Dignity through work has a big role to play during recovery from Covid crisis - Graham McWilliam

The social and economic impacts of Covid-19 have touched every corner of our communities across Scotland. Businesses of every shape and size, and individuals from all walks of life have felt the impact of Covid-19 - and continue to do so. But for social enterprises, the economic pressures felt so keenly by business have been compounded by other unique challenges and circumstances. For Glencraft, one of those unique challenges related to the composition of our workforce.

Graham McWilliam, Managing Director of Glencraft
Graham McWilliam, Managing Director of Glencraft

At Glencraft, our ethos is to provide what we call ‘dignity through work’ and around 80 per cent of our workforce have disadvantages, many have issues with their sight. So the closure of our luxury mattress showroom and factory during lockdown posed a significant problem for us. The work that we do is not something that can easily be replicated at home, not least in terms of the equipment used, but also due to the nature of our workforce. Take Colin, for example, he’s been with Glencraft for 35 years and makes mattresses entirely by touch, keeping a record of each completed order in braille.

Covid-19 hit the UK just as we were approaching the end of the financial year, which was undoubtedly challenging. We were grateful for the Job Retention Scheme but turned to Social Investment Scotland (SIS) for short-term financial support, bridging the gap so that we could still pay our employees’ wages on time. We have formed a great relationship with SIS over the years, and the team understands how the needs of a social enterprise differ from other businesses. Advice is truly personalised, which you’d struggle to find elsewhere. For instance, our investment manager, Joanne, helped us to assess and reschedule some of our other loan repayments as well as helping us to apply for a Coronavirus Bounce Back Loan.

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Now that we are back to work, albeit at reduced capacity, our focus has been on embedding social distancing measures and retraining staff, resulting in team members who are now skilled in multiple areas of the production process. That has not only been helpful for fulfilling orders but has been beneficial for staff in terms of wellbeing and boosting morale.

Covid-19, however, continues to present us with new problems and we are now faced with supply chain issues. Our mattresses are manufactured to order, but we’re having to wait up to nine weeks for some materials to be delivered. Those delays will have a knock-on effect for the volumes we are able to manufacture, as well as payment terms and timescales. Knowing that we will be able to turn to SIS if future challenges arise is providing some reassurance.

The pandemic has highlighted the important role of social enterprises and we know that people are thinking more about the wider social and environmental impact of the goods or services they purchase. As part of SIS’s Ambitions for Recovery programme I am speaking to a group of 20 social enterprise leaders about the collective challenges as well as the opportunities we are facing, as we collectively look to rebuild our economy. It’s great to have a forum to share experiences and insight with those who may be in a similar situation.

Flexibility will be essential for success in the months ahead, both in terms of financial support, but also in terms of our product offering. We’ve utilised various digital marketing tools to boost our online business, and we’re also building our international footprint with wholesale contracts coming in from the likes of China, Singapore and South Korea – testament to our heritage, quality and renewed Royal Warrant. Through the skills of our talented workforce, and with the support of an understanding financial partner in SIS, we’re making positive steps towards getting back on track.

Graham McWilliam, Managing Director of Glencraft


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