A social enterprise in Devon that two years ago faced closure and staff redundancies has not only remained open, but found new customers, has a learning agreement, is planning a learning centre and looking at ways to take on apprentices – largely down to the hard work from members and officers of the Community union.
Two years ago staff at Pluss in Exeter faced redundancy, but instead of giving up they got organised and set up their own business. In January 2016 the Devon Disability Collective (DDC) was created and they have been open for business and establishing new customers ever since.
Steve Gallin who is Community’s rep, and now one of the Directors, at DDC said it was ‘devastating’ news when 37 potential redundancies were announced.
We knew it would be incredibly difficult for workers to find new jobs, if not impossible.”
Community supported DDC in making a business plan, funding access and forming the business in such a way that the workers are its members. Pluss agreed to sell the business to DDC, and the council provided a year’s tenancy rent-free, along with a £125,000 loan.
The long-serving members of staff (most of whom are disabled) now have a stake in the business with their voting rights, and can build on the heritage of the business which has been operating for over 55 years.
DDC also gets a lot of local support and, as well employees, their Board of Directors includes Devon County and Exeter City councillors, whilst local MP Ben Bradshaw is the Company Patron.
Steve said it was hard work to get to this point:
It’s been a challenge, and will no doubt remain so for some time - but it’s working and we are not only fulfilling our customers’ orders, but we are growing our business and continuing to provide skilled and sustainable jobs for people with disabilities."
This hard work has paid off and a visit around the busy factory just demonstrates the wide range of skills that would have been lost if it wasn’t for the union’s support. An array of precision equipment, hand tools and cutting machinery is in constant use.
DDC’s 10,000 sq ft factory provides a mobility showroom, mobility and healthcare services, wheelchair upholstery products, re-upholstery services which include automotive, marine, traditional and commercial uses.
It also has a light engineering and assembly and staff carry out contract sewing, assembly and packing.
The next area that Steve wants to develop is the development of an onsite union learning centre.
We are hoping that some staff will take the opportunity of signing up to an [H1] apprenticeship scheme, and I’m presently discussing options with local education providers.
The problem for some staff is that their disability means they can struggle with the English and maths elements of any apprenticeship scheme. We hope that an onsite learning centre will allow people to access extra learning support in the areas that they need help."
Steve feels that bringing in tutors to the workplace to a well-resourced learning with plenty of laptops will help staff have the extra support they need to achieve their potential. A space has already been identified, and the learning centre is on track to be opened early next year.
Learning is a big part of the work of DDC and as well as training staff they have been offering working experience opportunities to students from Exeter College and further afield.
Community’s General Secretary, Roy Rickhuss, visited the Collective shortly after it opened.
I was so impressed by what our members at the Devon Disability Collective have achieved and their determination to make a success of the business. The pride in their work and the quality of their products is outstanding.
You can see all the products and services the Collective provides by visiting Devon Disability Collective.