CTC is one of the Founder Investors in Clean for Good – an ethical cleaning company founded by three Christian organisations. Tim Thorlby is the Managing Director of Clean for Good and Development Director of CTC, and reflects on his work in this seasonal blog…
The main character in Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ is a local business man, Ebenezer Scrooge. Dickens paints him as a greedy, miserly character – a grotesque caricature that has survived in popular culture for well over a century. At the heart of the story is the twist that Scrooge (and people like him) can change – although in his case it takes the visitation of three ghosts to do it.
At this Christmas time, and in the absence of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future to assist us, how are we to put right what is wrong in our business world?
A lot of writing about ‘changing the world’ can leave us with the distinct impression that any serious ‘making a difference’ is only led by amazingly gifted people with special talents.
So, here’s a confession.
“My name is Tim and I lead a start-up social business – and I am not an Entrepreneur.
I am also not an Innovator, or a Pioneer and I am definitely not a Hero.”
I think the work of changing the world is far more interesting and more powerful when it rests in the hands of ordinary people.
I have spent the last four years helping to develop, and now lead, Clean for Good Ltd. It has been a team effort. Clean for Good is a business which aims to provide fairly paid, secure, dignified cleaning work in a large sector renowned for low pay and revolving-door jobs – lots of ‘Scrooge’ employers. We are the Anti-Scrooge.
Every day we wrestle with the realities of trying to win new contracts, recruiting and managing a very diverse group of cleaners and working with an equally varied set of customers. With a turnover approaching £500,000 pa after less than two years of operation, it has become a real business – and we are continuing to grow and develop each month.
But our core mission is not just to grow or even just to deliver a good cleaning service – although we work hard to do both of those things. Our underlying purpose is to establish ‘the cleaner’ as a respected and fairly treated worker within the market place. To secure dignity at work for tens of thousands of people.
This means changing mind-sets. Crucially, it means opening up the black box of the ‘supply chain’ and finding that it is full of ordinary human beings with names and faces and dreams of their own. The budget line marked ‘cleaning’ in the spreadsheet contains real people. Nearly every building in the UK is cleaned by somebody, but how many are properly paid or acknowledged for their work? How many of their names are known by the people whose bins they empty?
Many cleaners are invisible workers. It is time to learn their names.
With a change in mind-set amongst employers comes a tangible change in behaviour. In common with many other low-paid roles (couriers, security guards, hospitality workers to name a few) we want to see fair pay, good management and dignified working conditions. That is what Clean for Good seeks to offer as an alternative – all of our cleaners are paid the London Living Wage (now £10.55 per hour), trained and managed and directly employed by us, with a secure job with full employment benefits and predictable income from week to week.
How are we trying to change the world? By running a business which aims to be a good business – good for customers and employees.
I often run into three misconceptions about our work, which I would love to dispel:
1 – Social business heroes!
Some people think we are heroes for running this business! This is nice, but simply not true. There are no heroes in this business. We are not ‘rescuing’ people. We are not a charity; our cleaners are not helpless victims. We are not the story here, after all, most of the hard work is being done by our growing team of cleaners – they are the story, not us.
2 – Poor cleaners!
A related misconception is that our cleaners are somehow charity cases or even part of some kind of angelic ‘working poor’. They are certainly hard working and many are tired, particularly when juggling down more than one job and family life, but they are neither angels nor villains – just a completely normal cross-section of London’s workforce. They have minds and capabilities all of their own. Don’t feel sorry for them – they don’t want it.
3 – Rags to riches!
Finally, sometimes people want us to tell stories about how a cleaner came to work for us and how their life has been transformed. This is just not how it works in reality. The vast majority of our cleaners are certainly better off with us than their previous employers – moving from the Minimum Wage to the London Living Wage alone is a 30% pay rise. But they haven’t ‘arrived’. Life on the Living Wage in London is hardly a luxury lifestyle. They are better off, moving in the right direction, but by no means ‘sorted’. Life is way more complicated than this. One big fat Christmas Turkey doesn’t mean your life is fixed.
I want to dispel these myths because the true (and more complicated) picture underneath is, to me, far more important.
Clean for Good is a team of normal human beings (no heroes) who are working together (employer and employees alike) to secure real respect and fairness at work for the cleaners of London – and every day it is ‘a work in progress’ for all of us.
We are beginning to make a difference, but no heroes were involved. And any cleaner who wants to clean with us, or employer who wants to commission us, can get involved. It is a less glamorous story perhaps, but it opens up the possibility of world-changing to just about anybody.
Thousands of years ago, when the city of Jerusalem lay in ruins, the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed a vision of hope and wonder for his shattered people. His “..good news to the poor…” is a famous and uplifting quote (from Isaiah Chapter 61). Perhaps more surprisingly, and just a few sentences later, his vision is not of a ‘rescue team’ coming to rebuild their city for them, but a bold prediction that they will rebuild, restore and renew their city with their own hands.
This ancient call to imagine a restored world echoes down the ages and has not changed. You just need to get involved.
About Clean for Good
Clean for Good is an ethical cleaning company for London, cleaning offices and workspaces across the city. It is a Living Wage Employer, always paying the London Living Wage of £10.55 per hour (or more) to all of its staff, it directly employs its cleaners and it seeks to train and manage its cleaners professionally. Founded in a church in the City of London, it launched in 2017 and continues to grow. The Centre for Theology & Community is a Founder Investor. For more information, find us at www.cleanforgood.co.uk, or follow us at @clean4good