Rearo staff sign-up for BSL lessons to support colleague

Rearo staff sign-up for BSL lessons to support colleague

Sam Speirs

When Sam Speirs started work as a machine operator, he worried that being deaf would make it difficult for him to communicate with his colleagues.

So, he was delighted when the rest of the team at Glasgow-based Rearo joined together and agreed to learn British Sign Language (BSL).

Since then, dozens of workers at the Govan plant, which manufactures kitchen and bathroom surfaces, have attended weekly lessons that have equipped them with the skills and knowledge to be able to sign and communicate with Sam.

The project is part of the company’s commitment to inclusion, supporting employees with a range of different abilities.

Paula Phoenix, a sign language interpreter, who facilitates the learning, said: “Nowhere, no company or organisation anywhere that I am aware of, does what Rearo does. Honestly, what they are doing is amazing.

“Every single person in the company, from factory workers to office and showroom staff, has the opportunity to learn basic BSL. How amazing is that?

“A lot of businesses and organisations pay lip service to diversity, with the odd project or gesture. This commitment to ensuring every individual can learn BSL makes Rearo stand out as a unique example in fostering a culture of inclusivity.”

Sam, 28, began working at Rearo in 2017, after attending an interview with managing director Graham Mercer and Mark Gordon, then production manager.

Since then, he has worked in several areas of the company, including the postforming area and operating various machines. He is currently learning the admin side, using the company’s React system to process orders as well as being involved in the recent solid surfacing training programme.

Being able to communicate with his colleagues has also enabled Sam to take part in the company’s social activities, including playing football and attending birthday parties.

He said he was delighted at the willingness of his colleagues to learn BSL, adding: “The way they rallied round was great. The plant is a big space, with lots of machines and vehicles all operating at the same time, and speed of communication is important.

“Being able to communicate quickly and to take directions at the right time is very important, and it is reassuring to know that everybody has my back. They were as keen as me to ensure that I was able to work effectively.”

In addition to introducing the team to basic BSL, Paula, who has 20 years of experience as an interpreter, also shares deaf awareness information, helping Rearo staff to understand the cultural norms and nuances of the deaf community.

This approach aims to bridge the communication gap and create a more empathetic work environment.

She said: “While many companies might offer short-term sign language courses, Rearo’s commitment is exceptional. The staff’s willingness to invest time and effort in learning BSL demonstrates a top-down and bottom-up approach.

“If the guys hadn’t been willing to engage, then it wouldn’t have worked, but that was never the case. Everyone showed an eagerness to participate from the outset, which was really encouraging.”

She added: “I share the signs and jargon that are specific to the factory environment, so the content is relatable to the staff. It includes football and jokes and, of course, everyone wanted to know what the swear words were.”

Graham Mercer, managing director of Rearo, said its commitment to inclusion extends beyond a single individual.

The company supports other employees with disabilities - highlighting a comprehensive approach to fostering an inclusive workplace - including Harry Hogan, 28, who has Down’s Syndrome and Tommy Adams, a sales representative, who has spina bifida.

It has also adapted items of machinery to make the working environment more inclusive including adding lights to the forklift truck.

Harry, from Barrhead, is employed in the company’s Govan warehouse, where he has responsibilities for handling orders and quality control.

Despite facing physical challenges, Tommy has recently started covering the Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway areas, demonstrating that with the right support and accommodations, individuals with disabilities can excel in various roles.

Graham said: “We encourage open conversations about disabilities, creating a supportive environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their needs.

“The company emphasises the importance of addressing individual requirements, ensuring that everyone can contribute effectively to the team.”

He added: “We have found that people with different abilities helps to foster and inclusive culture which is not prohibitive.

“Our approach is rooted in a problem-solving mindset, seeking practical solutions to create an inclusive and thriving workplace.”

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