Let me level with you — this feels surreal. I’ve known for about 5 years that one day I’d write this article, so to finally be getting it down and sharing it makes me feel a little emotional. This is a long time coming — and I don’t just mean for me. I’m going to take you back a little bit to give you the big picture, and then I’m going to ask you to help us create something wonderful. Back in the mid 90’s I was bespectacled with snazzy NHS glasses that curled around the ear, a bowl haircut that was unfashionable even when it was fashionable and a passing resemblance to a bargain bucket version of The Milky Bar Kid. I’ll shock you now and let you know our postman didn’t have a struggle to deliver Valentines cards to my house. Standard awkward phases aside, I was also a young carer trying to come to terms with a world that wasn’t quite coming to terms with me. Although I was lucky enough to be born into an empathetic family that respected divergence (my brother had kidney failure and lung cancer before passing aged 14 and my Dad had complex needs until his own death last year) — my own disability wasn’t discovered until much later on. But even as a child, I knew the world wasn’t, and isn’t, as accessible as it needed to be. As anyone that has experienced disability in their immediate family will know all too well, the challenges do not end at diagnosis. They aren’t exclusively health challenges. As my Dad retired medically and my Mum transitioned into being his full time carer, we relied on the welfare system to keep us fed. That’s just how it was and the cards we were dealt. It can and does happen to anyone. But it meant that alongside reshaping out shattered world, we were doing so from a position of relative poverty. As the UK finds itself discussing the issues around inequality and poverty today, I often feel too many fail to see the link between disability and financial hardship. Being disabled is expensive! It costs a great deal of money to adapt your life, but that’s for another article. There were of course wonderfully happy times. I wasn’t the kid that just cleaned cars, oh no. I was the kid that hired others to clean cars too. I was an 8 year old transit tycoon and I’m ashamed to say my employees were underpaid and undervalued as I opted to pay them in Panini stickers and sweets rather than cold hard cash. Thankfully I’ve moved on! I was always fascinated by business. By buying and selling, starting projects, being creative. Making something from nothing. One thing I noticed was that in the business books I read growing up (I was that kid!) and the TV shows I watched, I didn’t really see people featured that were like me or my family or my mates. It was the same type of people over and over again, the same backgrounds, the same health and the same opportunities. Maybe the car wash caper was the only go at this I’d get? I couldn’t understand it. I hadn’t ever seen a disabled entrepreneur before, or at least, I didn’t realise I had. And there are a million reasons for this. Did you know that by 2019, 14% of disabled people in work in the UK were self-employed? The number of self-employed disabled people increased by 30% in the previous 5 years alone. These statistics, highlighted in the IPSE report; ‘Making Self-Employment Work For Disabled People’ can be interpreted in a number of ways of course, but at least point towards the fact that the UK is in a self-employment boom. It would be wrong to view this through an entirely negative lens — because of course it is true that for many this experience is relatively straightforward, successful and sustainable, but for many others it is a step that is filled with trepidation, fear and often through necessity over desire. We certainly have a nation of innovative self-employed people, but we also have a significant number of reluctant entrepreneurs. Like the rest of the world, disabled people have a creative and entrepreneurial capacity, but sometimes this feels like it is by design. It can feel like these traits in particular need nurturing as we seek to find ways to constantly monetize ourselves to compensate for a system and employment culture that does not serve disabled people well enough. In 2019, the disability employment gap was 31.7 percentage points for men and 25.0 percentage points for women (Source: Office for National Statistics). Although we need to analyse these numbers with caution, and understand the reasons behind these numbers are broad and many, we can see a few things here. We can see that disabled people are attaining employment in large numbers (1.3 million increase between 2013–2019, ONS), but large employment gaps still exist and self-employment seems to be a favourable route to bypass the lack of employment accessibility. It also has to be said we know disabled people often feel like they are forced into finding employment, so we know self-employment can feel like a better opportunity to control how that working life looks. And for those people, we want to help make this process more sustainable for them. This is a very brief introduction to these points, but we will discuss this in much more detail in the coming months. My own story isn’t uncommon. Between the ages of 14 and 22, my most unwell years, I started a thousand projects I couldn’t finish. I’d left school at 15, hardly any GCSE’s, no professional network and a family barely surviving on benefits. How on earth would someone like me get the experience, knowledge and ultimately finance to create a business? Life and health became kinder to me and I found the things I needed to do just that, but I was and am one of the very lucky ones. Most people use the networks they build at university or work to start their big projects or to start a business. What do you do if you, like me, missed so much schooling, didn’t go to University and couldn’t build the career you wanted as your health was deemed synonymous with your competence? You have massive gaps and significant barriers to overcome. You’re missing the network, missing the experience and missing the capital. It is very difficult, and we need to understand how to help each other in that common conundrum. Here is one way; The Accessful Foundation is a brand new, charity that aims to support disabled entrepreneurs by creating networking and support events (including monthly webinars), by facilitating a one-on-one mentoring programme and finally and vitally, by providing grants. (Registered Charity Number 1191925).
We want the charity to support those looking to take their first steps towards self-employment, those that are already working for themselves and also those that would like to improve their professional development with a long term, personally sustainable goal of business leadership or being their own boss. Maybe you need a mentor, someone experienced in your field to work with you and to discuss and overcome your current challenges in business. Maybe you are an at home baker and know an industrial oven would revolutionise your business, but you simply can’t afford it so decide to apply for one of our grants. Maybe you want to learn more, by taking part in our accessible online webinars to build your confidence and knowledge. The way you use the charity will be unique to you, just as your business and health is. We want to be a destination that disabled people in the UK can turn to when they decide they wish to or need to begin self-employment. We want to make business accessible. We want to build bridges for you and we want to promote and champion the outstanding business creativity of our community. Let’s create a new generation of representation in business in a sustainable, person-first way. Success should be measured by the person, not the industry. We understand as a charity that supporting you towards a business that serves you personally, and looks like how you see success for you, is mission accomplished. That has to always be the goal. Please don’t think your business needs to be the next Facebook to be worthy of support. We know how tiring it is to have to have to constantly prove disability. We know it can feel like some organisations are basically asking us ‘how disabled are you?’ That is not a question in our vocabulary. We refuse to tier disability. There will not be a hierarchy of health. We are a disabled charity, and as such have a commitment to The Charity Commission to specifically support our intended beneficiaries, but we will not offer higher, different or lesser support for anyone because of their disability in comparison to another disability. We’re telling you about the charity now as we want your help. We believe in diversity and inclusion in a very real sense and we want to make voices count and we want you to know that this charity is our charity, together. It is for you, and we want you to join us in designing it. There will be an active recruitment for trustees and volunteers right away and if you feel you can help, please get in touch. Equally, we will be embarking on two types of fundraising drives, firstly, via community fundraising; the general public. Donations from you that will go towards both the modest basic costs of the charity and also towards our grant making capabilities. Our second form of fundraising will be corporate partnerships, so if you run or lead a business and want to support an entrepreneurial organisation, get in touch! Our commitment is to value auditing ourselves regularly and to have an open door policy on feedback. We want you to help us build this, and we want you to help us keep this organisation at the top of its game. Let’s not let this opportunity pass. We are launching officially on January the 4th and that date kicks off a launch week that will see a host of exciting webinars and online events to fully introduce the charity and the way we work and to kick off 2021 with a brand new outlet for disabled people in the UK. We’ll be announcing some more exciting details over December, so please do follow us on social media and share our posts so we can make sure that as a community everyone feels welcomed and part of the project from day one. I am humbled and extremely honoured to be the first CEO of The Accessful Foundation. I take this role very seriously and have been working alongside others for nearly a year now to build this organisation ready to make a difference. We have talked with hundreds of disabled people throughout the process, and I hope this indicates our commitment to being transparent and inclusive and service-user led now and always. I also hope you can take some confidence in the fact that I would be eligible to be a beneficiary of the charity myself, as would many of our current volunteers and board of trustees. We are not removed from the barriers faced ourselves, and I hope that will support our compassionate leadership. I know I am only a guardian of this charity, and the same is true of our trustees. We just get to be a part of this exciting period in our history and we promise to do our absolute best. I and we will not always get it right, disability is incredibly personal and broad, so if you feel like we do not yet speak for you, tell us! Get in touch. But if and when mistakes arise, they will be learning opportunities and we will be open and up front about it, and I can promise you we will use it to be better. I’d like to sign off by passing on my gratitude to our founding trustees; Kitty Strand, Dave Victor and Olivia Bamber. They have had to work through a lot of Covid related challenges and sign off many big decisions in challenging circumstances. Each of them are brilliant people as well as wonderful trustees and they will do you proud. Thanks also to all of those in the charity sector that have offered so much kindness and guidance and made the process so much easier, particular thanks to Richard Kramer, CEO at Sense, who has been an incredibly collaborative support and is a great example of the team ethic the charity sector should always aim to. We’ll be releasing more info in the coming days, but here we are. Thank you for reading, thank you for your support, and thank you for being a part of this. Jack Pridmore CEO, The Accessful Foundation You are able to support the charity’s fundraising efforts via this GoFundMe link. Thank you!
WRITTEN BY Jack Pridmore CEO of The Accessful Foundation Follow 1