ECE Diamonds

Crispin Gardiner – childcare activist

b. 1942
Life member 1990

In the 1970s, when women were struggling to break barriers around childcare, one man also became a childcare activist when his own preschooler required childcare.

Waikato University physicist Crispin Gardiner led the formation of the Campus Crèche Society, battling with the University and its associated institutions to provide a building. Instead, they found “six ways of saying it was not their job” to support childcare. 

In a poster circulated across the campus, Crispin wrote: “No-one in the male dominated organisations that control this campus is willing to provide as a matter of urgency a facility which will, because of the male dominated nature of our society, benefit mainly women students. If the Crèche does not operate in 1974, it will be the result of political manoeuvres of the men in all these organisations.”

Eventually, in 1976, the University supplied a permanent building, a villa with grounds. The building is still in use, as part of a much-enlarged complex.

It was just the beginning of Crispin’s work to improve recognition, funding and support for childcare. He became the only male member of the Hamilton branch of the Association and was elected to the executive committee in 1976. 

Vitally, Crispin’s bold approach to applying for grants secured, for the first time, ongoing government funding for the Association, enabling it to become a professional organisation, to establish its own training programme and qualification, and to pay staff.

Crispin, with others, was also active in lobbying for policy throughout the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s to support quality childcare, including the location of childcare within education, not social welfare. While successive governments were becoming increasingly supportive of childcare, Crispin remained tireless in his advocacy for economic and education reform to underpin this support. 

Crispin joined the Association in 1974, served on its executive committee in the 1970s and 1980s, and was made a life member in 1990.

This article is an abridged version from Te Rito Maioha’s book on its life members and their work. You can read Crispin's full story and those of other ECE champions:

Life Stories on the Frontline: Growing a childcare movement in Aotearoa
Ngā kohinga kōrero a te aumangea: Kia mana te ara kōhungahunga ki Aotearoa