A SOCIAL enterprise in Newport with a predominantly disabled workforce has been praised for opening up opportunities to people of all backgrounds.

Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson toured Cefndy-Medequip’s shop and training facilities at Felnex Industrial Estate in Newport, and met its staff.

The business provides high-quality employment to disabled, socially disadvantaged or economically inactive members of the community.

Almost 60 per cent of its 43-strong team has a disability, managing conditions including cerebral palsy, musculoskeletal problems, sight loss, autism, epilepsy and learning disabilities.

Mr Tomlinson said: “Disabled people and those with health conditions make a valuable contribution in the workplace and we are committed to ensuring they can take up the jobs out there. It also makes complete business sense to have a diverse and inclusive workforce.

“Businesses like Cefndy-Medequip provide an important role in their communities, opening up opportunities to people of all backgrounds and supporting people to thrive and lead more independent lives.”

One worker the Minister met during his visit was 30-year-old Christie Combstock, from Pontypool. She struggled with mainstream schooling and in her 20s was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, as well as dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia.

The Jobcentre referred her to the Shaw Trust where she was helped to manage her disabilities in the workplace and in April 2018 she got a job at Cefndy-Medequip. Her responsibilities range from investigating issues on site and processing orders to operating a forklift truck.

Christie said: “Working here, I am supported. Communication is always a problem for anyone with autism, but this is understood and accepted. The job has given me more skills, knowledge and experience and the satisfaction that my efforts are helping people.”

Co-worker Gavin Jacobsen, of Newport, agrees. The 33 year-old is also diagnosed with ASD and works as a warehouse operative.

He said: “The management and supervisors here at Cefndy-Medequip have been fantastic. They’ve shown really high levels of compassion, understanding and patience with me and my condition. I feel I can always approach them with even small issues at any time no matter how busy they are. More importantly I feel like a ‘normal’ person working here - I get treated like a normal member of staff. Working here has been a true blessing to me and my family, who I work to support.”

Neil Young, 42 from Newport, says the fact he is deaf made it hard for him to find work elsewhere, and he became very depressed before starting work with Cefndy-Medequip.

He said: “I started here through Jobcentre Plus on a six-week job trial. I started by engraving signs for local businesses and was lucky enough to be kept on as a permanent member of staff.

"This made me feel better about myself.

"While here I have gained many skills. I have refurbished wheelchairs, been trained as a delivery technician, learned how to manufacture signs, and I have learned how to clean and repair community equipment. The company even supported me when I suffered a stroke, allowing me to return to work on a part-time basis at first until I was well enough to return full-time.”

Judith Addis, operations manager at Cefndy-Medequip, said: “I have a sense of pride managing such a diverse workforce. We are able to make work place adjustments to enable staff to reach their full potential. Without the financial support from the DWP this level of support would not be possible in a commercial setting.

“We are providing a valuable service in the community, and are successful because of the hard work and dedication of our staff. The team here is great and they take pride in what they achieve. They are also supportive of each other, which helps those who sometimes find it challenging to be in work.

“People with disabilities have a lot to offer and they deserve every opportunity to secure employment to improve their lives and wellbeing and be happy.”

In recognition of the vital opportunities supported businesses like Cefndy-Medequip offer disabled people, the DWP provides funding through the Transitional Employer Support Grant (TESG).