East London collective to tackle stigma of mental health at work

The 888 Collective co-founders Jana Dowling (left) and Clare Nash (right)

“I lost so many jobs because I would start crying and freaking out, I’d just have days where I could not go and I wouldn’t be able to feel honest about what was happening.”

Lauren, who was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and chronic depression at the age of 14, has finally nailed down a job as a chef after years spent in and out of hospital and struggling with self harm.

She was speaking to The 888 Collective, a new social enterprise focused on creating job opportunities for people with mental health issues in East London.

“Mental health is a big issue in today’s society but it doesn’t have to stop you from being a valued member of the work force,” says Jana Dowling, one of the co-founders.

Set up by Dowling and Clare Nash, the business is currently crowd-funding a £60,000 start-up investment to successfully launch the business.

“We will provide a working environment whose main aim is to support and grow confidence within every individual,” Dowling says.

This means focusing on people’s particular talents while taking the time to ensure the more challenging parts of their mental health issues are managed rather than overlooked.

“We will also encourage both customers and staff to talk openly about mental wellbeing,” she says.

The collective will support people in transitioning back into the working environment rather than sticking to the strict confines of trditional staffing structures.

The pair are hoping to run a café/shop style hangout somewhere in Tower Hamlets that will serve healthy pop-up food and drink.

In the long-term, the plan is to also sell clothing, artwork and merchandise online, as well as organising events, from mindfulness sessions and yoga classes to meetups and parties.

With mental health featuring more and more on the news agenda, the issue in the context of the workplace has also grown in prominence in the public debate.

A recent investigation by the NHS revealed that one in three sick notes issued by GPs are for mental health problems, which is also on the rise.

More than five million people have been signed off work for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression over the last few years, the report found.

In addition, a survey by Rethink Mental Illness found that two thirds of people with a mental illness, who were accessing benefits, said they wanted to work or were looking for work.

Dowling herself was once one of these people, as she talks about the difficulty of returning to work after taking time off for mental health reasons,

“The step from being unemployed and unwell to being back in a full and competitive working environment is vast,” she says.

She had to rely on a friend giving her a “stepping-stone” by creating a job for her as her personal assistant.

“For the first few months I didn’t input a single meeting into her diary correctly. I definitely created more work for her and the team, but instead of embarrassing me or getting annoyed at me, she just kept saying, ‘it’s ok, just try again’. So I did.

“The confidence I gained from that time was invaluable. I know how incredibly lucky I was to have been given that support,” she says.

“The 888 Collective has been created with the sole purpose of ensuring as many people as possible have the same opportunity I was given.”

Dowling and Nash are currently trying to raise enough funds to launch their project in the near future. A donation of just £5 will get you two free coffees on the cafe’s grand opening.

They have started a GoFundMe page, which can be found here.

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