Work & Education

Andy’s Kars: the garage that repairs cars and… people’s lives

Adelina Chalmers recently wrote the following article re-published from her blog Promoting Good Practice about the incredible work of Andy Kent and his efforts in trying to train people with disabilities to be mechanics at his garage in Cambridgshire.

In October 2010 I was desperately trying to get speakers from big companies in the private sector to talk at a round table we organised in partnership with EDF about equality in employment. After calling constantly to no avail for about a week all the big names in the private sector, I realised that sadly… this was it! Our Equality in the Workplace event was to have no speakers from the private sector, as usual!!!

Then, I heard from a good colleague and friend called Terry Harding about Andy Kent and his garage, right near where we live, in Bar Hill (Cambridgeshire). I called Andy and asked if he wanted to speak at the event and he said he was coming to it anyway and he was more than happy to talk about his work. So, from being an attendee in the audience, trying to learn something new about equality in employment, Andy all of the sudden became the life of the show, as he mesmerised us all with the stories he told about his repair garage and the fantastic work they do!

When he was young, dyslexia (undetected at the time) prevented him from achieving academic qualifications, forcing Andy to leave school at the age of 14 with limited reading and writing skills.

Nevertheless, he started to work in the car repair industry as a workshop assistant. Soon enough, he discovered he had the wits to do a lot more and took on the opportunity to become a motor mechanic. But, Andy’s struggles were not to end there, as he became disabled when he was a mere 24 years old, as a cerebral hemorrhage left him with a number of physical and mental impairments!

Luckly (if you can call having a stroke “luck”!) he had just finished his qualification as a motor mechanic and was able to continue to work in the industry, ending up as a garage manager and director, working for someone else. He turned that garage into a highly profitable business and whilst Andy was recovering in hospital from an operation; surprise, surprise… the owners sold the business to someone else!

Therefore, when Andy returned to work, he found out he had a new boss! Well, you know what they say: “every kick in the back side is a step ahead” so… Andy decided it was time to set up his own garage with a mission: to offer disabled people a chance to become independent, whilst running like a common, regular business; the only difference would be that he would employ disabled and disadvantaged people.

Quite simple, really… Simple, but hard! How many people would you know who think to themselves: “I want to start a company, not for the profit but for the people who work in it”?! If this was the philosophy of all of the corporations around the world, we would probably be living in… Utopia – where everyone goes to work for the joy and fun of it and not for the need to work and support their families! Yet, it is people like Andy who force the barriers we have imposed ourselves that get the world to advance and perhaps one day… create Utopia!

One of the biggest challenges Andy faced when he started his new garage was to find trained staff that would be happy and have the patience to work with and train people with disabilities. As this proved quite hard, he decided to focus on training people with disabilities to repair cars and teach them how to train more and more people with disabilities to do the same.

In order to be able to get the best out of his staff, he had to find equipment that was best suited to their INDIVIDUAL needs. Here is the key, he looked at each person’s needs individually, he did not just tick a few boxes for the sake of legislation and said “sorted! We have now made the reasonable adjustments, let’s get to work!”. He also looked back at his own experience, what were the barriers he overcame, what made him overcome those barriers, what motivated him to go further?

He realised one of the causes of motivation: a person’s life dreams! Although he did not enjoy reading or writing because of his dyslexia, he realised that in order to become a mechanic and learn the skills, he had to be able to read the notes and write reports on the car’s health checks, therefore he was motivated to carry on with the motor mechanic training in order to achieve the qualification and do what he loved.

This experience helped Andy understand other people with various challenges and works to help them overcome those challenges by finding out what they really want, what is their life dream and he tries to show them that it’s possible, it’s achievable!

At Andy’s Kars, each training programme is tailored to suit individual needs and in order to help people through the training, he reminds them of what makes them go that extra mile, their dreams! He enables people to achieve things for themselves, by reminding them what they want to achieve… Andy’s motto is “Teachers open the door but you enter all by yourself”. Throughout the last 10 years he has helped, at his own business’s expense and time, over 100 disadvantaged people. Nobody else believed most of these people could achieve anything, yet Andy did!

But Andy’s Kars’ achievements don’t stop in the garage; ten years ago he modified one of the ramps they use for lifting cars up so that wheelchair users could get under the cars and repair them. Mercedes were rather impressed with this “new tool” which inspired them to make some adaptations of their own in their garages! Andy Kent has done a number of other modifications and adaptations in his garage to help his staff and apprentices.

Here are ten things Andy’s Kars have done to enable staff and apprentices to work and learn in their workshop:

• They give each of them a Dictaphone to play back discussions and training given

• They have a Flip Video recorder for the students to record how they repaired a car and if they forget, to play it back so they know how to do it again

• They have different coloured recycling bins so that students can identify which goes where without having to read labels

• They have spanners in different colours so they can differentiate them better

• Their risk assessment manual is made of pictures, rather than just words so it is easier to go through and understand

• They made gloves that hold spanners

• They use a manual forklift to lift things so that people do not have to bend if they have back problems

• They put big lights up as indicators, for example above a socket to clearly show that it is turned ON

• They allow time to work through challenges and reflect on the ways in which they could change things to help staff in their work

• They have a supporting aid to help people with upper back, shoulder problems to access the worktop

What makes Andy so Successful?

Firstly, he always remembers that every person is an individual and they each absorb information differently and react to circumstances in a different way, and in turn, their reaction will make a huge difference in how they deal with a particular problem!

The people who work with Andy’s Kars feel valued, because they take time to understand their needs; because their needs are understood, their barriers are taken down by the various adjustments Andy’s Kars puts in place to address them; and because of the adjustments, they learn; and because they learn, they build their self confidence and self worth… and in real terms, this is not something you can put a price on!

Moreover, because he gets to know them as humans, and not just as a number or a name on a piece of paper, staff and apprentices become like family; a big, happy family which grows with every new apprentice who walks into the garage to learn… and happy staff bring happy clients. Because of his specialist disability knowledge, Andy’s garage holds a great amount of expertise in adapting vehicles for disabled drivers and now has clients from across the UK!

With Andy, it’s not just about repairing cars, it’s about people! He works with disabled and disadvantaged people, teaching them skills they will have for the rest of their lives and allowing them to get a qualification and even a job! This gives the British tax payer the opportunity to keep our tax money whilst giving disabled people the opportunity to be independent! I don’t think we can get a better deal than that!

By Adelina Chalmers

Originally published by Adelina on the Promoting Good Practice blog.

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