In 2004, having spent years researching how best to support people with complex disabilities, Sarah Clayton found herself incredibly frustrated at the lack of practical support they were being offered. So frustrated in fact, that she gave up her teaching job and sold her house in order to raise enough time and money to start a business that would do exactly that. She and her family moved in with her parents (her mother is a physiotherapist and father was a weapons explosive expert – they were going to come in handy) and set to work.
For “average”, able-bodied, healthy adults the five biggest causes of death each year for people under 75 are heart disease, respiratory diseases, stroke, cancer and liver disease. For people with disabilities, this list changes to epilepsy, septicaemia and chest infections. As Sarah says when she’s explaining this to me, “It’s quite unbelievable that in 2016 we still have people dying of septicaemia caused from pressure sores.” The determination to change the “little” things that make such a big difference is clear to see. Sarah’s business, Simple Stuff Works – based in Tamworth, Staffs- is focused on helping people with complex disabilities use relatively simple systems to reposition their bodies so that exactly this kind of problem is avoided, and that they are secure and comfortable. To put it succinctly, in Sarah’s words, “It’s about making the furniture fit the person, instead of the person fit the furniture”.
A little later I leave the factory with a smile on my face and a feeling that good things are happening in a world that (especially recently) can feel as though it wants to keep the good guys down.
Postural care is an approach that looks at the whole patient and their needs: gentleness and respect are key. Sarah’s mum, Liz Goldsmith, developed the Goldsmith Indices – a way of measuring body symmetry and this links very closely to postural care. Questioning the acceptance that bodily distortion in patients with disabilities is inevitable is a strong focus of Simple Stuff Works. As someone who knows embarrassingly little about this subject, I found it moving to see examples of children and adults whose everyday posture and comfort has been vastly improved simply by providing them with relatively simple inventions which help them position their bodies. That said, Sarah is keen to point out that she has to put her own ambitions for a patient second and the their priority first. By that, she means that she might see a patient and feel desperate to regain that person’s body symmetry for them. However, they might be looking to achieve something far more basic than that – simply, for example, to be able to sit in a chair without feeling in pain. Sarah tells me how she’s always checking herself to make sure it’s the patient’s wishes that are being put first.
There’s a fine line between being a profitable business but also sticking with the values and principles that made you set it up in the first place.
As well as providing equipment all over the UK and exporting worldwide, Simple Stuff Works does a great deal of their business providing postural care equipment to the NHS. However, Sarah’s painfully aware that the systems currently in place to support vulnerable people are often flawed. After all, the rarer your condition, the less people there are likely to be requiring such specific support in your area, meaning there is a greater likelihood of that service being cut. It’s a conundrum, and one that Sarah struggles with. “There’s a fine line between being a profitable business but also sticking with the values and principles that made you set it up in the first place.”
Every month, Simple Stuff Works sends out two boxes of charity kit to parts of the world that struggle to get their hands on this type of equipment. Off the top of her head she reels off Romania, Banagalore, Hong Kong, Bangladesh…before showing me photographs of volunteers she knows out in these places who help people out there use the equipment effectively. “Even if seeing it helps them bodge together something similar for themselves, it’s still done the job”, she says. “You know that thing about “give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day” and all that? Yeah, it’s kind of like that, y’know? We’ve got the most potential for supporting people with the least resources.” On a similar note, Sarah starts telling me about the ABCD initiative, Asset Based Community Development. It’s about looking at the support mechanisms a community may already have available, but may not be using – looking at what we have, rather than have not. When a group pf people recognises the power they already have to take control of and improve their situation, it can be life-changing.
As I’m chatting with Sarah in her office, her dad knocks the door, “Can I come in?” He says hi to me and places a few pieces of chunky foam on the desk. He talks Sarah through what needs to be done to them to ensure they will be strong enough to hold when in use. “You order me that iron?” he asks as he leaves. She tells him she has. He looks at me as he leaves and rolls his eyes, “You’d think my daughter would get me a better discount wouldn’t you?” he says to me, teasing her. This is truly a family business with it’s heart exactly where it needs to be. I’m thoroughly enjoying this interview – Sarah’s positive, optimistic, “glass half full” approach is both refreshing and infectious. A little later I leave the factory with a smile on my face and a feeling that good things are happening in a world that (especially recently) can feel as though it wants to keep the good guys down.
Sarah makes me even more convinced that it is possible to be successful, driven and lucrative whilst also being kind, benevolent, warm and funny.
With business opportunities now opening up in New York, it looks as though the sky is the limit for this company which simply wants to give families control over the care of their loved ones with disabilities. I’ve known Sarah on a personal level for some time: our daughters are the same age and they were at the same primary school together. Every now and again she’ll refer to, “Y’know, when all that crap was going on”. What she means by that is that at the age of 10 her now 15 year old daughter was diagnosed with a life threatening brain tumour. It’s difficult to express the awe I feel as a woman and a mother, watching someone come through the other side of that experience, and still dealing with its repercussions (her daughter has been left with life changing disabilities) whilst also building a hugely successful business, a wonderful family and being an all round generally cool person to know. Sarah makes me even more convinced that it is possible to be successful, driven and lucrative whilst also being kind, benevolent, warm and funny. Simple Stuff Works…spread the word about them. They’re kinda cool.
Julie is determined to spread a little positivity in a world that feels in desperate need of it. She prefers a starter to a pudding, enjoys comedy and hugs, and still can't believe she didn't grow up to be Wonder Woman, a Charlie's Angel or Christine Cagney.