A disability charity that has been called a "precious resource" for the community has discussed how it has been coping throughout lockdown.

Watford Workshop, located on Dalton Way, offers support employment, work experience and training for people with disabilities who may face barriers to regular employment. 

Back in April the workshop, which carries out packing orders for retailers, said it was only running on "skeleton staff" after asking service users to remain at home due to the pandemic.

Partnership manager, Gill Nightingale, said the charity has been operating for 55 years and says it is a "precious resource" for people in Watford.

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But she has now discussed how the workshop has been coping throughout lockdown.

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Gill Nightingale. Credit: Watford Workshop

Workers on furlough

Before the Job Retention Scheme was introduced to help employers, the charity said it decided to put workers on furlough on March 23.

Gill Nightingale said: "At the time there was no talk about putting staff on furlough but it was something we had already done for our staff and service users.

"We said to them that everybody would be paid for at least the first two months.

"This is because we have vulnerable people and they have a lot to stress on top of the anxiety around Covid-19 and lockdown. 

"We didn't want them to worry about money as well. It was the right thing to do."

The charity has said it has been keeping in touch with more than 50 staff members at home with the help of its new helpline."

The new service helps those at home who might be dealing with anxiety and feelings of isolation.

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Watford Workshop team. Credit: Watford Workshop

Gill added: "We are in regular contact with them to provide any support that they may require and with the funds raised for this support, we will continue to do this along with providing PPE kits.

"We are also ensuring that they all have their means of communication with the outside world such as PCs and tablets and if needed, we will also use those funds to help fix or replace whatever is needed to enable them to have this essential support link."

To donate to help fund the charity's new helpline click here

Reduction in workload 

The workshop said the only packaging orders it has been receiving are from businesses who sell essential products.

As a result, the workshop has been able to bring back a small number of workers such as those in the management team and service users who can drive and avoid using public transport.

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Service user working on the workshop. Credit: Watford Workshop

She said: "Since lockdown, the impact of Covid-19 on our customer base has been considerable and as a consequence our orders have dramatically reduced.

"Slowly within a short space of time we only had a few customers who were selling essential products.

"We did bring back skeleton staff and we already have been implementing social distancing from the start. 

"This has got us through the worst of it and by us being able to work while social distancing it means those customers we were able to service, are able to maintain their business. 

"We obviously have had some customers but no where near as the amount we had before hand."

Returning back to work

Although the workshop has been able to survive with scarce numbers of staff, Gill says social distancing will provide challenges.

She added: "Social distancing presented additional challenges for us as it dramatically impacts the workshop space. We will have to work with the number of people we can have on one day.

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Service user filling out packaging orders. Credit: Watford Workshop

"Going forward from this week if we're told social distancing will be contracted, we can bring more people back in.

"For those remaining on furlough, this may mean that when they are able to return, we may need to swap days and times around to enable us to do this.

"However, it is pointless bringing people  in if there is not enough work for them to do.

"All the measures are in place for those who have returned which are in line with Government directives and we're confident it's safe for them to be here."