Maggie Bolger, co-founder of international private members’ club Maggie & Rose, tells Lianne Kolirin about the importance of family and how her success story unfolded
When Maggie Bolger had her first child, she was in her early twenties and living a long way from home.
With most of her loved ones back in her native New Zealand, she soon discovered motherhood could be lonely. “I came here at 21, met my husband and quickly fell pregnant,” she says, now a mother of four.
Prior to kids, Maggie’s husband, Sean, had been a member of Soho House, and the couple often socialised there. But that stopped with the arrival of daughter Azia 15 years ago, followed by Oscar, now 12, and India, 11.
“I was stuck at home with three children under five,” says Maggie, 38. “Fifteen years ago, there was very little to do with kids: soft play areas that weren’t particularly nice, and classes in church halls. It seemed like mothers with children were second-class citizens.
“I thought eventually someone would do something about it, but nobody did.”
With every passing day, Maggie’s idea of a welcoming venue for families gathered momentum. Eventually she decided to take the initiative herself, joining forces with Rose Astor, who was running children’s activities elsewhere in London. “We had an instant connection,” says Maggie.
In 2007, the pair opened a private members’ club for families. Ever since, their names have hung on the door of the hugely successful Kensington venture.
Soon afterwards, Rose moved out of London. She remains a shareholder, but the day-to-day running is left to Maggie and Sean. The club has proven so popular that further branches have opened in Chiswick and Hong Kong, and the company has published a number of craft books.
Membership, which doesn’t come cheap, includes access to a range of arts, crafts, music and cookery classes for mainly pre-schoolers. The shabby chic vibe features a relaxed coffee shop in Kensington and a fully-licensed brasserie in Chiswick.
“I wanted it to be a home from home,” says Maggie. “It’s supposed to be a very child-led experience that’s creative and enjoyable.”
Classes and activities are themed and regularly updated. “We have really cool playlists for each theme. It could be anything from Dolly Parton to Coldplay mixed with nursery rhymes,” adds Maggie.
A couple of years after opening in Kensington, Maggie fell pregnant with Oliver, now five. But while some may have stepped back, Maggie upped the ante.
“I went into labour, and went back to work several days later,” she recalls. “By then we were looking for our next site. We were lucky to find Chiswick, so we signed straight away!”
The new venture quickly took off, this time featuring a huge nursery. Chiswick is more than four times the size of Kensington, and Hong Kong is bigger still – yet the family ethos remains. “My kids are getting a bit old to hang out at the clubs, but they have always been part of things and now help out, too.”
But all work and no play is not what the Bolger family is about. “My favourite thing to do together is to have a pyjama day and spend the day cooking,” says Maggie. “London also has awesome museums and galleries, and we’re lucky to have Holland Park nearby.”
The company employs about 100 people in the UK and 20 in Asia. “We have the most amazing staff so if I can’t be around, they will pick the kids up from school,” says Maggie. “They sometimes say they love working for us because it’s a family members’ club run by a family – and they feel part of that.”
The grandparents are also key to the success of the business. “Our mothers joined forces to look after the kids for a month when Sean and I were in Hong Kong,” says Maggie. “My mum comes back and forth from New Zealand and stays for long periods of time. Without her we couldn’t have done this.”
Since September, Sean has spent most of his time setting up the club in Hong Kong. So, will they venture even further afield? “We’re exploring another area in Asia, and the Middle East is of interest,” says Maggie.
Not bad for a young mum who dropped out of university during her first year. “When we first opened, everyone said that nobody wanted a private members’ club for mothers. I remortgaged my flat to get the funds,” she says. “I believe the only reason we are here is because I wasn’t business-minded. If I was, I might never have done it. Fear would have stopped me.”