Pluss, a local Social Enterprise that is part-owned by Somerset County Council, was recently bestowed with the national Social Champion Award at the Charity Times Awards.
The awards are in their fifteenth year and are the pre-eminent celebration of best practice in the UK charity and not-for-profit sector. The judges said Pluss had “impressive growth, impressive impact based on a clear vision. This is a very impressive winner.”
The Social Champion Award is given to a Social Enterprise that can show how they have consistently delivered outstanding service to the end-beneficiaries, promoted and raised its cause, been clear in its social changing goals, strategy and vision, and demonstrated excellence all round.
Pluss help over 550 people with disabilities and health conditions move towards and into work each year across Somerset. They are the largest Social Firm in the UK and deliver the Department for Work and Pensions specialist disability employment programme, Work Choice.
Pluss customer, Paul Witcombe, 46, is a Kitchen Porter at The Olive Mill near Bridgwater. Paul is a friendly, hard-working man with a brilliant sense of humour. He has a physical disability and short-term memory loss due to a car accident.
“My job is washing up, cleaning pots and pans. I like being back at work. They are nice people, very friendly and I get on well with everyone. We went ten-pin bowling recently and it’s the first time I’ve been out on a work do.
“I had a car crash in November 1988, exactly a month before Christmas. I was serving as a chef in the army at the time. I had been into town and was on my way back to camp in Kent to pick up my clothes to go home for the weekend.
“It was life changing. I was 20 at the time and I thought I’d be set for a career in the army but I spent my 21st birthday in hospital. I spent the next couple of years in a special unit for people who were too sick to go home and I was medically discharged from the army.
“I have a very bad tremor down my left hand side and this means I struggle holding things with two hands. I have to do things one-handed. I also have short-term memory problems. I have to keep to a set routine and I can get lost if I am in strange places. When I was on holiday in Tenerife, I was mugged and I got completely lost. I went missing for a day as I didn’t know how to find my way back.
“I worked previously at a canteen within a cellophane factory but when it closed I lost my job. Then I worked for motorway services but was made redundant. After this I was out of work for quite a while and it was very boring, especially in winter.
“I started here originally on a Pluss Traineeship in July. After the traineeship, they decided to keep me on and I had two coffees to celebrate!
“It’s really nice, just being back in work. I feel I am getting out and doing something; not stuck in the house all of the time. Going to work gives me a goal, something to look forward to. It has made me a lot more comfortable financially. I am saving my holiday vouchers [Paul’s term for wages!] to go to Florida in September. Now I can have a 99 flake on holiday and not just the ice cream!
“Pluss have been very good. I would never have found the job without them. They have helped with everything. All my qualifications were out of date as I did them in the army in the late 1980’s. Pluss helped me to do basic food hygiene, they helped me prepare for applications and interviews, and to meet with employers.”
Mark Rodosthenous, owner of The Olive Mill is delighted with his new employee “Paul’s role as Kitchen Porter is the backbone of the operation. It’s very important and it’s got to be to a good standard. He has been with us for eight months and is punctual and reliable. He has got a good relationship with the other team members and always has something to say. He gives respect and vice versa. Basically, he works very hard, is positive and puts in a really good effort – that’s why he’s here.
“Pluss contacted me and explained about Paul. To be honest, we were a little unsure at first but they had real confidence in him and I thought everyone deserves a chance. They introduced me and we had a trial to see if he could do the job. We moved the kitchen around a bit to make it easier for him to remember where things go, so he could do it all himself.
“After the first month he became more confident but Pluss would still visit to check everything was ok. Now it’s the summer season and we are a lot busier but Paul keeps up, no worries. I say to the others in the kitchen, if they have just an ounce of what Paul has got, then we’ll be ok! He gives 100% and we couldn’t do without him – It just shows, we all need a chance, all of us!
“It can be hard to get staff, especially people who want to work and Paul wants to work! It makes him feel he is worth something. My team have seen how hard he works and how busy we are and that’s why he has rightfully gained their respect.”
Pluss is a Company limited by guarantee that does not distribute profits. It is owned by Somerset County Council, Devon County Council, Plymouth City Council and Torbay Council, and we operate throughout South West England and West Yorkshire, with partner Social Enterprises across the UK.