With social clubs becoming the new country clubs, UK-based mother of four Maggie Bolger wanted to ensure that children, too, get their own private space to enjoy the benefits of club life.
In 2007, she opened Maggie & Rose, the first-of-its-kind clubhouse in London to provide children with a beautiful and creative space that would also appeal to grown-ups. “I was a member of the social club Soho House in London. But I spent most of my time at home when I had kids. I just thought how cool it would be to have a well-designed space where I could mingle with other mums while still having the kids nearby under one roof. So that’s how it first kind of started,” says 44-year-old Bolger.
Maggie & Rose is a pioneer in the industry. Dubbed the “Soho House for yummy mummies” by UK newspaper The Sunday Times, the brand has the way for a new model of family-friendly spaces in cities. Very quickly, Maggie & Rose grew to eight global sites — many of which are in China — before her departure in 2019.
Bolger burst into the scene in July last year with the opening of b_together in London’s St John’s Wood, an affluent district of residential streets in the English capital. Taking inspiration from her experiences of parenthood with four growing children (now between 11 and 21 years old) — as well as insights from hundreds of families — b_together is an evolution of Bolger’s original concept, reconfigured for today.
Imagine a tranquil designer-looking space with rattan furniture punctuated by lots of plants where the kids are the pirates of their own Neverland, and the adults just live in it – with a cocktail in one hand and a laptop (or book) in another. “B_together is a family club that is kids led because kids are what brings the family together. Hence the name b_together, where they can b_creative and b_inspired,” says Bolger.
In August, b_together opened its second outlet in Singapore — supported by Kids21 — in the heart of Dempsey Hill, taking over the former premises for Maggie & Rose. The integrated building comprises an all-day dining restaurant AT feast, Kids21 boutique and b_together, all joined by connecting doors and interlinking passageways.
A family of six will enjoy a single membership, which allows them entry to the member’s section on the ground floor, complete with a private bar, outdoor movie area, games zone, treehouse, and yurt for classes and workshops. Upstairs is a spacious 2,500sqft soft play area for younger children, dotted with quiet corners, a library for parents to work and relax, and classrooms for art and cooking.
“With b_together, we offer that sense of community in a space that truly caters for everyone in the family. You can have a cocktail at the member’s bar in the evening while the kids watch movies outside, play in the yurt, or at the treehouse. Or you could get on a business call while your kids are at drop-off play, have a coffee meeting at the restaurant, and work on emails in the library upstairs. The whole idea is that you can connect with everybody in your life in just one space,” she says.
Sustainability, an essential part of the b_together concept, has been considered in many parts of the business, including interior design, class curriculum and more. This eco-friendly mantra also extends to the cuisine served by AT feast, b_together’s all-day dining hub offering healthy bites with planet-friendly twists.
Consciousness about our planet is also one of the core influences of b_together's bespoke curriculum, alongside creativity and compassion. This curriculum is delivered through b_together’s offering for babies to tweens, with classes and holiday camps for kids aged four to 12 years and extending to specific programming for teens. Even the cookery studio in AT feast works with a sustainable focus.
In this interview with Options, Bolger shares more about sustainability as a critical feature in reimagining of her new club for the modern family.
Because of where we are located in Dempsey, b_together has a very green, tropical, outdoorsy theme. Everything is rattan and bamboo, and we try to avoid using plastic. Many of our wood-based materials are either recycled, upcycled, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, or sourced from companies with a sustainable ethos.
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In the restaurant, our coasters are made from Beach Clean material from natural cork and recycled, food-safe EVA plastics saved from the oceans. Our cups and saucers come from HuskeeCups — made from recycled husks of coffee beans — and we use premium filtered water and hence, no single-use bottles. Also, we don’t use avocados in our recipes as they have one of the highest carbon footprints. The farmers are known to cut down trees and shrubs to give their young avocado trees greater sunlight, thus contributing to increased deforestation.
As much as possible, we also source from local, sustainability-led companies such as Gush, where we get odourless and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) free paint, as well as Chop Value, which upcycles chopsticks into very stylish lifestyle items and furniture. Currently, we’re also visiting food suppliers and farms that are carbon neutral.
Does this sustainability theme extend to your curriculum?
Yes, we build sustainability into our curriculum classes and camps, teaching the children how to be aware of our environment and engaging them in fun and creative ways to learn about sustainability. For example, we don’t buy canvas anymore for artwork. Instead, we use old discarded cardboard such as boxes from Amazon deliveries. It's not as pretty as a white canvas, but the kids think it’s cool and embrace the message we’re sending.
We're not perfect by any means, but we are just trying with every little thing we can do. As a fellow parent and business owner, I feel it’s my responsibility to quickly change and push the agenda for our children’s futures.
What is in the pipeline for b_together?
So far, we’ve already rolled out four of eight modules in London. When things are more settled, we intend to launch Move — a physical component conducted by a personal trainer and yoga instructor in London — and a baby programme and programmes for teens and tweens.
My kids say that what is missing in school is life skills. So, we are curating courses like b_savvy, which is about getting a job, getting a LinkedIn profile done and how to do a job interview. For b_stuffed, we prepare them for university and how to live on GBP10 ($16), for example. We also teach them how to cook, host a dinner party and make friends. And for b_safe, it teaches you self-defence, whether it’s learning some martial arts or how to navigate digital bullying.
The most important aspect of these courses is that it is curated by teens and executed by peers, because no one wants to be taught by their middle-aged mum! So we’re looking to hire graduates to teach these modules.
Is b_together also a childcare centre?
We have experienced facilitators who curate creative classes and camps for early childhood development, but we do not have the licence to be a certified centre for education. I want it to go opposite to what kids are getting at school. We want to offer creative learning, link it to developmental goals and complement curriculums.
What are the membership fees, and what does it entitle you to?
It is not supposed to be such an exclusive thing that is unattainable. Currently, there is a one-time joining fee of $3,000 and a subsequent monthly subscription of $295 for a family of six. Membership allows you to bring in two more outside guests, plus you get pre-loaded credits worth $90 a month to book classes, discounts on F&B, camps and classes, and reciprocal club access to our flagship outlet in London.
We have 200 to 250 members at a time in our plans, but that is not a hard number that we must reach. It depends on how active they are and how active we keep them. A members club is about the members and ensuring they feel the value of being part of a close-knit community.