Podcast: Disabled business owners and the disability employment gap

The Disability Download

In this episode, we chat to Cassie Lovelock and Tilly Dowler about disabled people in the workplace and being a disabled business owner.


[Music starts]

Tilly: For someone that’s disabled, you need it a lot more because you have got a lot more barriers.

Cassie: The majority of jobs which are available are not jobs that can be done working from home, right?

Isaac: Hello and welcome to the Disability Download.

This month is a double header, as we caught up with both Cassie Lovelock and Tilly Dowler to talk about the world of employment.

Cassie is a returning guest to the podcast, and is a Research Assistant at the ERC Centre for Society and Mental Health at Kings college London. Nick, Peter and Cassie’s conversation centres around disability in the work place, Access to Work, Mandatory reporting and more.

Later in the episode, we’ll hear from Tilly Dowler. Tilly runs the preloved boutique Wanted Wardrobe in Castle Donington, along with her business partner Victoria. She tells Nick about her love for fashion, her experiences with Access to Work, and running a business as a disabled person.

So let’s get into it!

[Music ends]

Peter: Our next guest is Cassie Lovelock from King’s College London - from the Centre for Society and Mental health. She also supports the NHS and England's adult mental health policy and quality transformation teams. Cassie is a campaigner for disability rights, and has published work on ethical mental health policies, and has done quite a lot of work around hate crime. So, again, thanks for joining us on this podcast. How are you?

Cassie: Thank you for having me. It's nice to see you.

Peter: What I wanted to do was just start off with just a couple of questions and to get your insights, really, around disabilities and people's perceptions of disabilities… and whether society has let people down. So I guess maybe the first question is… There’s often misconception about disabled people in employment. One of them is that disabled people are unable to contribute to society. And there's been this rhetoric recently, which you can see in media and in politics, where disabled people are often portrayed as scroungers and burdens to public services. So is society letting disabled people down?

Cassie: I mean, yeah. I think so. I think on the scrounger kind of conversation that we've been having a lot, I think it's important to firstly understand that disability benefits are one of the least frauded. They're barely frauded. And often when people are turned down… when they then go to appeal to try get their benefits, it's approved. So people are also being turned down incorrectly, and I think it's really important to hold that in mind in this conversation. I think secondly on the sort of scrounging narrative, I think it's really important to hold in mind where are these narratives coming from… and who's pushing them and who gains from them.

And I think the media are pushing this idea that disabled people are scroungers, and we see it often during times of economic strain. Right now, we're having our cost of living crisis. And we had it in 2008, we had it a little bit after the Brexit vote, especially. In times of economic strain, they really pushed this narrative that disabled people are scrounging and not contributing and getting things for free.

Anyone who knows anything about disability will know it's actually difficult to get disability benefits. It's really difficult to get anything for free and It's hard to get your house adapted to your needs. It's difficult to get Motability cars.

But the media pushed this narrative because everyone is feeling the strain and disabled people are positioned in society in such a way to be vulnerable, and so we're victimised. We're positioned to be: “oh well we're taking from the taxpayer and we're undeserving of taking from the taxpayer” And in reality it's not at all like that, as I've already said, but it sort of gets people going. And you can see why (with the most compassion you can possibly give) when someone can't afford to fill petrol in their car and feed their kids and pay their electricity bills and the media is pushing this narrative that there's this bunch of people getting all of this for free that aren't working. Of course they're going to get upset but the fact is that it's wrong, that we don't get very much for free at all. And just because we don't contribute in the really traditional ways doesn't mean that we, uh, don't contribute to society and aren't important members of it. I think is what I would say! [Laughs]

Nick: I wanted to ask your views on the idea that that disabled people might be asked for mandatory reporting of disability in in the workforce. And this is where employers are mandated, if they have over 250 people, to report the number of disabled employees in their workforce. There's been a small broadly positive reaction from politicians, and there may be calls to introduce mandatory reporting for employers of disabled employees after the UK general election. What are your views on this? And can this help?

Cassie: I think it's a bit of a double-edged sword I guess. I worry it would be tokenistic and I worry it would be a little bit meaningless. And I think what I mean by that is: yes, knowing how many disabled people are in the workplace is a good thing…. but also it doesn't speak to the experience that they're having there, right? It doesn't speak to how sustainable being in that workplace is for them. It just speaks to the fact that yes, they have a job. And knowing the yes can be helpful, but for me it's not enough information I guess.

I don't know if it would go into detail about what that person's disability is, or what their support needs are, or how the workplace even has adapted for them to be there. If in mandatory reporting they considered all of those things, I think it would be a fantastic piece of work.

Peter: What barriers do you think are still prevalent?

Cassie: I mean, there's so many. Right? Like, I think barriers to employment are really individualised for every person's needs. And I think, I worry when we talk about conversations about barriers for disabled people entering employment, we reduce that person down to just being a disabled person.

Lots of disabled people have kids which are in school, have partners, have families, need way more flexibility than just ‘they're a disabled person. And how do we get them into work?’ So for me it's always that question of: ‘what is the holistic way we can look at an individual, including their health condition, and how can we support them in the workplace?’

But then to answer your actual question, I think there's lots of barriers and I think a really big barrier that we don't think about quite often is just the idea of ‘good’ work.  Work on something you care about, right? Something which is meaningful to you as an individual. And that can be really difficult in how our current workplace environment is set up. Within that, I think it's sort of the idea of interpersonal struggles around confidence and feeling able to be in the workplace and that the workplace is a safe environment for you to be in which is both interpersonal and external.

I think it links really well to how workplaces manage – or manage in the line management sense, but how workplaces adapt and are flexible to disabled people and disabled people's needs. There's a lot of research at the moment – in um quite um knowledge-seeking, upper class jobs – around how disabled people can be in the workplace with things like fatigue and with things like chronic pain and things along those lines. When you have office jobs and desk jobs like the three of us do [on this podcast episode], there's a lot of research into considering those things. But that doesn't necessarily filter down to disabled people which are in jobs which aren't set at desk every day. Right? People who are… are lollipop ladies and dinner ladies in school and stuff like that hasn't….

I think a lot of our advice in keeping people in work that have disabilities hasn't really linked down on that level yet. So I guess In the barriers, it's what type of job do you want and is it something that can be adapted to your needs? And whether that's working flexibly or an ability to work from home or ability to work around childcare commitments.

There's working flexibility, I think is a really big one. And then the workplace itself physically being accessible for your needs. But also people being nice, right? We know your manager has such a big effect on your mental health compared to other people in your life. And if you have a manager who doesn't know how to work with you as a whole person and only sees you as a disabled person, or refuses to see and work with your disability that can makes staying in the workplace really difficult.

And then I think in the question of searching and applying for jobs a time for jobs is really difficult. I'm doing it at the moment. And like there's so many steps and stages. It's a really complex thing at the moment and also it's so dependent on having a stable and reliable access to the Internet…. which a lot of people that are living in poverty. –and as we know, disabled people are more likely to live in poverty – don't have that… which just makes job-hunting so much harder, I would say.

Nick: So. Yeah. You mentioned there a few very significant barriers. And, and related to that… Do you think disabled people get enough support when it comes to either a job search or [to] getting the job and keeping it and what kind of support do people need to be able to achieve that? And ultimately to get more disabled people in work so that we can reduce the disability employment gap?

Cassie: I think when it comes to searching for jobs - particularly if you're sort of on JSA or legacy benefit like ESA or incapacity benefit or something like that –  searching for jobs when you're disabled is really tied to the sort of that one staff member in the job centre or in your local charity, who you're being supported by, who will look at you as a whole person and go above and beyond to find something and help you find something that suits you.

But we can't… we can't build a system and have work coaches where we're dependent on finding that one which is really over and will go above and beyond. And right now that's the situation we're in. So for me, what we need to help disabled people on benefits find work (if that's something they want to do; if that's something that's feasible to them.) is having work coaches which can look at people in their entirety. There will be a lot of disabled people looking for work but being disabled isn't the thing stopping them working. It will be something else. So it's people who can look at you as a whole person, I think, is what’s really important.

On that, I think getting a job and retaining a job is really difficult because a lot of it happens through the job centre. And the way the job centre is set up and the DWP functions is at odds with what we know about helping people find employment and helping disabled people find employment, right?

We know that having time to build up your confidence to get back to work, having consistency with the people that support you, having continuity of that. advisors’ advice then not just changing randomly… because something's different. Being able to build a trusting relationship with your work coach or your job advisor and your job centre is what needs to happen for disabled people to be able to find work.

And we know that. But what we've done is position your work coach, your job advisor and the job centre there to help you… but also they have the ability to take away your benefits at any moment. The thing which is keeping you floating. And it's really hard to build a sense of trust with that person knowing they can do that and knowing they can do that at any point.

So for me, part of it is helping people into work is making sure we can do all the things the research says about helping people find employment, but also not making it at the not having it with a punishment right there. Like, you can't have a carrot and a stick and the stick is right there and people are scared. People are terrified of trying to find work because of that reason.

So there's things like Access to Work, which is this government fund where disabled people can apply and get money to adapt their workplace.

But the waiting list for Access to Work is astronomical. And even then you might not get the adaptions that you need.

So I guess for me, reducing the disability employment gap is it's very multi fold in the sense of we need job centres which are designed to actually help people. We need workplaces to understand how to support the disabled people which are there, that workplaces can have things like Access to Work –  which has [sufficient] government backing, which is well-funded and effective and knows what it's doing. So I would sort of say those three are like the primary things which would reduce the disability employment gap.

Nick: What kind of support would you like to see replace those? Sort of a more sanction focused scheme?

Cassie: Yeah. I think there needs to be a holistic assessment into what people's lives are and the reason they identify they aren't working. As I already said, there will be a lot of disabled people who can't work… and that might be due to their disability, but it might be due to something else. And being able to have that conversation with someone and go: “I'm not working because I'm worried about my insecure housing and I'm experiencing domestic abuse”. And that doesn't mean they're not disabled, never to take away from that fact. But to be able to have that transparent conversation… Disabled people are more than just a disability. We have complex, busy interpersonal lives like everyone else. But right now when we're considering the disabled employment gap, all we're considering about that person is what their health condition is… and how we can get that person's health to a place where they can work. [It’s] as if health is the only thing in their life which means that they can't [work].

Nick: It's a very good point, Cassie. Thanks.

Peter: One of the questions I've got for you was around working from home arrangements, which you've mentioned earlier on. And I think you know working from home arrangements – it’s been it's been great for disabled people. It's been a benefit. It's been a benefit to me, I know for a fact [Laughs]. But many disabled people do not or cannot work from home for a variety of different reasons. What do you think when the government starts presenting working from home as the catch-all solution? What do you think needs to be done instead to support disabled people effectively?

Cassie: Yeah. I think when they sort of presented this idea that the majority of work is being done from home, it felt very naive… if I'm allowed to say that! I think there are jobs which now can be done from home. I'm an academic: I go in to teach and then I work from home most of the rest of the time. And that's a really big privilege. Though to be able to work from home, you need a job where that is feasible. And as I mentioned, I have one but a lot of people don't.

And then even within that you need a house which is accessible to your needs to be able to work at home. And that includes physical accessibility, your ability to plug in and not plug in a laptop and work your lights for meetings, and pay for your Internet. But it it's also accessibility beyond that about is your home a safe environment for you to be in? And for a lot of people, it isn't. And we can't really ignore that fact, right?

Beyond that, I think it feels quite naive that they're suggesting homeworking is the solution to the disabled employment gap. Primarily because we know, unfortunately, the majority of people that are on low incomes are there and are disabled or have-long term health problems. They might not identify as disabled and all power to them. But the majority of jobs which are available are not jobs that can be done working from home, right? They're not. It's jobs in shops and building and security guards and working at bars and things like that – which are jobs that can be made accessible for disabled people if that company is willing to do that investment but often that company isn't. And importantly, none of those jobs can be done from home. But those are the jobs that disabled people and people on low incomes are most likely to be doing.

So it feels very naive of the government to go: home-working is the answer for all of these unemployed disabled people; just get a job that works from home. You can do a job search on any website and if you look for films which are exclusively working from home, there really aren't that many.  A lot of them will be hybrid. They'll be coming to the office for a couple of days a week and that might not be feasible for a lot of people. I have to say.

So for me, I think the solution to supporting disabled people into work… it's… part of it is working from home in the sense of having a flexible work environment. We'll never not say that part of it is the ability to work from home. And as you already said, Peter, it is life changing. I love it; it's so great. But also, the answer it has to be far bigger than just working from home.

It has to be a lot more around how we’re making workplaces accessible to people with different needs. We're post the pandemic and as was predicted, there are more people struggling with their health than ever.

And if workplaces aren't able to think about how they can adapt to people and what needs to be done differently, then there's this deficit or this employment gap is just going to keep growing and it has to come- yes,  from the side of the government with funding; yes, from disabled individuals knowing what they can do in the workplace. But also, workplaces themselves have to be willing to adapt to people's needs and how people change, and understanding that investing in those adaptions is investing in that person, like having a disabled employee isn't a burden or something you have to do extra. And that perception for me is one of the things that needs to change.

Nick: Hmm. You rightly - we all keep mentioning the disability employment gap – the overall employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people and which has seen some limited progress in bridging that. But there's still a large proportion of disabled people who don't have senior roles. Disabled people at work are more likely to be in part time, lower skilled and lower paid jobs. Why do you think that is? And what can be done to help disabled people progress into senior positions if they want them?

Cassie: Oh. Yeah, I think on the idea of disabled people being in part time low skilled, low paid jobs…. I think that is a bit of a reality of a way you can get flexibility in your life. And that's not me saying you're in control of what your shifts are. I don't mean it in that sense.

But doing part time work helps you manage your energy and your time and your ability to do work a lot more easily, for example. So it feels like it's a deliberate decision for a lot of disabled people to do part time or lower skilled work… because we have this idea that you're going to be an unreliable employee because of your health condition. Right?

So you're sort of stuck at that level because society has this perception that or to be in high skilled work, you need to have this education level and you need to be this and you need to be this reliable. You need to be this. And I think a lot of disabled people have really internalised that message and therefore do stay doing part-time, lower skilled work because in a lot of ways it's a bit safer… which sounds like a bit of an oxymoron. But that's where we're at. I think, in terms of disabled people being in senior positions…

Nick: Very insightful again, Cassie. Thank you. How do you think disabled people and society can move… can move beyond that and into a situation where we…where we are more accepting, where we are expecting more disabled people to be able to get those roles if they want them.

Cassie: I think obviously it comes back to the stigma thing that we've already talked about   Then, for me, it feels a lot like: for disabled people to be in senior positions and higher positions, part of it is that self-confidence thing for sure. And then to take it away from disabled people as individuals, I think it's a lot more about workplaces not seeing a disabled person as a burden.

Like… it's a privilege to be able to invest and upskill your employees and disabled people are exactly the same on that. But right now, employers see employing disabled people as a risk.

Nick: Yeah. You're right. Some Leonard Cheshire research a couple of years back during the pandemic found that one in five employers were hesitant to employ a disabled person… which backs up what you were saying.

Cassie: There you go. Yeah.

Peter: Cassie, thanks for, sharing your thoughts and your insights around this important theme.

Nick: Yeah. Brilliant

Cassie: Oh. Thank you for having me. Always a pleasure.

[Music starts]

Nick: Thank you so much for coming on, Tilly, and we really appreciate you being here. How's things going?

[Music ends]

Tilly: Hiya! Thank you for having us. It's going really good at the minute.

Nick: Fantastic. So we're going to hear a bit about your journey into employment, and about setting up this wonderful shop. First of all, um, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Tilly: Yeah. My name is Tilly. I'm 25 and I have Stargardt's Disease, which is a macular dystrophy that affects the central vision. And it's a progressive disease, which means it's just gonna keep getting worse. So I've kind of come to the realisation that life is short. I don't know when I'm going to lose my sight or at what point I won't have enough left to be able to work or do things that I want to do. So I’m taking the bull by the horns, as they say, and just doing everything I want to do.

Nick: Fantastic. Well, well done you for that. Tell me about Wanted Wardrobe and what inspired you and your friend Victoria to start this together.

Tilly: So Wanted Wardrobe came to be around this time last year when me and Victoria were on holiday together. And it was just one of them passing comments that “ohh we'd be living the dream. Let's do it. Let's just open our shop!” And it was just more of a dream that we really wanted to do. And then when we came back off holiday, we actually started discussing it properly. And starting to get things into place. And then Victoria's husband knew someone that was putting a property up for rent that was ideal for the shop. And within a couple of months the shop came. We… we popped it up within two weeks. We got the keys on the 5th July we got the keys and then by 22nd July we had a fully functioning shop open to the public. We had a big opening party. And since 22 July we have been open Tuesdays to Saturdays ever since.

Nick: Brilliant. And tell us about…. tell us about where you are in the country as well.

Tilly: Oh yes! That would be a good point for people to come. [Laughs] We are based in Castle Donington, which is north-west Leicestershire but it's on the border of Derbyshire as well, so it's a bit of a debate. But we are [in] Castle Donington, right near East Midlands Airport and Donington Racetrack. We're based on Clapgun Street. 5B. And we're upstairs and round the back. So we have got videos up showing how to get in because it is a bit confusing. [Laughs]

Nick: And tell me about your about your love of fashion. And…what made you want to own a… own a clothing store? And the kind of stuff that you've got in your shop.

Tilly: So ever since I was younger, I've always enjoyed trying to pair outfits together and putting different things with things that necessarily wouldn't really go. Quite a lot of people probably would be like: “Oh wow! What’s she wearing?” But I just like wearing crazy things! I like to mix prints, colours that wouldn't normally go together. Like, I love pink and green together. So sometimes people do walk in and they see the mannequins and they get a little bit nervous because I'll put crazy mannequins together. But yeah. I just… I love clothes! I've always followed different influencers on Instagram and TikTok and things like that, watching them pair clothes together. And when lockdown happened, I lost my job at the airport.

So once we were allowed to go back to work, my mum actually worked for a charity and said to me: “Oh. Come and work with me for a bit. Come and do some volunteering.” Because as most people know that… that have a disability, it's quite hard to go straight into a job. Even though there's a job description, it's quite hard to know if you actually physically can do that job until you're in it. So going to the charity shop and working as a volunteer and having no pressure – that if it doesn't work, it doesn't work – it was really nice. That… The charity had a really large till system. I got used to that quite quickly. 

And it just, that's where I found my love of pre-loved clothing… Because before that, I was more following trends in high-street fashion. But once I started working in the charity shops, you realise: actually, you can get things at such a bargain price compared to high street. Same quality. Sometimes things are brand new that even come in and you're getting such good deal.

Nick: Yeah.

Tilly: So that's where I found my love for pre-loved clothing, which then progressed into me buying and selling at home, swapping my wardrobe out quite regularly… instead of having -  well, I do have quite a lot of clothing – but instead of having too much and thinking: “ohh, I need to keep that and wear it again and again and again.” 

I will have the pieces that I do wear again and again, the basics, in my wardrobe. But also with the beauty of second hand… Because you've only paid a couple of pounds for it you can wear it once or twice, have beautiful photos in it and then re-donate it to a charity – or even sell it yourself on Vinted, eBay platforms like that – to keep your wardrobe fresh. [Laughs]

Nick: Excellent. And so you mentioned there that it's quite difficult for disabled people to get into the world of work. Why do you think that is? And what have been the challenges that you've faced?

Tilly: For us it's very frustrating at the moment. I had [support from a government scheme called] Access to work with my previous job. So they funded my taxis [to and from work] and that's all they [provided]. Because I didn't really know what you can get from Access to Work until someone told me that also claims it. She said: “Oh. By the way, did you know you can actually get help with support workers, and you can get help with technology?” Like proper zoom magnifiers. Like ZoomText [magnifying app] for, example, on a laptop, which means I could actually do my work and have a productive way of working. 

Instead of panicking. In September we applied for Access to Work. as a self-employed person. And I didn't get my assessment until the week before Christmas. So I waited –  what's that? –  four months for an assessor. The assessor was absolutely lovely. He actually sat there and offered things that I didn't even know of that I could get help with. Different apps, different technology that I'd never heard of before, and that I wouldn't have heard of if it wasn't for this assessor. He recommended different things. And then we didn't get the awarding letter until about the second week of January. Which is fine because I get Christmas… people have got time off. But they'd actually… Instead of 26 hours of support work which was recommended, they told me that I could only have eight a week - which isn't even half, wasn't justified…

Nick: Hmm.

Tilly: And we asked how to appeal. They told us how to appeal and that was…We appealed the same day, second week in January. And actually only just last week got an email back, saying: “We've received your appeal. Please can you tell us why you're appealing.” So…At the minute I have Victoria, who helps me more than she should. So she gets the 8 hours’ support work from me at the minute, and she should be getting a lot more because she's… she's here a lot more supporting me. She does a lot of things that I can't do. If it wasn't for that, I wouldn't be able to come to work, especially if I was in a job [where I was someone] that was employed and I couldn't go to work without it, I'd have been sat waiting from September to now [at the time of recording] start of April.

And realistically, what employer is going to wait that period of time for you? [Especially] when they could get someone that's able-bodied to start that job in the next week of an application. They're not gonna be waiting around for this period of time. And it's really frustrating because the system is there to help you but actually, if anything, it's holding you back more because you're waiting so long. If that employer then said: “Sorry, We've waited too long now. We can't have you.” You've gone through this process already. But then when you go to a new job, you have to start the application all over again.

People say that equality is there in businesses. But realistically, waiting this period of time… You wouldn't expect them, to let alone them want to… So it is really frustrating.

Nick: Yeah. So you think there really needs to be improvements in, Access to Work in order to reduce the barriers for disabled people. And I should just clarify for any listeners that don't know: Access to Work is a central government scheme that can support disabled people to get into work with the kind of support and adjustments that Tilly was talking about – like… like support workers, like funding for equipment and stuff like that. So you'd like for there to be fewer delays and a better funded system in order to reduce those delays, I suppose.

Tilly: Yeah. And also they've offered us all of these amazing technology items that we wouldn't have known of from the assessor. Absolutely brilliant. However, we have to fund them ourselves and then send in the invoices to the government [who fund Access to Work] for them [Access to Work] to pay. But they cannot give us a timescale on how quickly they could pay us back. 

So with ZoomText alone – regardless of…any of the other things they've offered me. (the laptop, all these other bits to help me) which are gonna aid me to function in work – ZoomText alone is £2000. So as a start-up business, we can't afford to pay £2000 for ZoomText, which is gonna help me to work. And if we do manage to scrape it and pay for this £2000, we're waiting to get it back. We then can't pay for the other thing like the laptop. We can't afford that if we we've gotta buy them one at a time. But you only have a time frame on how quickly you can buy the equipment as well. So I think it's about is it six months, I think it's six months that you have to buy this equipment.

I do understand that they can't just be throwing the money at you and risking that you've not actually bought the equipment. But the majority of people that, well, everyone that's applying for Access to Work, are people that genuinely just want to get out of sitting at home and not being able to work any more. They genuinely want to work. And I know with us, especially me… I want to get to a point where my business is growing so well that I want to pay taxes and I want to give back to the… the government. 

I want to make a successful business. I want it so I can physically grow my business and grow myself and be more independent, instead of relying on people to come in and volunteer. Because, you know, there's people like my mum. My mum comes in quite a lot to help out because she knows how stressful it is that I can't do these things on my own. But solution-wise I don't know. I mean, maybe funding half of the equipment and giving you half up front as a goodwill gesture. Because it's so expensive… giving half of it and then you get that you get the other half back, once you've proved the receipts.

But like I say, everyone who is using Access to Work is in some way desperate to get back to work – especially if they've known something [in employment] before. Like with me, mine is a progressive disease. So. I was so independent. I was able to get the bus to work. I was able to do all these things on my own and now I physically can't. I'm quite clued up on what I want to be doing and how I want to be doing it. I just physically can't without the aid of some support.

Nick: Yeah. Sure. You talked about the great relationship you have with Victoria and the support you get from her. Tell me more about that. What's it like working with Victoria?

Tilly: Victoria's amazing! She's… she's actually in the room at the minute. She's just giggled a little. But she is. She's absolutely amazing. And if it wasn't for Victoria, I wouldn't have had the confidence to be where I am now. So I always say to people that say: “oh wow! You're so inspiring.” You're so this. You're so that”. Everyone needs their Victoria. Even if it isn't that she's gonna be your business partner, she's gonna be your friend. that just supports you and tells you: “you can do this!”

Victoria is incredible. She's… she's built my confidence loads. She's getting me to try new things. She's bringing me out of my comfort zone. She's taking me places. She's helping me so much with work and [with] realising my potential… which, again, is someone that an able-bodied [person] needs as well. Everyone needs someone that's there for them… that's their support work like their network… But for someone that's disabled, you need it a lot more because you have got a lot more barriers. And you do think: “Oh! you know, I can't do this because of my disability. No, actually. You can. You can do this. And if anything for me now, it's that… I want to prove to other people and myself that my disability is not gonna hold me back.

It's gonna push me forward and. Victoria is just incredible. She.. She helped me so much. And work-wise, still [does]. You know. If it wasn't for Victoria doing majority of the admin and the bookkeeping and things along them lines, I wouldn't be able to run a business on my own. I wouldn't. I wouldn't be able to do it because of how I've not got that equipment to access it on a laptop. So I can't zoom in enough to see it at the moment so. And even if I could zoom in, I don't think. I don't think it would. It would be very good on my eyes. It'd strain them too much. I'd be sat taking forever to do it. So with Vic, she's incredible.

Nick: That's great. That's great to hear. And so…You guys were friends. But friends before, right? Before you became business partners.

Tilly: Yes, we were. We, like I say, we were on holiday this time last year when we discussed starting the business up together. We didn't really know each other to go out alone together. We met through her husband and my ex-partner now. They grew up together and that's how we met. So we didn't know each other to go out alone but now they can't keep us apart.

We're always together and if we're not, we're… we're down at the gym… Or we're at a networking tonight; we're together there. We go… where did we go the other week? We went to the spa, went for a relax. Yeah. We did a sound bath. We're trying loads of new, different things like I say, and we're… we're inseparable. [Laughs]

Nick: [Laughs] Nice So what would you like to change to make it easier for disabled people to have a job and thrive in it? So for other disabled people who are looking to do either what you're doing or… and set up their own business… or disabled people who are just looking to get into a workplace. What else do you think needs to change in society… to make that happen?

Tilly: I think, for me, the biggest reason I am sat where I am is my confidence has gotten a lot greater - again, like I say, from the influence of Victoria. But not only that from people accepting that: “yeah. Tilly’s not just got bad eyes. Tilly’s registered blind”. So before I opened the shop, I didn't really accept it myself. I didn't believe that I was one day going to go blind. I didn't believe I'll get this bad. 

And I didn't want to use my stick out in public. I was too nervous to tell people I couldn't see. I didn't like going on my phone in public because of how close I hold it to my face. Personally, I think that people need support networks. They need more confidence building. They need… For me, I didn't go to any of the groups that charities offer. I didn't go to the picnics in the park, the cooking sessions that help you with this because I thought: “Oh. That's so strange. My friends that are able-bodied will think I'm strange. But actually, me getting out there and meeting people that are like-minded [is good]… We've started up a support group which runs every first Tuesday of the month in a local cafe and that has helped me loads because majority of people there – well, it's a sight loss support group.

So the majority of people have got sight loss. Some of them are people that come as relatives because they want to understand how they can talk to their family [member] that's just been diagnosed with a sight loss condition, or how they can adapt to help. And that's something I would never have gone to a year ago. I would have thought: “Oh. No. I don't want to go to that. It's just a bit strange, But actually now, if I hadn't have organised that… These people that come to it, that have built so much confidence… There's a lady that came in the shop to let me know that she had a sight condition and she lived in the village. She's now got a job. She's not had a job since she had her stroke and she struggled with her sight loss. She's now got a job at school with children, which is something she absolutely wanted to do. She loves it. She's so happy. She's over the moon and she gets this support in school.

Because she didn't know about Access to Work. She didn't know that it's OK to go out and have some sight loss. And it's not weird to have your stick. You know. She's now got this confidence from meeting people that are like-minded, and meeting people that have similar issues and realising: “Yeah. It is harder with a disability but everyone goes through it. So this being scared to go to an interview, that's just the same as anyone.” But yeah. You've got this massive issue of “Oh. I've got to address the elephant in the room that I'm disabled.” And sometimes you think they might not accept me for [who I am]. But actually, if you portray yourself with the confidence and just be yourself and know how much you love yourself, you can. You can rock it. You can do it.

Nick: And so I was also going to ask you, what are you looking forward to in the future? I know you've got some exciting things on the horizon.

Tilly: Yes, we have. We have got some Business Awards that we are attending. It's the Nachural Entrepreneur – that's a mouthful – Nachural Entrepreneur Awards and there is 10 categories. And we have been nominated for three of them, which is exciting.

Nick: Congratulations.

Tilly: Thank you. We're very excited. And it's an excuse to get dressed up. As you know, we love clothes! So we have been nominated for: Start-Up Business of the Year; Community Excellence of the Year; and Businesswoman of the Year. So we are very excited to go to that.

Yeah. Even if we don't win any, we're just happy with the awareness that it will bring to the shop. The new people that will be aware of our business and the support we do for different people.

Nick:  Fantastic. And you mentioned another thing that's happening in April and tell me what you can about that one as well?

Tilly: We have got a production team coming to film us for a BBC primetime show. They're coming to film us and the shop and what we do. What services we offer, like our personal styling services. [They will] talk a bit to some of the people that come to our support group. And then we are hosting our first fashion show. So that is going to be in the shop. All of our models are partially sighted or blind. We have Libby Clegg as one of our models – a [GB] Paralympian. She's coming and being one of our models. We are…

Nick: Brilliant.

Tilly: Yeah. It's very exciting. We are hosting it with Ian Sky from BBC Radio Derby. And it's just going to be a really fun event. So it's our first ever fashion show and it's being filmed. So we're very excited. We've had so many people ask if they can buy tickets after we've sold, sold out already. We are hopefully going to be hosting another fashion show in the Fall. In like September, October time, I want to say. But hopefully, we want a bigger venue for that one because we've had a lot of interest. So keep an eye out on our socials.  That will be announced after summer if we are going to do one. [Laughs]

Nick: Brilliant. And you mentioned socials there. Can you tell people where they can find you on different social platforms?

Tilly: Yep. So on Facebook, we are Wanted Wardrobe. On Instagram, we are wanted_wardrobe_ (that’s wanted underscore wardrobe underscore).. Vinted: WantedWardrobe23. And we are on TikTok as well. All of our social media accounts have the same logo as the profile picture and it's our logo. It says Wanted Wardrobe and it's got a shoe on it. So you'll know you've gone to the right place if you can see our logo.

We do have a website, which is www.wantedwardrobe.co.uk.

Nick: Fantastic. And you can find more of the socials on there as well. Um, and. Yeah. Check it out. It's a. really good site, you're doing fantastic stuff, and it sounds like you've got some really good things to look forward to as well. So best of luck with that. Keep us all posted.

Tilly: Yeah. Thank you.

Nick: And thank you so much for coming on the Disability Download.

Tilly: Thank you for having me.

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Isaac: Thanks for listening to todays episode, we hope you enjoyed it. We want to say a massive thank you to our guests today for sharing their experiences in the world of employment. You can find links to their socials in the show notes. 

Thanks too to you, our wonderful listeners. We’d love to know what you think, so get in touch by emailing us at disabilitydownload@Leonardcheshire.org or you can contact us on Twitter or Instagram @LeonardCheshire. If there’s someone you’d like to hear from on the podcast, do get in touch and let us know. And don’t forget to like, share and subscribe! This has been, The Disability Download.

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