Looking back now I see the signs. But if you had told me when I sat in the chair at the top of a rapidly growing UK telecommunications firm that in a few short months I would be uprooting my family and moving to a little island on the other side of the world, I would have expressed scepticism.

Four years on, I am privileged to be running a leading social enterprise that provides inclusive, rewarding, and fulfilling employment to around 80 people who, due to some level of disability, might normally find some work environments challenging. Now I get to walk into the Kilmarnock Enterprises factory, a place filled with amazing co-workers whose smiles bring me a greater sense of accomplishment than any successful contract in my telecommunication days. We provide services such as assembly work, collation of goods, food re-packing, shrink-wrapping, carpentry, and electronic waste recycling. By supporting personal development within a professional context, people with an intellectual disability have been given a greater sense of self-worth, confidence, and belonging.

lady smiling Kilmarnock
Decisions within Kilmarnock go through a significant vetting process so that the outcome will be in line with our social responsibility and have a positive impact on the team and company culture.

Due to the passion, commitment, adaptability, and hard work of the incredible workforce at Kilmarnock, this enterprise has flourished. We now operate with 85% self-generated revenue, ISO 9001 and HACCP accreditation, and a very happy workforce.

Business but Different

At Kilmarnock it is a job well done if we are able to provide a socially responsible environment that caters to everyone’s unique capability, and empowers them to take control of their lives and pride in their successes. But to meet our social objectives, it is essential that Kilmarnock reach its commercial revenue targets.

This commercial focus has seen the company mature significantly in the past 18 months. We now have more stringent business practices, greater financial management, improved cost controlling, and multidirectional communication lines that include all Kilmarnock employees, ensuring that everyone is striving for the same goal. Decisions within Kilmarnock go through a significant vetting process so that the outcome will be in line with our social responsibility and have a positive impact on the team and company culture.

By supporting personal development within a professional context, people with an intellectual disability have been given a greater sense of self-worth, confidence, and belonging.

For instance, we recently embraced a contract to dismantle and recycle analogue televisions, a task that many of the strong young lads at Kilmarnock absolutely love. We like to focus on workplace evolution and contracts that are diverse, create new skill sets, encourage fitness and movement, get the team excited, and are financially rewarding.

BEST OF THE BEST

We operate in a fiercely competitive open market and it is essential that our service is equal to, if not better than, our mainstream business competitors. Our success within the business sector gives our employees such a sense of pride; knowing these commercially focussed organisations value the quality of the work our team delivers makes them realise that they can participate in society in the same way that anyone else can. Every contract won is won on merit.

Kilmarnock’s employees know with full certainty that the success of the enterprise is down to their meticulous attention to detail, passion for the job, and incredibly high standards. We are able to offer customers a skilled, reliable, and adaptable workforce that creates quality products, in addition to the knowledge that through their patronage they are supporting a very worthy charity. Through openness, mutual understanding, and integrity we have built amazing relationships with our customers. We aim to form strong, long-term arrangements with businesses to create a stable workflow and guarantee our employees steady, full time employment. We are proud to work with companies such as Air New Zealand, Foodstuffs, Fonterra, and The Gough Group who selected us based on the calibre of our work and continue to support us because we deliver quality products on time, and with a big smile. At our monthly customer-hosted and sponsored sausage sizzles, it is clear that customers delight in visiting our factory and passing on their praise to the team directly. I suspect some may even be angling for an invite to the Friday evening employee Zumba class!

three men woodwork Kilmarnock
Kilmarnock’s ambitions are ever evolving and we are constantly seeking new ways to facilitate growth, confidence, wellbeing, and independence in our employees.

Training and Professional Development

Like all organisations, we are only as good as our people. Fortunately, we have an outstanding workforce who are 100% committed to working together to achieve fantastic results. At Kilmarnock Enterprises we aim to foster this commitment and that aim is the driving force behind our training initiative.  Employees expand and diversify their capabilities with the goal of meeting the requirements of the external workforce, and take command of their own future.

We recognise that we are all unique and all offer our own individual strengths and abilities. We have made it our goal to ensure that every employee is achieving the greatest results they possibly can by introducing regularly reviewed, individualised support and goal setting programmes, looped multi-step demonstration videos, routines to eliminate error, and hazard identification programmes. The growth and development of the employees has been incredibly inspiring and has reaffirmed the importance and value of the initiative.

Our plans are still in their infancy, but we hope to place a priority on building skill sets and potentially earning qualifications that will enable people with disability to easily transition into the wider workforce. Kilmarnock’s ambitions are ever evolving and we are constantly seeking new ways to facilitate growth, confidence, wellbeing, and independence in our employees.

This is achieved by celebrating their unique capabilities in a positive work environment, with room to grow personally and professionally.

Health and Wellbeing

Alongside professional development, a significant part of the Kilmarnock individualised plans is personal wellbeing. We have introduced a Workplace Wellness Programme, which includes regular aerobics sessions, nutritional snacks, homemade soup available to buy at lunchtime, stretching before work and after breaks, dental hygiene sessions, presentations to all employees by Mission Nutrition, removal of fizzy drink vending machines, and the Kilmarnock Pedometer Challenge to get everyone moving.

The results have been staggering, with some employees losing as much as 30kg over the last 12 months and competing to take control of their health, proudly putting my pedometer to shame. It’s these initiatives that make us immensely proud of what we do and ensure the work environment is one of good, healthy fun.

Opening the Kilmarnock Doors

A turbulent history has meant that the disability sector has traditionally been very private and insular. A big change we have made over the last 12 months is to open our doors, books, and communication lines with as many disability service providers as possible, with the view that collectively we can achieve so much more.

A very important part of our work at Kilmarnock is changing the way people perceive intellectual disability.

By inviting people in to meet our employees and share in our experiences, we have been able to collaborate with disability organisations and employment agencies to improve our employee provisions and help more and more people with disabilities find regular supportive work and lead regular lives.

Changing Attitudes

When I walked into Kilmarnock I met a group of people who were so passionate about their work and so well connected with their co-workers that it was truly inspiring. My first two weeks were spent in the factory getting to know the people and the equipment and whilst they teased me for being chatty, disorderly, and interrupting their workflow, they were welcoming in a way I had never experienced. A very important part of our work at Kilmarnock is changing the way people perceive intellectual disability.

We have delivered presentations to over 4000 people in the last 18 months, telling them the story of Kilmarnock and willing them to open doors for those with disabilities. The tours have become one of the most rewarding tasks for me, as I get to witness, bit by bit, people beginning to see things differently.

A big change we have made over the last 12 months is to open our doors, books, and communication lines with as many disability service providers as possible, with the view that collectively we can achieve so much more.

We have taken many steps to spread our message including public talks, hosting school-aged students for community service, university internships, work experience, educational tours for primary school students—and the list goes on. We believe that by welcoming the community into the factory we can change people’s understanding of intellectual disability and show just how unique and valuable our employees are.

The world of social enterprise is a far cry from my time in the mainstream business world, but the experience I have brought to Kilmarnock Enterprises has enabled us to grow and mature; ultimately offering our employees a superior work environment where they are not only supported, but encouraged to improve their lives and become more empowered, engaged citizens. The team at Kilmarnock are second to none, and the incredible work place culture has ensured that the team has approached change with enthusiasm and fortitude. None of these successes would be possible without the people of Kilmarnock and the outstanding culture we have cultivated in the past 18 months. They continue to inspire and motivate me to grow this enterprise in a way that supports them in all their goals and ambitions; opening up a bright future for Cantabrians living with disabilities.

_DSC4184

Michelle Sharp

Michelle Sharp is CEO of Kilmarnock Enterprises. She holds an undergraduate degree in Mathematics, a Diploma in Marketing, and an MBA from the University of Leicester, and has lived in Spain, Mexico, the USA, the UK, and New Zealand. Michelle previously worked for Vodafone UK, followed by co-founding a startup telco, which grew rapidly into an internet service provider with a multi-million dollar turnover. She moved to Christchurch in 2009 with her husband and two young children.

Loading cart ⌛️ ...