CAMPAIGN: #DisabilityWorks

The Star has launched a campaign to give Sheffield a boost by tapping into a vast pool of talent - people with disabilities, writes Business Editor David Walsh.

Over the next seven weeks through articles, events and case studies we aim to show the benefits to a business and its workforce of opening the door to an often excluded section of society.

Meadowhall staff who say #DisabilityWorks. From left: Nathan Straw, Wayne Duncan, Rianna Barker, Ben Mellors, and Dean Ryan.

Meadowhall staff who say #DisabilityWorks. From left: Nathan Straw, Wayne Duncan, Rianna Barker, Ben Mellors, and Dean Ryan.

The companies we have spoken to already are enthusiastic about their disabled staff and what they bring to the business.

Words like ‘loyalty’, ‘commitment’ and ‘work ethic’ come up time and again.

They also say adjustments and adaptations, if they are needed at all, are often minor and inexpensive - and frequently repaid many times over. Sometimes it’s just about giving someone a chance. Our #DisabilityWorks campaign, in partnership with Sheffield City Council and the Department for Work and Pensions, will show why it’s worth it.

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Meadowhall attracts millions of shoppers every year and keeping it running requires a 270-strong team - including some members with a disability.

The £1billion mega-mall sets the standard for retail across the country and ensuring its continued success requires a well-oiled and well-trained machine.

HR manager John Lynch says 23 staff members have declared disabilities - and he cannot praise them highly enough.

Rianna Barker works in customer service at The Oasis

Rianna Barker works in customer service at The Oasis

He said: “They are very committed to the company and very focused on their job, while our team is very accepting of people with diverse backgrounds.

“If anyone with a disability applies for a job and meets the criteria at that time we guarantee them an interview. We want to give anyone with a disability a fair crack of the whip.

“We have made adaptations but they’re not massively expensive. It may take someone a little bit longer to do something, but at the end of the day the positives far outweigh it.”

Rianna Barker is a customer service pro. The 34-year-old has worked at Meadowhall for nine years and is based in the Oasis dining section.

Meadowhall cleaner Wayne Duncan.

Meadowhall cleaner Wayne Duncan.

She said: “I love my job. I help people find a table and a high chair if they need it. I like helping people, I get on with all the shoppers and the people who work in the Oasis. I started here in 2007 and I remember when it flooded.

“I used to work in a coffee shop in town. I tried my best but I was falling down the stairs all the time – I have got epilepsy.”

Dean Ryan, aged 50, is deaf and is a cleaner who starts at 5am.

He said: “I’m happy to work at Meadowhall. It’s a good team of people.”

Ben Mellors, aged 40, of Heeley, has been a Meadowhall caretaker for almost six years. Prior to that he spent years looking for work, he says.

His chance came when he was put forward by social service’s learning disability team, based at Love Street in the city centre.

Meadowhall caretaker Ben Mellors.

Meadowhall caretaker Ben Mellors.

He said: “Meadowhall has been good to me – they’ve helped me out and I like the staff. It’s good to have money to spend. I’m not married but I see my dad who retired from the city council recently.”

Wayne Duncan, aged 47, of Ecclesfield, has been a cleaner for nine years and enjoys the money it brings in. Before working at Meadowhall he had jobs in engineering and at the YMCA.

Fellow cleaner Nathan Straw, of Intake, has been an employee for the same period.

He said: “It’s a good job.”

Staff are put through the internationally-recognised World Host training programme which sets the standard for customer service as well as disability at work.

John Lynch added: “World Host is about recognising and understanding and seeing the value of each other and teamwork.”

Meadowhall works with organisations including social services and The Source skills academy who might send in a carer or trainer if someone was “not quite getting it right,” he added.

He added: “There are a lot of organisations that will help people into employment and so many opportunities for companies to find those individuals, while other members of the team really benefit.”

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Bosses at a Sheffield company were so impressed by a recruit with a learning disability they now make a point of encouraging applications from everyone.

Sarah Mackie became SoloProtect’s first HR manager when she was hired in April last year and swiftly made an impact at the lone worker safety company, based in Tinsley.

Now the firm has changed its recruitment process to welcome applications from people with a disability.

Sarah said: “Recently we hired 12 people to work in our alarm receiving centre and advertised the roles through Remploy to encourage more disabled applicants and help us bring in new talent that will help us grow our business.”

And because the firm understands its workforce, SoloProtect is constantly looking at different ways and approaches to working, she added.

“As an extra level of support we recently introduced an employer assist programme where all employees have access to free confidential counselling, helping us to retain our staff which is invaluable.”

Keli Ashby who has a condition which causes vision problems, works at the alarm receiving centre in Sheffield and is clear about her contribution to the business

She said: “I feel a strong loyalty here and I’m always willing to give my all for the way they treat me and all their staff. It’s very people-centred at SoloProtect.”

Attracting people with disabilities became even more of a focus when the firm moved into purpose-built offices on Vantage Drive, Tinsley, which have been designed to be fully accessible.

Sarah adds: “What really motivated us to employ disabled people was the knowledge that skilled people are out there. And I speak from experience - not just as a HR professional - but as someone who has a learning disability.

“I would encourage other employers to take on disabled staff. There are many skilled and talented people who aren’t given a chance purely because they have a disability.

“In terms of work ethic and bringing something new and different, they can enrich an organisation. There’s a vast untapped pool of talent in Sheffield which should be a crucial consideration for any business.”

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Dean Ryan, Meadowhall cleaner

Dean Ryan, Meadowhall cleaner

The SoloProtect team: Trevor Maw, finance director, Sarah Mackie, HR manager, Keli Ashby, ARC operator and Steve Hough, operations director

The SoloProtect team: Trevor Maw, finance director, Sarah Mackie, HR manager, Keli Ashby, ARC operator and Steve Hough, operations director

Keli Ashby at work at SoloProtect in Tinsley.

Keli Ashby at work at SoloProtect in Tinsley.