A message of hope to Blindcraft

A message of hope to Blindcraft

The Guardian


The visually impaired and disabled workers at Blindcraft face an uncertain future, but in this guest blog Bob Keiller, chief executive of PSN, asks whether Edinburgh has any equally caring businesses willing to show their support to rescue Blindcraft.


He says that although it was a "huge effort" spread across an international network of staff, they saved Glencraft because they cared. 


The Glencraft story:


The situation at Blindcraft must be deeply upsetting for the staff, especially those who are disabled and could find it difficult to find new jobs if the workshop closes.


That’s what happened in Aberdeen last November and it was, literally, a crying shame.


Aberdeen City Council finances, like all other local authorities, were under extreme pressure and could no longer support the Aberdeen workshop. As a result it closed and the staff were made redundant.


My company, PSN, has a Core Value to make a positive difference to the communities where we work and so we stepped forward and proposed a rescue plan. We had hoped that our interest would not be needed and that we would be at the end of a long queue of people wanting to help – unfortunately we were at the front of the queue!


We created a new business plan that showed how Glencraft might be viable if it was run like a small private-sector business – still employing the same staff on roughly the same pay-scales – and we sought support from both public and private sector sources.


The upshot is that the Glencraft workshop was re-opened in April this year and we are working hard to try and make the business sustainable for the long term.


The local council simply had no funds to support this but kindly provided the premises rent-free for the first year.


Scottish Enterprise backed the business plan by providing a grant for working capital to help with start up costs and we received a loan from Social Investment Scotland, which we are paying back, but the majority of support has come from the private sector.


Companies in the Aberdeen area and caring and dedicated individuals have all given up huge amounts of their time to support the restart plan, and continue to do so today.


Over 40 firms offered their services for free


Businesses such Gibson Opticians are providing free prescription glasses to all of Glencraft’s partially sighted employees and Activpayroll are providing full employee payroll services completely free of charge – and this is just a few examples of local business support.


We have also established a new board of directors which is made of business leaders including Sophy Copland, chief executive of social enterprise Instant Neighbour, Stewart Spence, owner of the Marcliffe Hotel and Spa and Duncan Skinner, chief financial officer at PSN.


The board is then supported by a project team that includes myself, David Rennie, a partner at legal firm Stronachs, Peter Bruce, managing director of Entier, a contract catering and support services company as well as select PSN employees.


Having these experienced and successful business people onboard to direct and guide the new enterprise has been an important step and the Glencraft model follows that of a business model.


In PSN’s case we have provided hundreds of thousands of pounds of support in kind as well as cash support. We are also heading up fundraising efforts to raise £500,000 to help find new and more suitable premises for the business and have pledged £100,000 ourselves towards this.


Our specialist teams in HR, finance, health and safety, communications and other areas are also helping the Glencraft team to improve their business. This is a huge effort that is being supported by our staff across our international network of operations.


The Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, Social Investment Scotland and the Department of Work and Pensions have all been very supportive, no question, but it is the private sector that has created the catalyst and provided the ongoing energy to breathe life back into Glencraft, which now operates as an independent social enterprise.


Six months on since Glencraft re-opened and it has every chance of being successful if people continue to buy the products.


The situation being faced by Blindcraft in Edinburgh has some striking similarities to the situation that faced Glencraft 12 months ago and I would encourage the Edinburgh business community to consider how they could get involved to help such a worthy local charity survive these tough times.


Bob Keiller is the CEO of PSN, the oil service company behind the resurrection of Glencraft in Aberdeen.