Two Greek women find niche in London nanny market
By Lina Giannarou
They speak Greek, cook traditional Greek dishes and know all the songs and nursery rhymes from back home. Looking back, the idea that Elena Tsoka and Fenia Attilakou came up with was bound to succeed: The Greek Nannies agency the duo set up recently in London provides solutions to hundreds of families who have left Greece and emigrated to Britain in search of employment and are looking to hire people to take care of their children.
“The top priority for parents is the language,” Tsoka told Kathimerini. “No matter how keen they might be, they work very hard in order to make a success of things and it’s difficult to maintain the Greek element in its entirety. This is especially true in the case of children who are born in Britain, who may lose their Greek when everyone around them speaks a different language. The Greek nanny solution is ideal in this case.”
The agency works with nannies who belong to two broad categories: young women who have trained as teachers as well as older women who also emigrated to Britain looking for work. “We are very fortunate because we have met some remarkable women. Some of them are young and have fantastic academic qualifications, while others are older women, mothers of students who work here or women who came here because of the crisis and have experience in this particular field. Every category has its own advantages and covers the families’ different needs.”
Working as a nanny is not about earning extra pocket money. The two businesswomen point out that they’re “not in the babysitting services sector.” “Nannies become an extension of the family and, consequently, the selection process is very strict. It’s also a very well-paid profession and includes all the privileges that apply in this country.”
Families looking for help also come under a certain amount of scrutiny. “We have come across cases where we had to reject families who made irrational demands or with whom we couldn’t reach an agreement regarding the financial aspect. You also come across Greeks – though, fortunately, very few of them – who might actually argue that the minimum wage in Greece is such and such and are therefore unwilling to pay more. We actually discourage women from taking on such positions.”
The agency has also met with considerable success with British families.
“Clearly the largest percentage of our clientele is Greek or mixed families, but there is interest on the part of English families as well. They are people who have met and socialized with Greeks, people who traveled to Greece and fell in love with the place. They appreciate our temperament and our cuisine,” said Attilakou. “Besides, Greeks usually speak English so they tend to have a comparative advantage compared to other people.”
Hiring a nanny in Britain is not a privilege exclusively held by the upper class.
“Everyone needs to hire someone for their children here because parents tend to work very long hours and there are no grandmothers to cover the needs as they do in Greece,” said Tsoka. The agency also provides tutoring services, which may ultimately save families from an extra cost which could rise to even 40 pounds per hour.
Ultimately, the agency was established based on Tsoka’s and Attilakou’s own experiences. The latter has been living in London for the last 13 years, while the former moved there when her husband received a job transfer. Both women have children and came to realize how difficult it is to combine motherhood with a full-time job.
Last summer they decided to give up their respective jobs and to set up their own company that would effectively solve a major issue for Greeks living in the English capital. In the last two years alone the immigration flow from Greece to Britain has risen 30 percent.
In contrast to how things work in Greece, the process of establishing a business in London proved an easy task. “You simply register on a database, fill in a few applications that you forward to an accountant, who in turn, registers you at the tax office,” noted Tsoka. “You actually come up with your own invoices in the form of Word documents. Businesses with an annual turnover of less than 70,000 pounds do not pay VAT and can be more competitive as they don’t pass on the tax to the consumer. For example, although we are a small agency, we are cheaper compared to our competitors.”
So far the reaction to the business venture has been more than warm.
“Most parents find it really hard to make a choice from among the candidates. These people arrived in Britain recently and are very anxious with regard to how things will turn out for them,” said the two entrepreneurs. “This is why a Greek nanny relieves them of considerable stress.”