Creative Spirits

London agency Work Club is asking UK creative companies to sign up to an employment disability scheme after being inspired by a national initiative in Australia.

London agency Work Club is asking UK creative companies to sign up to an employment disability scheme after being inspired by a national initiative in Australia.

In 2011, Work Club creative directors Andy Sandoz and Ben Mooge watched Droga5‘s video, Lloyd’s story. The 10-minute film (below) follows the story of Lloyd, an Australian man with Down’s Syndrome who was hired by the Sydney agency 15 years ago through not-for-profit organisation Break Thru.

As well as giving Lloyd more confidence and independence, his placement at Droga5 boosted office morale at little expense to the company, which is why the agency has since set up a national disability employment scheme, Creative Spirit.

The programme aims to get every one of Australia’s 32,000 creative companies – from architecture firms to dance studios – to hire someone with a disability by 2021. 71 companies have signed up so far, and the scheme has also been launched in New Zealand.

No equivalent programme exists in the UK yet, but it should: the Department for Work and Pensions estimates that just 46.3 percent of working age disabled people are in employment, compared to 76.4 percent of non-disabled people – a 30.1 percentage gap that represents more than two million people.

Since watching Lloyd’s story, Work Club has been working to change this – after contacting Droga5, they were put in touch with Huw Davies at the British Association for Supported Employment [BASE] and within a few weeks, interviewed a handful of disabled candidates for a part-time job.

“We met six people, who came along for a 30-minute chat with their carer. Not everyone was right for the position, but when we met Jake – a 21 year old with autism, we really hit it off,” says Nicola Lentin, an account manager at Work Club who manages the company’s disability employment programme.

Jake works at Work Club on Wednesdays and Thursday for three hours each day and is paid weekly. (He is only permitted to work up to 16 hours, or he will lose his disability benefits). He’s been involved in creative projects but mostly, he makes the tea and helps with admin and reception tasks – “all things that need doing anyway,” says Lentin.

“For us, it feels good to know we’re helping someone and [Jake] makes a difference in the office – he makes us Spotify playlists to listen to at work, he loves to talk about films, and he picks up 20 copies of Stylist and Shortlist for us to read each morning that he comes in. He’s always very eager to help, and BASE is there to offer support and training whenever we need it, ” she explains.

Work Club is now hoping more UK creative companies – from ad agencies to software giants – will follow their lead. “I think the only reason so many companies haven’t done yet is because of a lack of awareness. It’s so easy to hire a student intern that they haven’t really thought about other options. But this isn’t an internship. It’s more than that – it’s a job that allows people to work in amazing creative environments and get paid, while getting a real sense of pride from their work,” adds Lentin.

It’s a great initiative, and one that has the potential to make a huge difference to thousands of people’s lives. As Lloyd’s mum says: “It’s so important for people with disabilities to be given the chance to have a job: to do meaningful work and have that sense of achievement that we all love to have. To have the self respect and dignity that comes with knowing that you’ve got a place in the world.”

To find out more or to get involved, contact Work Club or Huw Davies at the British Association for Supported Employment.

Image (top): Jake with Work Club creative director Andy Sandoz.

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  • Nicole B

    I totally agree with this agenda of giving opportunity for disabled people to work. This gives them the chance to increase their self-worth and to also allow other “normal” people widen their understanding regarding matters of disability. I have not seen any business establishment or company employing people with disabilities here in UK. When is the right time to start? The very first thing that the concerned group must do is to urge companies create job opportunities for people with disabilities.

    Nicole Bryce-Sharron
    Photo Indigo