Steve Gallin

Keeping the family together

Community rep Steve Gallin helped set up an upholstery and manufacturing business in Exeter to keep people with disabilities in work

When staff at Pluss in Exeter (a social enterprise employing both people with disabilities and those without disabilities) faced redundancy, Steve and colleagues sprung into action to ensure everyone had jobs to go to.

Steve says: “I had worked there for almost 30 years. My brother had a disability and told me back in 1987 the company was looking for a welder. It was a shock when we found out the factory was closing. We had 24 people with a range of disabilities including learning disabilities, hearing, sight and physical. It’s hard trying to find jobs these days, but for those with a disability the chance of finding work is especially low.”

Steve spoke to the union who helped to develop a business plan to set up Devon Disability Collective. He also contacted the local MP who supported him to speak to local councillors from Exeter City Council and Devon County Council. The councils agreed to loan the group £125,000 to get the business off the ground and provided the premises at a discounted rate.

Devon Disability Collective offers skilled upholstery for vehicles, wheelchairs and furniture. It also has a mobility showroom selling wheelchairs and mobility aids. “A wheelchair has a seat and back to it, which are made from canvas. The products are made by the end user who knows what is needed,” explains Steve.

Without the business, life would have been very different for the staff. “We’re like a family,” says Steve. “We’ve grown up with each other. We have Gladys who is almost 80 and still sews for us, and Stan, who is now retired but comes back twice a week to do voluntary work.”

There’s also Billy, a young autistic adult who studies at Exeter College and came to do some work experience. “On the day he started he was very shy and lacked confidence,” says Steve. “By day two he didn’t want to leave. He felt safe with us.” Steve and colleagues are trying to crowdfund Billy’s wages to employ him for a year.

Photo of Steve Gallin with Billy
Steve Gallin with Billy

“It’s tough out there as there’s limited funding,” adds Steve. “It’s vital we keep the business going so we can keep people with disabilities in the workplace.”