The Devon Disability Collective is a Social Enterprise formed with the help and support of the Community trade union in 2015. The majority of the workers have a disability. The factory, based in Exeter, traditionally produces upholstery for wheelchairs and is an NHS Approved Supplier but over the years the workers have turned their contract sewing and manufacturing skills to a wide range of products.
In the face of the COVID-19 crisis the workers wanted to do more to play their part in the UK’s response. The team has now produced over 3,000 face shields for some of its NHS customers across the UK who have been struggling with PPE supplies. The company says it has capacity to produce more PPE and other products where there is an increased demand from the NHS and other key service providers.
Steve Gallin, Operations Director at Devon Disability Collective and branch secretary for the Community trade union said:
“When we heard about supply issues and shortages, we thought we might be able to help. The team all wanted to do their bit for the UK’s response to the pandemic and to show that local manufacturing can play a part in fulfilling the increased demand for different products. We’ve had excellent response to the PPE products we’ve produced so far and we’ve certainly got capacity to do more around various products.
“Five years ago this business was under threat of closure. But with help from Community and the determination of all the team we were able to turn ourselves into a Social Enterprise, which could continue to provide fulfilling and sustainable employment for people with disabilities. It’s not been the easiest journey but in the last couple of years we’ve started to thrive with work that include parking machine covers for Councils, large covers for military use and industrial machinery, and kit for the Police. We can take great pride in the fact we now have the opportunity to be part of the local supply chain to the NHS and other key services during this pandemic.
Roy Rickhuss, General Secretary of Community said:
“We are proud of what our members at the Devon Disability Collective have achieved. Five years ago we came close to losing the business and the vital jobs it provides for people with disabilities. Community stepped in to help pull all the necessary partners and funding together and helped the workers set themselves up as a Social Enterprise. To see the company adapting and changing to respond to the UK’s demand for supplies in the coronavirus crisis demonstrates just how much this business has to offer.
“The Devon Disability Collective is part of a long line of history of disabled workers organising for sustainable employment. This week we are also commemorating 100 years since the National League of the Blind marched from all corners of the UK to Parliament to call for better employment and social protections for blind workers. One hundred years on, we still need more action to close the shameful disability employment gap, but Devon Disability Collective is just one of many businesses which can be an inspiration to others.”
Community is petitioning the government to call for effective PPE for all its members who are continuing to work on the frontline of the crisis.