worker at Watford Workshop constructing chimney balloons

Introducing: Watford Workshop

As I’ve mentioned before, the Chimney Balloon is made by the charity Watford Workshop. The charity, which is now over 50 years old, gives work experience, skills training and employment to disabled and disadvantaged people, working to up-skill and build their confidence.

Working with Watford Workshop has been a fundamental part of our business over the last few years and an element of the business we are so proud of. You’d be surprised by how complicated it is to make the Chimney Balloon – each stage requires careful scrutiny to ensure the product doesn’t have any weak points. Watford Workshop have made hundreds of thousands of successful Chimney Balloons that have been exported all over the world, testament to their high quality work.

We thought you might like to hear a little more about Watford Workshop and all the amazing work they do (because we really think they are brilliant!) so we have spoken to Gill Nightingale, Partnership Manager, and someone we work closely with at Watford Workshop, to tell you more about their brilliant set-up!

When was Watford Workshop set up and why?

Watford Workshop opened in 1964. This was in response to identifying a desperate need amongst adults with physical disabilities for opportunities to gain meaningful employment. In the intervening years this has expanded to include other forms of disability being supported such as sight and hearing impairment, Autism and Downs Syndrome.

How many people attend Watford Workshop?

We have over 60 service users attending the Workshop on a weekly basis.

How does the workshop ensure that all participants learn and grow in confidence?

Along with providing employment and the subsequent work skills and work experience, Watford Workshop also recognised that confidence and independence were essential to its service users leading a full and happy life outside of the workplace. In response to this, we now provide additional Independent Life Skills training which includes learning to read and write, numeracy and money management, personal and home hygiene, basic cooking and many, many more. All of our training courses are delivered by fully qualified sessional tutor’s and are tailored to each individual. For each milestone in their learning journey our attendee’s confidence flourishes. The additional effect of this training is the comfort this gives to parents of adults with disabilities, in knowing that their child has been given the ability to live as independent a life as possible, once they are no longer around.

What is the training process for participants?

The training process for work skills is given on-the-job. An attendee will begin with simple products and once their skill level is identified, will be given more difficult work with support were needed. For those who have the ability to do work on more technical products, training will be given in-house and they will be given the opportunity to attend college to gain further skills and qualifications.

What services do you offer to customers?

We offer customers in the UK and Worldwide a wide variety of hand packing, rework and assembly services with no minimum quantities. This level of flexibility helps our customers in several different ways:
● We can be a commercially viable alternative to contract packing, enabling our customers to compete in niche and new markets.
● We can be an additional second source for peak periods when extra capacity is needed.
● Our customers can ‘drop ship’ direct to our warehouse to reduce delivery times and costs.
● We offer a professional service with accurate, on-time and in-full delivery.
● We have over 5 decades of service delivery experience.
● Enhances our customers Corporate Social Responsibility credentials.

These services include:
● Product Reworking
● Retail & Promotional Packing
● Kit Assembly
● Labelling
● Light Mechanical & Electrical Assembly
● Mail Shot Collation
● Heat Sealing

We know that with working you, the quality of product your produce is absolutely brilliant. How do you ensure that is the case?

We ensure that every product that we work on is quality checked and weighed (where applicable). Quality and accuracy are essential to ensure our customers are happy and want to continue to place orders with us. We are proud that we have retained several of our customers for over 30 years.

What have some of the attendees of Watford Workshop gone on to achieve, through the training and confidence you have given them?

We have many success stories of service user’s over the years who have transitioned into mainstream employment. These successes cover roles in retail, industrial work, clinical research support, secretarial/office support, customer services and fork lift truck driving.

You work with a range of disabilities and languages, what do you find most rewarding about this?

By being able to give an adult with a disability a chance to have what we all take for granted, a job. We don’t realise until we really think hard about it, just how much our work defines us. Just remember how many of our friends and partners we have met because of our work? Then imagine never having had the chance to do that work and make those connections that have enriched our lives? Quite simply, for those born with a disability, we give them a chance when no one else will. For those who have become disabled through illness or accident, we give them a chance to be productive again. That is intensely rewarding.

Take us through, in brief, the steps of making a Chimney Balloon at Watford Workshop.

We have a Chimney Balloon SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) which gives both a pictorial and written description of each stage of the process – it is rather complex and each stage is vital so I couldn’t possibly bore you with all the details! All our SOP’s are provided in this way to ensure that those with little or no reading skills can still follow the steps to complete the product.

How have you enjoyed working with Chimney Balloon over the last few years?

Chimney Balloon is not just an amazing product to work on but their support as an organisation over the years, has been truly lovely.

What has been Watford Workshop’s biggest achievement to date?

We have had some amazing achievements in terms of awards received or grants won. However, for us, the biggest achievement is always when a service user tells us how we have given them a reason to get out of bed in the morning and how much happier they are now they are at the Workshop. Seeing friendships flourish and social networks established, unlocking them to a wider world. There is no award or grant that really beats that.