Cleaning jobs scheme helps Londonders rebuild lives

10th of February 2017
Cleaning jobs scheme helps Londonders rebuild lives

In the UK more than 95 per cent of people who are in contact with secondary care mental health services are out of work - and employers often turn their backs on applicants with a history of mental illness.

But experts suggest those who return to work truly value their employment and go on to excel at their job.

One London cleaning company is living proof of that. Clean & Care was established almost 25 years ago because Mark Bertram, who was a day centre manager at Tooting Bec Hospital at the time, believed the world of work could provide real therapeutic benefits for people using mental health services while enabling them to gain the skills and confidence to secure a job.

So a group of patients started to seek work in the local community and today they are competing with established cleaning companies. In fact Clean & Care has just won a major contract with Lambeth council in south London and received national recognition for its social value.

Thanks to the project, a team of around 20 part-time staff are now earning again. For many, it is the first time in years that they have been paid for their labour."These are people who are very much the forgotten members of society," says project coordinator Kevin Poulton.

"They have had a hard time getting into employment because of the stigma attached to people with mental health issues and they have ended up excluded from the labour market.

"Many are lacking in confidence because they have been knocked back over the years and really don't feel they are able to do a job."

Most of the workers are referred to Clean & Care from community mental health teams or employment agencies. Among them are highly-skilled individuals who excelled in the workplace prior to their struggles with mental health and some who never had the opportunity to work.

Key to the process is rebuilding confidence, and instilling a sense of self-worth and personal value. And over the years many workers have used Clean & Care as a springboard to return to full-time employment and further education.

While it generates its own income, Clean & Care now receives core funding from the South London & Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust in recognition of its direct health benefits.

In 2012 the project was awarded a six-figure contract to clean Lambeth council's libraries and day centre buildings, and it has since diversified to provide office, upholstery and domestic cleaning services.Challenging stereotypical views about the capabilities of people who have experienced mental health difficulties remains at the heart of the initiative.

But its commercial success, Bertram says, is proof that the ethical model can work for everyone.

"Back at the beginning it was really challenging, we were working with inpatients who had spent many years in hospital.

"Today many of the team are living in supported housing or their own homes, and while some are still living quite excluded lives, they have become more independent and are enjoying life.


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