CLF Distribution, based in Southampton, is resolutely committed to giving every candidate an equal opportunity to join them and progress within the company, regardless of background, appearance or extra barriers such as health problems or convictions.

The company challenges the stereotype of warehousing and distribution as a macho culture with a genuinely compassionate, caring, inclusive and supportive environment, through which it seeks to nurture, up-skill, reward and promote loyal staff.

Founded in 1998, CLF Distribution is a leading UK wholesaler of more than 1,000 products including sports nutrition, health foods, supplements and chilled and frozen products.

Its warehouse in Southampton employs 160 staff.

Since we placed our first five jobseekers with them in December, 2013, the company has made a firm commitment to recruit jobseekers from the Work Programme through our Southampton office and has already taken on 21 customers.

Twenty of them are still there and one has gone on to further his career at another company, with the blessing of CLF whose Warehouse Manager, Alan Whitbread, just wants to see every member of his staff fulfil their potential and exceed their own expectations.

The culture of support, understanding and encouragement is inspirational.

He and his company are rewarded for their willingness to see potential beyond barriers with high retention and productivity.

Alan said:

We have found that the recruits we take on who had struggled previously reward us with loyalty and hard work. We seek to promote anyone who shows flair and willing internally or support them to find alternative work elsewhere if there are better options for them.

"I feel proud for each and every staff member who goes on to great things here or outside the company after we have given them their first step on to the career."

The company’s wrap-around support starts with its recruitment policy but continues throughout each individual’s employment.

Alan Whitbread first came to our Work Programme office in Southampton to talk to customers on a warehousing course. He recruited five candidates from the course and our relationship has grown since then.

Alan understands the importance of sustainability, to employer and employee. To this end, the company always pays new recruits above minimum wage and offers staff two opportunities a year to meet targets and gain pay rises.

Employees are on a constant cycle of training and rewarded financially for every new skill they gain.

All contracts are permanent and hours are flexible to give anyone with outside responsibilities equal opportunities.

Alan once came to us looking for four full-time warehouse staff and left with six full-time and one part-time employee because he couldn’t turn down anyone who showed real potential and dedication to work.

The part-time candidate was Sean Roy, a single father who had struggled on benefits for five years because nobody had previously been willing to give him a job around his childcare commitments.

Sean said: “I felt like people were judging me for being lazy but I was desperate to get another job. My confidence and self-esteem were at an all-time low.

“CLF were in the office to talk about full time posts they needed to fill. I didn’t even have to go for an interview –Alan talked to me then asked what hours I could do and when I could start. “I was physically shaking, it meant so much to me. My PeoplePlus advisors hugged me. They were in tears.”

Sean is now working from 9.30am to 2.30pm, Monday to Friday, in a permanent warehousing job with CLF, allowing him to do the school runs.

Like the other 20 Peopleplus customers taken on by CLF, his life has been transformed.

He said: “Now I am in work I feel on top of the world.

Now I can give my boys a better standard of life and start building a solid future for us. I want them to see me working, not being at home on benefits.

Alan and Sean told their stories on local BBC radio and TV, extolling the merits of the Work Programme and encouraging other employers to do the same.

PeoplePlus Southampton Business Leader George Gallop said: “Sean is really grateful for the opportunity and a shining example of CLF’s open-minded and inclusive recruitment policy. It is rare to find any employer prepared to make as many concessions to recruit and support staff.

“The company benefits in the end but the culture comes from a genuine compassion and social-conscience. It is truly heart warming to see the personal and professional progress our customers have made at CLF.”

Alan said: “We firmly believe that everyone should be given a fair chance. If you overlook someone because they can’t afford a decent interview suit or have piercings or are unable to make a good impression under the pressure of a formal interview, you may be missing out on a fantastic candidate.

“But if you give them a chance to talk to you in a relaxed, informal environment, to really get to know each other, you can better evaluate whether they are the kind of person you want working for you.

“For example, I took on someone who had been in prison. Lots of people, especially young men, make mistakes. Hopefully they learn from them, and employment is part of their rehabilitation. The fact I still have 20 of my 21 Peopleplus recruits here shows that they have embraced our company and culture.”

Employees become part of the CLF family and can rely on support from colleagues and managers during difficult times in work and outside of it. Existing staff are encouraged to welcome new recruits warmly and “put an arm around them”.

The warehouse has a quiet space where anyone can go during times of difficulty or anxiety.

Alan said: “We encourage people with mental health problems to be honest with us so we can support them. We prefer them to take time off if they need to and to talk their problems through with us.”

Now in its fifth year of operation, the Work Programme provides tailored support for unemployed customers who need more help to undertake active and effective job-seeking. The Work Programme is part-funded by the European Social Fund in England is investing in jobs and skills – focusing on people who need support the most and helping them fulfill their potential.

We are a leading employment support and training services provider, committed to helping people transform their lives and businesses through employment, training, education and financial advice. We provide a personalised support service to the individuals we work with, helping them find work, progress in their career or set up a new business.