Holly Wilson
4 min readFeb 8, 2021

1989–2021. Gary’s Journey through the years

Written by Gary Phipps

So, June 20th 1989, fresh faced and an open book, I started the chapter of employment at Nuneaton Signs. Initially it was just going to be a short adventure, whilst myself and former band members welcomed employment (and more to the point, money, which had been in very short supply as a musician in the late 80`s) get a job, get a recording deal, then get a yacht, say goodbye to Nuneaton Signs, or so I thought….

Throwback: Then & Now

First welcoming comment from the MD was “I thought you were getting your hair cut shorter” so within minutes, a hair band and was employed and instant ponytail helped calm the rogue look, not usually seen in an office. I started life at NS as the trainee buyer, getting paid to spend the company money — what a blast, this is great, I thought. Buyer in the day, guitarist by night — single, burning the candle at both ends, heading towards rock and roll stardom at breakneck speed.

Like all classic love affairs, my relationship with NS initially was one sided. I didn’t know how fond I would become of NS until many years of employment later, when the hair was gone, and the bond was permanent, the aspirations of stardom subsided and NS was part of my psyche. I suppose in hindsight I could have joined any company, I had many interviews, lots of offers and picked the company that was the latest start and quickest commute. I had no idea what a supported enterprise was. I had never met a person with a disability, and didn’t realise that at the heart of Nuneaton Signs was a social value.

Archive image: Newspaper clipping from 2000

The office in the late 80's the office was a smoke filled old school affair, with typewriters and PC’s, with monochromatic screen with green text and something called supercalc (the forerunner of the mighty spreadsheet king Excel). It was cutting edge. Attached to this PC a dot matrix printer that hammered out print like a woodpecker on speed, with sprocketed paper and ribbons for ink. No networks, no WIFI, no intranet, no shared space, no Windows PC`s, just no carbon required forms, typed out quotes and orders, letters and a fax machine, but it all worked, slowly. The pace of signmaking was different to the instant coffee version that we see now.

NS was setup in 1982. To quote “to provide meaningful employment for people with disabilities”. I had no idea that such a place existed — in Nuneaton or anywhere else in the world for that matter. What a brilliant idea. A company that actively discriminated to ensure “the disabled” had a chance to show that they could succeed as well as any able bodied person. I suppose in the early days of my employment, I didn’t understand the full ramifications of a disability, not only in the workplace but in life. It has been an epiphany in life to work with people who face challenges from the moment they wake, until they sleep. It’s all about ability, and NS has it at the heart of its greatest asset — its workforce. Forgive the sales pitch, when I speak from the heart — all I want to do is sing the praises of NS.

To bring you, the reader, up to date, some of the outdated descriptions of colleagues would sit better in a Dickens novel. It’s unfair to define the unique workforce at NS with outdated descriptions. It is far more inclusive and constructive to describe the collective as a team. From top down, inclusion and support is the norm. The day to day workload is defined by challenges that we, together, overcome. Support, laughing and crying together has been one of the greatest experiences I have ever had. We are defined by our staff and their achievements, we are defined by the future, our continuing look inwards to support and encourage.

So I didn’t make it to the dizzy heights of the world stage as a rock legend, I achieved something far more special. I have worked with some of the most beautiful and humble people that anyone could ever wish for. Don’t for one instance think that we don’t have our challenges. Don’t all businesses have these? Our people are the key to our success. Writing a blog about NS was challenging because I didn’t want to create a eulogy of the perfect working environment, far from it, change doesn’t happen overnight, and we will always have growing pains, but the fundamental ethos of the company works alongside our social value strategy, and it’s a real life success.

It’s been nearly 30 years, discounting a few years in the wilderness! NS is where I met with some epic personal milestones, but most of all, the greatest and most rewarding time, has been watching the company evolve, and change, and look to the future, and that future is social value.

Holly Wilson

Social Impact Officer at Nuneaton Signs. Campaigning for companies to #BuySocial for a better world, one sign at a time! www.nuneatonsigns.co.uk