Like many organisations partially reliant on a charitable hand, Cambridge’s Achievement House has felt the effects of Covid.
The disability enterprise re-opened this week after a stop-start year which left its workers feeling anxious and confused. Events have been canned. A big one is the annual Christmas party laid on by Rotary Cambridge, stopped due to Covid restrictions, and because fundraising has been compromised, the flow-on effects will be felt down the track.
Nonetheless, even though December is normally quiet at the Wilson St premises, there is a new optimism at having the doors open again. Achievement House manager Neil Fynn puts it down to the workshop floor staff finally being able to regroup. Even with Covid protocols in place, workers are comfortable in their environment, free from judgement and the competitiveness of the corporate world.
“We provide an important haven here. No-one is coerced into coming … it is entirely their choice,” said Neil. “Lockdown has been hard, particularly for those living on their own. The changes have been confusing and scary, the isolation has brought loneliness. While we have kept in touch with them via phone, it hasn’t been the same as being here.”
Achievement House has been here since the late 1970s. It offers people with disabilities an opportunity to be employed as part of a community in a town where they can readily mix with others socially. Theirs is the smallest of nine such enterprises in the country, contracted for support to the Ministry of Social Development and Ministry of Health.
Neil said the 40 contracted workers come from Cambridge, Hamilton and the wider Waipā area. They find their way to do whatever hours they prefer, often making use of the free bus service available to anyone with a disability. Once at the purpose-built workshop, they assemble and package components for various companies, some of which are major players on the international scene, which means that quality control on the shop floor is rigorous. Helping them are programme supervisors.
Neil said the workers were fully supported financially during lockdown periods, but he is concerned that some of the businesses they contract to may have found alternative ways of doing those jobs in the interim, potentially leaving gaps in the workflow.
He is also concerned at how upcoming changes to the disability sector may affect organisations like Achievement House. He said it was important to ensure that workers like theirs are protected against changes that may make them more vulnerable.
In the meantime, because so much of his job has segued into social work – helping the workers navigate their way through Covid requirements when few are computer literate or have phones – he is considering bringing on a part-time social worker. The problem will be funding that move, making it even more important to reinstate fundraising that has been disrupted over the past two years.
A Christmas of sorts is still on the cards. Rotary Cambridge will pop over for a festive lunch soon, at which they will hand out gifts they have gathered for each of the 40 workers.