Working from “home” by Gavin Neate
Mary Fickling caught up with Gavin Neate this month, who at aged 53, is in his own words - 'living the dream'. Gavin is the founder of the WelcoMe app, a system which has been designed to support disabled people in their interactions with customer service teams. WelcoMe was featured in a recent newsmagazine and you can find the details of that below this article. Well done Gavin! Breaking the mould is difficult and you really do seem to have succeeded!
"For 'home' to truly be, who and where you are, is not tied to items or the drive to possess them"
"In February 2020 as a consequence of the pandemic along side my entire team I began working from home.
These were challenging times for us as a small company, as it was for the entire world, but there was no other option available to us. My team of three at this point, all lived in Edinburgh and were all based out of our city centre office.
We had been using a team communicator called Slack for sometime to keep connected with each other and now alongside another tool, Trello, and of course Zoom, we actually found that we could become even more efficient with our use of time. The bonus for my team was that being at home they were able to focus on the health of those closest to them at such a worrying time.
By August 2020, and during a partial relaxation of rules, I moved from Edinburgh to Glasgow. This wasn’t something I had thought I would be able to do previously feeling that as CEO and Founder of the company, I really had to be close to my team. It was never going to be a permanent move, but as our finances were uncertain and it was more cost- effective, it felt like the right thing to do. Glasgow wasn’t the same city as it was before lockdown I still enjoyed getting out and about as much as I could, in a part of the country I had previously been a stranger to and at the very least, I had slowed down my monthly spend.
In August 2021, I received the news that my Sister was unwell and a single person attempting to run a small farm, she was finding it difficult to meet the needs of her animals and the upkeep of her house. Another move? Yes, of course, I could, and the thought of moving to the Highlands of Scotland wasn’t a bad one, as it was where I was from and as my elderly parents lived close to my Sister, I would also be able to spend time with them.
I didn’t own much but my possessions went into storage in Glasgow and over the next few months I realised how little I needed them. In fact, I realised that they had been holding me back and preventing me from embracing true freedom, as I found as long as I had clothes, I needed for little else.
In November that year, a friend in Edinburgh asked me if I would look after her cat and dog whilst she went on a work trip to Italy. Why not I thought? My sister was a lot better and I was now able to work from anywhere.
Wilma The Dog - an elderly resident in one of the house sits
..and so began a new lifestyle.. Not one that I had planned, but one which has led to me opening up to the possibility of living life with a totally different outlook. I joined a site called HouseSitters and put up a profile. Within a couple of weeks I had provisional bookings to “sit” for people all over the UK and 2022 started in a way that would have felt impossible to imagine just two years before. Half of the "sits" were through people I know and the other half from the site.
Gavin being hit by a wave, whilst wild water swimming at Boom Beach
My latest “sit” has been in the Highlands again, (not far from my family) and as I was close to the sea and having joined a weekly wild swimming group decided to swim every day. So, every day for the last two weeks I have donned the wet suit and made my way into the Atlantic Ocean. No mater the weather, I have waded into near freezing water and swam increasing distances every day until I was able to get across the bay and back in even the roughest of conditions. It is hard to explain how totally alien an experience this is but one is certain and that it is impossible to think about work when your body is being shocked in this way.
Zara the horse nuzzling in to Gavin
I’m 53, my life has changed, I own little and need little and pay no rent, shop two weeks in advance and even bake my own bread.
A great day Poolwe Skiff Rowing Club
Would I have chosen this life? No, it is unlikely I would. Have I embraced it? Yes, totally and on a daily basis hear people telling me I am so incredibly lucky.
I have proved to myself that it is possible to break the mould and live outside of my comfort zone, to embrace the challenges that life has thrown at me and turn them to my advantage. For “home” to truly be, who and where you are is not tied to items or the drive to possess them. The future? I'm not sure.. but it doesn’t scare me half as much as it would have done in the past.
This is how I (Mary Fickling) got to know Gavin....
Back in July, I was editing an article entitled “Hidden Disabilities” by Nichola Ebbern, Head of Health and Safety at Shepherds Bush Housing Association. I put out a request on social media for some help to source the origins of an image I wanted to include in the article.
One of the first people to come forward to help was a guy called Gavin Neate, who sent me a direct message on Twitter. Further chatter ensued and he was very helpful in sourcing other disability references that I needed. This kind of social interaction, we concluded, was ‘one of the better uses of the medium of Twitter!”
I vowed to look up exactly what Gavin did with my next available research time.
Gavin Neate, CEO and Founder of Neatebox Limited
It turns out that this very helpful guy at the other end of my Twitter inbox is one helluva entrepreneur and globally acclaimed digital innovator. Gavin Neate, is the CEO and Founder of Neatebox Limited. Gavin sees a problem and finds a solution. I asked Gavin if he had a CV, he’d never been asked for that before, he said, “left school, 10 years in the military police, 18 years working for Guide Dogs for The Blind and then I set up my own company”. I said “that’ll do for me Gavin!”
It was his experience of a blind customer being left to stand for 20 minutes in a well-known department store with no one coming to help him that led to the development of his latest innovation “WelcoMe”… a Disability aware customer service solution
At recent UN World Summit Awards, Neatebox were described as ‘global champions for inclusion and empowerment' for their latest innovation which helps disabled people get better customer service. It is both a mobile and web-based app which:
enhances customer experience
raises staff confidence around accessibility and
improves the interactions between staff and disabled people
provides instantaneous accessibility training, hints and tips
builds lasting relationships
Users of the free disability app create a personal accessibility profile of themselves and their condition and tap which assistance is pertinent to their needs and which is not. It takes about a minute. Then when they plan to visit a WelcoMe signed up facility (and there are many high-profile organisations on board) their details are passed on. This enables customer fronting staff at the shop, cafe, bank, hospital or entertainment provider to ensure the correct assistance is ready and waiting for them.
Did you know that
19% of the UK Population have a disability and that
80% of disabled people have ‘hidden impairments”?
Facts and Figures from Purple Pound (August 2020)
Where there is inaccessibility we need accessibility. Where there is unfairness we need change and as Gavin says in the 30 minute video interview below ‘under x-ray, we all look the same, we are the same and we should be treated the same”.
Gavin’s way of thinking encourages empowerment and self-care through choice, which is exactly the way it should be.
I really am so glad our paths crossed and I do hope to keep in touch with Gavin and relay to our readers just how the trial of WelcoMe is received at NHS Golden Jubilee Hospital. who are currently trialling the app, the NHS would be a perfect organisation to flagship this for the UK.
John m Griffin of Accessibility.com asks Gavin here all the questions I wanted to..