Developing employment through enterprise – 25 years on
A small co-operative social enterprise is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month after many years of developing employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities.
A Clean Sweep Co-operative Ltd. (ACS) was set up in 1995 by some people with learning disabilities in Bristol, UK. Fed up with not being able to find a job, they decided to do something about it and formed their own company. Supported by a local supported employment provider, A Clean Sweep is understood to be the first company in the UK to be run entirely by people with learning disabilities. The co-operative social enterprise employs 12 people with learning disabilities and offers contract cleaning services to local businesses in the Bristol area. A Clean Sweep aims to provide reliable, flexible and high quality services that use only environmentally friendly products.
However, cleaning was not the first or only idea. Having decided to set up their own company, the founders had to decide what to do. This included exploring other options that matched people’s skills, interests and assets – for example they looked into running a bookshop, or a music shop before choosing cleaning. However, when a local business centre put out a tender for new cleaners, the idea for A Clean Sweep was born. The early years were spent learning their trade and developing their market niche; day time contracts with plenty of contact with non-disabled colleagues, customers and the public. Over time, the members also developed the other skills necessary to run a company, meet the financial and legal obligations and ensure customers were happy.
For some, A Clean Sweep is a springboard to learn skills, gain qualifications, and move on, while others see it as their main occupation. The company follows the principles of a workers’ co-operative which means that the business is owned and controlled by the members. Each member of the co-operative has one vote and everyone has an equal say. As well as meeting the needs of the customers, the members work together to make decisions about how their business is run, working arrangements, wages, holidays etc., so that they are involved in all aspects of the business. To do this they meet monthly to discuss their work and sort out any problems.
A Clean Sweep commissions support from a local support provider to help with finding new contracts, recruiting new team members and facilitating meetings. A small grant from a local authority helps to pay for some of this although the provider does get some other money for job coaching new members of staff. Over the years they have also had support from other cleaning contractors and suppliers. Some book-keeping and payroll tasks are outsourced but the A Clean Sweep administrator carries out the routine invoicing and payment activities.
25 years is a long time for any business and it has certainly not been plain sailing all the way. Running an enterprise takes time and commitment and not a little good luck, but the members of A Clean Sweep have shown that with support they have been up to the task. In every sense, Clean Sweep is a viable, independent company. Most importantly, it has provided opportunities and demonstrates on a daily basis the power of enterprise to transform the lives of people with disabilities.
For more information www.acleansweep.org.uk