Things I also do.
From time to time, I work as a photographer. At other times, I summarise medical notes. But I also work at a print house.
It’s a small place. There are just a few of us, people who run it. And despite a pretty regular influx of volunteers, we’re chronically understaffed.
Staffing isn’t our only problem though. We have a leaking roof, for starters. Too expensive to be properly fixed. Our computers are old. In fact, so old that it takes making a cup of coffee before I can check my emails. And oh, and we’re on a brink of closure.
It so happens that we’re not a regular, private business. We’re also a charity. We were created to train people who experience(-d) mental illness. And this is the main reason why all of us, who work here, love it.
I’ve worked in the mental health sector for many years. I’ve gone from being passionate to angry about it. Met people who needed and didn’t need help. The ones that no system could ever save and others, who were only too happy to benefit from whatever system would give. At the print house, I met some of the most dedicated people who suffered from mental illness.
Like J., one of our volunteers. He’s been here for years. Started as a trainee. Always on time, reliable and quick to learn, he decided to stay with us and work for the print finish section. He never leaves any jobs outstanding. He’s committed to what he does. And we keep reminding him to take regular breaks and go home. It is as if for J. there weren’t anything more important than this place.
There’s V. who’s partially sighted. She sometimes asks me to read the details of her bills. But never mind, she comes to work at our print house four times a week. Usually shreds confidential rubbish. Once, just after I’d started my work here, I asked V. to help me clean our shop windows. She did it with a smile. Only later did I learn how difficult it must have been for her.
Of course it’s not all roses. We do have hiccups. Like the other day, one of our trainees made a mistake while printing a big order. A large amount of paper was wasted. No, it wasn’t wise. It wasn’t green. But mistakes happen. And if you train people who were diagnosed with schizophrenia, Asperger’s or personality disorder, who usually take so much medication that it would put me to sleep for a day or two, mistakes are likely to happen more often.
We use old machines. To make sure that our trainees complete as many tasks by hand as possible. Like one of our trainees says: “it keeps your mind off other things”. Some call it staying sane, we call it a way to recovery. When you call us, you won’t hear beautifully recited automated options. You’re likely to speak to somebody who’s not confident enough to pick up the phone at all.
And this is the reason why this print house will never be big. We’re handmade. We’re meant to be slow.
Lately, we’ve been struggling financially. You see, when public sector financial cuts happen, they happen to places like ours first. But truth be told, we’d been warned months back. It was before my time. For various reasons, no alternative funding has been sought. We’re a social enterprise. In all likelihood, we’ll always rely to some extent on income other than that generated by the printing business.
This week, as a part of our desperate fundraising, I suggested we visit every single local business. To let everybody know we’d been neighbours for 21 years. And that we need help. T., another of our trainees, agreed to go with me. We took a pile of our “Save Your Mental Health Training Charity” leaflets and went for a walk along our high street. It was then, possibly like never before, when I realised how badly needed our place is. Seeing T. looking away while asking shop owners to let us leave a leaflet or two in their shop was truly touching. The whole experience didn’t feel comfortable. But it felt right.
So yes, I’m sitting here, although I should be in bed (tomorrow I’m going to a networking breakfast with local business people. They don’t serve what I would normally eat – goodbye my 30-day trial without anything baked! – but they want to help us so I’ll enjoy whatever there is. I don’t mind getting up at 5:30am and attending it on my day off either. Whatever works!).
I’m checking some trendy blogs. I get teenage make-up advice. And what boots to wear this winter. How to make pancakes. Or keep yourself cheerful. I’m thinking about what makes things popular, what makes things cool.
But it gets me nowhere. My thoughts are back to the print house.
I’ll translate tomorrow / Jutro przetłumaczę na polski.