In an effort to restore a degree of normality to the lives of babies born during the pandemic, the teacher and business-owner Rachel Bradshaw in September established Baby Cherubs, a baby development centre based in Hoghton, Preston and which offers sessions incorporating education, fun, and performing arts to help babies develop confidence and social skills.
"There haven't been many places for babies born during lockdown to go so, as someone with a background in teaching, I decided to start someone where babies could come and develop key skills," explains Rachel, a secondary school teacher from Buckshaw Village. "I had confidence in starting the business during the pandemic, but some people thought I was crazy!
"I knew in my gut that it was the right thing to do. Socialising is so important for babies and parents alike," adds Rachel, who works alongside Jen Hardy at Baby Cherubs. "Some kids had never met other babies before coming to us, so I had to try and, if it failed, it failed. Thankfully, it's been a real success, so I'm very glad.
"You see a real difference in the babies: some are really clingy when they first come and won't interact of even look at others, whereas now they smile all the way through, explore the room, and their mums say that, as soon as they hear music, they're dancing with excitement," Rachel, 43, continues. "It's lovely to see that transformation."
As a mother-of-two who's not only worked in education for over 20 years but who also runs the performing arts company Little Voices, Rachel understands the importance of educational and social development keenly. As a result, Baby Cherubs classes are based around the babies' happiness, music, and movement, helping them develop physically and emotionally.
"We're very different from normal baby classes!" says Rachel, who reveals that, in a recent session, the kids were dancing to the Vengaboys. "We have loads of fun, sing pop songs, and are all about supporting parents as well as babies - that was a really important thing from the start. We give parents space to ask questions and talk about things they can't anywhere else.
"I'm so pleased we've been able to offer that and it's nice to see the parents getting along, too," continues Rachel. "Some of them meet up, go out for coffee or dinner, and have that social time which people have missed during the pandemic. Being able to give them the chance to make friends and socialise as well as their babies is just a double bonus."
With human interaction shown to have a tremendously positive impact on babies during their early years, Baby Cherubs offers classes for zero- to six-month-olds focusing on sensory play; six- to 12-month-olds incorporating music; one- to two-year-olds promoting independence and storytelling; and two- to three-year-olds introducing creativity and imagination.
The sessions also promote baby-parent bonding, motor skills, and language development whilst encouraging self-expression from a young age. Last month, Baby Cherubs also began offering hypnobirthing sessions at their studio, an in-depth antenatal training programme designed to help childbirth be as positive an experience as it can be and, for those looking to get more physical, the centre also offers Chilled Cherub baby massage classes.
"It's massively rewarding," says Rachel of her work with Baby Cherubs. "When the business plan was just a scribble on a piece of paper, I knew from the start that I wanted it to be supportive for babies' development whilst also helping parents build confidence too. It's all about parents and babies alike having fun and making friends.
"We're qualified and we have a really good curriculum, but don't take ourselves too seriously," Rachel adds. "I love it, it's so rewarding. I mean, getting to dance about to Vengaboys with your baby - what's not to love?"