It’s a Monday morning in April, 2017. England have just been beaten by Turkey in a World Cup Qualifier, and it’s raining. You are looking forward, as usual, to a hard day of work at the office, although there is the thought of a meal and a theatre visit in the evening. The kids are rushing around looking for their school bags and their gym kit.
You leave the house to get the bus – it is one of those buses with a platform that can be lowered to the ground to help you get on – they’re all like that now, and the local social firm that makes them makes good use of its team of disabled advisors, many of whom are on the payroll, to keep in touch with customer demands.
You remember that it is the day the washing machine repair man is coming to your home – he has pinpointed his visit to between 9am and 6pm as usual – so you phone up ‘Homesitters’, the social firm agency that provides someone to wait in for him to confirm they have the spare key and someone on their way. You wonder who they’ll provide this time – a person with severe learning disabilities, or someone recovering from a mental health problem, or possibly that blind woman again. Anyway, the agency has your instructions, and they’ve never let you down.
You reach the office and sign in, noticing that Derek was in at 3 o’clock this morning, and yesterday, and the day before – he must be in one of his manic phases. Ah well, at least he’ll be getting on with developing the database you need, and he may even get it finished before he throws another wobbly. He’ll have built up so many hours in lieu he can wobble till Christmas if he needs to.
The phone rings. It’s the social firm bakers wondering what sandwiches and savouries you would like delivered at lunchtime.
You go for the avocado and bacon on cheese bread, with a salad made of locally grown ingredients from the social firm community garden, and resist the savoury. They do make good cakes, though, so you plump for a piece of Sherwood Forest gateau.
Before you get down to work, you phone ‘Destinations’, the social firm holiday and conference agency to see how they are getting on with arranging your wheelchair accessible Murder weekend in October, not to mention your family trip to Costa Plenty.
All is well, so you do a good morning’s work on the computer before taking the lift to ‘GymGiminis’ the social firm Gymnasium in the basement. A workout, with excellent instruction on the new apparatus from a guy with one arm, a shower, and back in time to chat with Jenny, the learning disabled young woman who brings you your lunch. She loves her job, and tells you she is saving up to get married, but hasn’t met the right man yet.
You get ready for a team meeting, and phone the social firm car pool to make sure the hire car you need for the evening has been valeted. Of couse it has. They’re so keen those people, it’s a pleasure doing business with them, and amazing that they had all been unemployed for so long before social firms came along.
After the team meeting, there is just time to sort out your e-mails and to order a birthday card on line from ‘Made in Heaven’ – a social firm craft centre that’s out of this world – before you pick up the pool car and drive out of town to ‘Perfect Site’ the social firm pub restaurant that has been designed by blind people, and is managed by blind people. A blind waiter shows you to your table, and there is a chance to soak up the atmosphere before your companion for the evening turns up in a social firm taxi. Isn’t it great to be able to rely on transport, after all these years of abuse and poor service.
The meal is great and you restrict yourself to one pint of ‘Old Trent’ the beer brewed at ‘Quartz’ the new social firm brewery on the edge of town, so as not to go to sleep at the theatre.
Excellent seats, excellent show. That social firm theatre group can turn their hand to anything, and you never thought you’d see the day when the Friends, Romans, Countryman speech could be delivered so powerfully from a wheelchair.
Time for home. You notice that the washing machine is repaired, that all the biscuits have gone, and that there is a very reasonable invoice left by the agency for £25 plus Vat. You put the recycling by the front door for the social firm kerbside company to collect tomorrow, check the kids are asleep, read a note from the live in au pair (from a social firm agency, of course) and go to bed thinking that life is OK even if the MS is taking over your body, and England have come second yet again.
The day in a life I have just described is a fantasy, of course, because social firms are real businesses built around disabled people and we all know that the vast majority of people with disabilities and mental health problems don’t work.
But many disabled people want to work, and many others would want to work if they knew what work was, and what a difference it could make to their lives, and to the lives of those around them.
If only we could start telling the parents of young disabled children that work will be the normal choice when they grow up, but it isn’t yet.
If only schools could prepare disabled children for work rather than for survival, but there isn’t sufficient reason to do so yet.
If only we could tell victims of accidents and disease that the world of work wishes to include them, but it doesn’t yet.
If only we could tell people with chronic mental health problems that society is keen to employ them when they can work, and to support them when they can’t, but it doesn’t yet.
If only we could tell people with learning disabilities that there can be more to days than day centres, but for many there isn’t yet.
Mark Powell, 2013