How SMEs can help build a better world

Jez Abbott
Monday, October 10, 2016

In any given year, one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem, according to the Mental Health Foundation, something which the organisation flags up on 10 October each year, World Mental Health Day, to raise awareness and mobilise support.

TH Jordan general manager Jim Parkhill needs no reminder. His long-established litho and digital printing company in east Belfast recently nominated local mental health group MindWise as its charity partner for the next three years.

“Mental health is often seen as a poor relation to other charitable causes such as cancer, children and animals,” he says. “It gets swept under the carpet. Yet mental health affects pretty much all of us in one form or another, be it ourselves, relatives or friends with mental health issues.” 

The challenge

For the past seven years TH Jordan has used its workplace to help people with mental illnesses referred by various charities or church groups. But this year it is increasing an involvement that was triggered by a general conversation in 2009 between Parkhill and someone in a local gym.

“This person shared a story about how he helped transform the life of a man characterised by depressive, antisocial behaviour through friendship and careful nurturing,” he says. “That man overcame his mental health problems and went on to become a boxing coach and win a national fitness award. 

“It was so inspiring I thought ‘how could we as a company contribute and help people with mental health problems’?”

Companies like TH Jordan are a vital staging post for mental health charities trying to coach people with depression and other mental health issues back into a work environment and better mental state through temporary placements. Parkhill investigated other charities such as ones for MS and other major illnesses but felt his company could offer more hands-on help to people with mental health issues.

MindWise offers support from locations throughout the province and operates resource centres to provide one-to-one and group help by providing informal contact and practical advice on areas such as benefits and employment.

People referred for work placements have been carefully assessed and undergone, in some cases, months of counselling on adapting to a working environments. So when they turn up for work at TH Jordan it is almost the final stage in easing them back into formal employment, says Parkhill, who not only wants more involvement, but is keen to stress SMEs such as his have plenty to offer on this front.

“I want to raise awareness that smaller companies can get involved in helping charities. Many people think it’s just the large multinationals or corporations that can make a difference through big corporate social responsibility mechanisms. But small companies can help and what we are doing here might inspire others to step in and become more active.”

The method

Nominating MindWise as a ‘partner’ means TH Jordan will redouble its support for the charity through offering use of facilities such as its art studio. It will also sponsor print work including annual reports, which will be produced free of charge. 

The company has pledged to help raise £2,000 to give a local resource centre a complete remake. This will involve fundraising drives such as sponsored walks and ‘buy-a-bun’ events, while TH Jordan will try to loosen the purse strings of suppliers, customers and associate companies to help fund the interior design.

But the core elements of the initiative will be work placements and mentoring. One of the projects, called the ‘take control programme’, offers more structured work experience to boost confidence and improve social skills. Another event – a ‘wellbeing programme’ – will involve MindWise personal trainers offering lifestyle advice and gym exercise to boost self worth and break down the stigma and myths associated with mental health. 

Parkhill empahsises that employment can work wonders in easing mental health problems: “We took on someone who had trouble with drink and drugs and started him off in the finishing department with a ‘buddy scheme’. We assigned staff to talk to him and if necessary put an arm around him in the early weeks. 

“Even though we could tell he hadn’t been used to coming to work on a regular basis, it wasn’t long before he was excellent on the shop floor. That’s not to say he didn’t perhaps have problems after work and at the weekends, but our staff would talk to him and, above all, listen. 

“He became a valuable member of our team, tackling important jobs like shrink-wrapping, end-filling and gathering. We would not bring someone into the factory to do a token job; everyone here has a role to play and is productive.”

The result

According to the World Health Organisation, the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘psychological first aid’ and it focuses on the pragmatic psychological support available from health staff, teachers and community workers. And the likes of TH Jordan.

On the basis of previous years, Parkhill’s team has much to offer, and receive, in its new three-year partnership with MindWise. A withdrawn and shy man referred to the company during summer was put to work in the design studio – the quieter, more confined space suited his temperament. 

“He clicked immediately with the work, the studio manager and his assistant. He is now in a part-time permanent post and training in photography and design. He has never been late for work and is meticulous in details and checking. If a full-time permanent job comes up he will be offered it.”

Parkill may support his local charities but the work he offers is anything but a charitable sop. The deal, he insists, is a “two-way street”. His staff help people with mental health issues, they in turn learn quickly and soon become integral to the team by fulfilling important roles.

“I do not see what we do as a burden. Introducing new staff to the workplace is not overly time-consuming and throws up no stumbling blocks. Far from it, the new people provide good service; one person was in a temporary post and then left. We took him back on to train as a stitcher and folder operator and we may put him on an apprenticeship to run a high-speed envelope press; it’s a two-way thing.” 

As part of  World Mental Health Day, TH Jordan will shut the factory for two and a half hours and host a morning mental health awareness session. An expert from MindWise will address staff, suppliers and customers on the issues and ways of help, some of which are familiar to Parkhill.

“Mental health problems can cover a broad range of disorders and people, but a common characteristic is they can affect your personality, thought processes or social interactions. But unlike physical illness they can be difficult to clearly diagnose, which is why it is important to target mental health. If all we do is give back a bit of spark and self belief, it’s worth it.” 


VITAL STATISTICS 

TH Jordan 

Location East Belfast, Northern Ireland 

Inspection host Jim Parkhill

Size Turnover: £800,000-plus; Staff: 17 

Established 1896

Products General stationery such as letterheads, booklets, short-run magazines, leaflets, NCR books, school and church money pouches and reports for clients in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland 

Kit Two Heidelbergs, an MO and a Quickmaster, a Ryobi 3200NP and two Halm envelope presses, a SuperJet and a Jet Press. Digital kit includes a Develop INEO+6000L press and a wide-format Roland LEC-330 Versa UV print-and-cut machine

Inspection focus Working with a charity partner


TOP TIPS

Get staff feedback on who you should support and draw up a shortlist of charities before inviting a few to visit and tell the team what work they do.

Be realistic on what you can achieve each year, balance your targets with your resources and think about spreading activities over a year rather than focusing on one big push.

Encourage staff buy-in by getting as many people involved as possible; share out jobs, responsibilities and support.

Draw up a code of ethics on the company’s values and think about designating an ‘ethics champion’ as a point of contact for colleagues for advice. 

Use charity work as a PR opportunity: most charities realise this is often a part of a company’s involvement and are happy to provide input for marketing materials.

Tell the clients: new customers are often drawn to organisations that can show integrity, and you can add charitable information to tenders to show your team works well together.

Lead from the top: make sure directors and other senior managers live up to the values of your company and get involved in charity projects. 

Choose fundraising events that your team enjoys and avoid daredevil pursuits, such as skydiving, unless you’re positive there will be wide-scale take-up.

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