An interview with Beth Kume-Holland, CEO and founder of Patchwork Hub
Image Description: people sitting at a wooden table with various laptops and gadgets
The past 18 months have shaken the traditional idea of a 9 to 5 working week. With the concepts of hybrid working or working from home now becoming a full-time reality for millions of people, a skilled job has never seemed so accessible. With this in mind, you would think that the pandemic might have reduced the UK’s disability employment gap.
Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Earlier this year, the House of Commons library reported an increase in the disability employment gap from 28.1 percentage points to 28.8. The employment rate for non-disabled people is 81.1 percentage points but for disabled people, it is just 52.3 per cent.
This is where Patchwork Hub comes in. I spoke to Beth Kume-Holland, CEO and founder of this social enterprise and tech start-up founded with the aim of centralising employment-related opportunities for any individual who is able and willing to work. The platform connects employers of all industries and scales with potential candidates, as well as providing training resources and advice.
The need for such a platform existed long before the pandemic, and Patchwork Hub itself started in early 2019. Due to chronic illness, Beth found that she could not sustainably work a conventional 9 to 5 role despite her best efforts. As a Harvard Kennedy scholar, she attended an advocacy meeting in the United States Congress which emphasised that her own difficulties were part of a wider problem within the world of employment. In her own words; “I sat around the table in Senators’ offices hearing stories of high-achieving and highly-skilled individuals who had been forced to stop work because of illness.” Beth noted that, of course, there are many who cannot work because of illness or conditions, but there are also millions missing from the labour market who, “although able and wanting to work, cannot find or continue in work because there is no accessible or sustainable way for them to do so.”
With the current worldwide shift towards remote working also comes the bitter realisation that it has taken a global disaster to make it tangible.
The need for a fully accessible recruitment platform has existed for years, but it was undoubtedly the pandemic that made Patchwork Hub more viable in the eyes of employers. Beth found that, previously, even businesses that had people working from home for one or two days a week insisted that employees or contractors needed to be present in the office itself for them to adequately perform their role. Of course, with the current worldwide shift towards remote working also comes the bitter realisation that it has taken a global disaster to make it tangible. Beth remarked that “it was in some ways quite frustrating to see society, in just a few weeks, shift to make accommodations that disabled people had been denied for decades.”
Nonetheless, Beth is determined for Patchwork Hub to seize the opportunity presented by the pandemic, insisting that as a society we “have an opportunity to bring disabled people and others, such as carers and parents, into the labour market in an accessible and sustainable way.” A unique feature of Patchwork Hub is that it is disabled-led but open to all, unlike many disabled-led organisations which cater to those specifically with disabilities. The work such organisations do and the necessity of the spaces they provide should not be underestimated, but they can lead to a feeling of ‘otherness’ among those who use them. On the opposite end of the scale, there is the issue of ‘tick-boxing’ for those who rely on mainstream recruitment methods. Beth is determined that those living with disabilities or chronic health conditions “should be integrated into the future model of work, front and centre of the change, rather than be a separate category added on at the end.”
It’s up to all of us to make sure this moment of opportunity leads to lasting, positive change. There’s a new ‘business as usual’.
Despite their new website only going live in June 2021, Patchwork Hub is already connecting its users, known as ‘patchworkers,’ with professional opportunities, including with FTSE Top 100 companies. They are also accumulating an impressive array of awards, having placed first in TechRound’s Top 17 disability startups, and being featured as finalists for the 2021 RIDI awards. Beth has good reason to be optimistic, observing that “some of the biggest barriers that have excluded people for so long have now been removed. It’s up to all of us to make sure this moment of opportunity leads to lasting, positive change. There’s a new ‘business as usual’.”