donegal that operates on a full-time wrap-around basis, 50 weeks of the year, on-site from within a school facility.
“We offer a friendly, play-based space for kids that’s relaxed and fun. We want to give kids the opportunity to do regular ‘kid stuff’ – a big part of which involves outdoor play which is a prominent feature of our service.”
Rebecca’s smart idea and business sense combined to earn her the Donegal IBYE Best Start Up Business award.
She started off with four children in the service, which has grown in just two years to welcome over 100 children through the doors. To date, Smart Steps has an enrolment figure representing over 60% of the Drumkeen school community.
The service helps parents as much as it helps children pass their free time with enjoyable activities.
Rebecca explains: “Thanks to various childcare initiatives from DCYA, we can provide high quality childcare to so many children with little to no cost to certain categories of parents. As a result, many parents in the community have been able to return to work or to education / training and we are so happy to be helping parents achieve their goals.”
Rebecca’s goal was reached with a great business network and she considers many people to be at the heart of her success.
“First and foremost I would have to say my husband and business partner David and our 4 wonderful children have been my greatest source of support and encouragement.
Rebecca adds: “Our business would quite simply be non-existent without the strength of our children. They have had to endure huge changes over the past 2 years with me going from being a full time mum for 6 years, to being a full time business woman!
“My children are my inspiration and have been a huge influence on the development of Smart Steps.”
Rebecca is grateful to her passionate playworkers, to Donegal Childcare and the Local Enterprise Office for their advice and support, and to the people of Drumkeen for their support and encouragement.
“Smart Steps would not have seen the light of day without the support and blessing of the Drumkeen community and the teaching staff and Board of Management of Drumkeen NS. To them, we are eternally grateful,” she said.
One word of advice she has for other Donegal businesswoman is that perseverance is key.
“I read an article once about the struggles of successful businesswomen. The article told of how the public will only ever see the rosy success story of business, that no-one will ever know just how close nearly all successful people came to giving up, how many sleepless nights were had and how many sacrifices were made in the pursuit of their business. I found this to be a great comfort and I often remind myself of it when things get tough. “This too, shall pass”.
Rebecca counts herself fortunate to get inspiration from the young people she works with every day.
“The children are my ultimate inspiration to succeed. To create something that supports and encourages all children’s self esteem and wellbeing is essential.”
“Whether it’s activities at home with my own children or the afterschool environment, the children’s happiness and well being is always my first priority and the single biggest driving factor in the development of our service,” Rebecca said.
Smart Steps works to benefit the school community too. Funding from DCYA will bring in a new kitchen to Drumkeen NS, playworkers and the kids help teachers with odd jobs after school, and Smart Steps brings in increased revenue through rent.
Rebecca wishes to bring the out-of-school support to more families across Donegal after seeing the local success of Smart Steps at Drumkeen NS.
“We are honoured and privileged to have played such a supportive role to families in the Drumkeen community, but we have no intentions of stopping there!”
“Our plans are to support as many families as possible throughout Donegal by expanding our service to other school communities. We are currently reaching out to other School boards of Management and hope to roll out various services to a number of schools over the coming years.
“We have developed a number of service options for schools, ranging from full wrap-round care to themed activity camps.”
Rebecca and David are musicians and have been delivering music lessons to students in Drumkeen over the past 2 years, they hope to add this to their multi-faceted service.
“Our music team is currently developing a 6 week music programme for primary schools in conjunction with Musical Futures UK. This additional offering is expected to be ready to roll out to schools during term time within the next few months.”
“My dream is to see many, many, ‘Smart Schools’ throughout the county in the future.”
If you think Smart Steps is a step in the right direction for your children and community, contact Rebecca at 074 9890710 and 087 7769476
‘Me and My Business’ is a special series on DonegalWoman.ie in association with the Donegal Women in Business Network. To find out how you can take part email firstname.lastname@example.org.