We chat to blogger and activist Anna Whitehouse, aka Mother Pukka, about flexible-work campaigning and the power of social media
You may recognise Anna Whitehouse from her hugely successful blog Mother Pukka, but since 2015 she’s also been the face of Flex Appeal – an initiative that’s encouraging employers and workers to rethink traditional nine-to-five roles.
Here, she tells us what inspired to launch the campaign and how it’s developed since, plus life at home with her husband and two young daughters…
Anna, your campaign Flex Appeal got started in 2015. What inspired you to launch it?
One day, I was 12 minutes late for nursery pick-up because of train delays, and I was sat on one of those tiny primary-coloured chairs and told off by the nursery and I just thought, this isn’t working.
I put a flexible working request in, just to come 15 minutes early and leave 15 minutes earlier, and it was rejected on the grounds that it would open the floodgates to others seeking flexibility.
So, I quit in that moment, and that was when I launched Flex Appeal –to fight for flexible working and to question why we can’t open the floodgates to this flexibility.
How has the campaign developed since then?
We have a lobby in government at the moment and we’ve just had a 10-minute bill go through to put the onus on the employer, so it’s not down to the employee to prove why it works. It’s down to the employer to have flexibility from day one and not just after 26 weeks, which is the current law.
Your husband is involved in Flex Appeal, too. What’s it like working on this together?
You know, peaks and troughs! We’ve just written a book called Where’s My Happy Ending? (released in February 2020), and nothing prepares you for your husband editing your work!
Ultimately, it’s so important that he’s involved because flexible working isn’t just a mummy issue – it’s a people issue, and his voice is essential to make it seen as not just on one gender’s shoulders.
You also took the campaign to Downing Street in June 2018. What was that like?
Yes, we took #FlexAppeal to Downing Street to put forward changes we think need to be made and raise the profile of the campaign. Matt and I see ourselves as the people on the streets shouting about the issue, so to get recognition from governmental bodies was a big moment. We’re representing the millions pushed out of the workforce, so that meant a lot.
What’s next for the campaign?
We’ve just launched a Social Change campaign with a communications agency called Claremont. We decided that while we work to change the law, what needs to change first is people’s minds.
They need to see it as a good thing and not just another thing on a list of things to do. Our social change project is going to shine a light on the employers that are getting it right, to really champion those that get it and show others how to do it right too.
What advice would you give to those parents who are concerned about asking for flexible working?
I think the key is to present it in the most professional business way you can, because ultimately flexibility is good for business. Hold the hand over your employer, suggest a trial period perhaps for three months and be clear on how you’ll measure the success. Don’t take no as an answer, suggest a midway point.
You also have a strong presence on social media and a hugely successful blog Mother Pukka. What has it been like to witness the mum ‘blogosphere’ explode in the way that it has?
Part of me is elated and part of me is saddened, to be honest. I’m happy to see women rising and using social media tools that weren’t available and that’s a good thing.
But also, I’m increasingly aware of how many mothers have been pushed out of the workforce and how many set up a blog because of this, rather than out of choice, this was the next best thing they could do.
We see the blog as more of a campaigning base now than a lifestyle platform. It’s not about me and my family, it’s about the point we’re making, lobbying in government, and getting companies involved.
You have two daughters, Mae, six, and Eve, two. What’s your favourite thing to do as a family?
Lying on the sofa on a Sunday, with a bowl of Cheerios watching episodes of Paw Patrol!
Is story time big at home? Which books do they like?
It’s a sporadic combination of my own stories (Boris the Lost Badger is a firm favourite), That’s Not My Unicorn and excerpts of Harry Potter and The World’s Worst Children for Mae.
What brands do you like dressing them in?
A mix of everything from Matalan to independent brands like What Mother Made – they do amazing unisex jumpsuits for all ages.
Any favourite interior brands for their bedrooms?
I love the Modern Nursery for inspiration, but to be honest, it’s more of a practical space. Storage excites me – IKEA storage is where my interiors heart lies.
What’s the best thing about being a mum?
My favourite thing is that I’m not thinking about myself anymore, it forces me to think a little outside myself! It sounds dramatic, but I love that I’m raising the next generation – it’s my job.
Where’s My Happy Ending? (Bluebird) by Anna Whitehouse and Matt Farquharson, goes on sale on 6 February 2020. Visit Mother Pukka’s blog at motherpukka.co.uk.
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