My Perfect Family: Southland

Southland Disability Enterprises employs over 80 people who live with a disability. For Mary-Ellen Joyce & Neville Clode, it’s much more than just a workplace - it’s an extended family.

Southland Disability Enterprises (SDE) employs a majority of people with disabilities, forming a family and giving them a place to belong.

They employ 82 disabled people and just over 20 mainstream employees. Their main work is sorting Waste Net’s recycling.

General manager Hamish McMurdo who started out as a butcher, found his way into the disability sector through teaching. 

Hamish McMurdo outside with his employees wearing a yellow vest.
Hamish McMurdo has built an inclusive community with his company

“It really opened my eyes to the support people need. We provide quality and meaningful work that enriches our guys lives. ”

Providing social opportunities for his staff is also important. McMurdo recognises people with disabilities are often spread around the town and find it hard to interact socially.

So every Wednesday the company bus drops them at ten pin bowling. Neville Clode is one of these SDE employees who looks forward to it.

55 year-old Neville loves his work and rarely misses a day. His mother Dorothy says they are treated like family.

Neville sitting on a couch while his mother reads to him.
Neville relies on the support and community that Southland disABILITY Enterprises offers.

Father Donald knows his son who lives with downs-syndrome gets a lot out of it, “they all feel as though they are contributing and are of some value.”

Neville lives at home with his mother and father and as Dorothy explains, he has had his share of health problems.

“He had cerebral edema and battled through it, the same as you or I having a stroke. [Now] he has spinal stenosis, so his vertebrae is breaking down and pressing on the nerve which goes up to the back of his brain.”

This affects his balance and means he can not stand for long periods of time. Luckily McMurdo and SDE accommodates their employees abilities and has adjusted work to suit him. 

Employees at Southland disABILITY Enterprises pose together for a group photo.
Employees feel like they are a part on one big family.

“He was first a strapping young lad who broke down pallets, now he’s in the packing room as his balance has changed.”

When he is not at work Neville enjoys looking through old photographs or spending time with his family.

Although his elderly parents Donald and Dorothy are uncertain about the future.

“I don’t think we’ve been very successful in making plans, we keep putting it off but we are going to have to get ourselves together.  We aren’t always going to be here, so we should probably do some serious thinking.”

“Neville didn’t want to move away from here. He loves family. If the family is about, he’s really into it.”

Mary-Ellen is another SDE employee who has enjoyed going to work every day for the 20 years she has been there. She lives with her older sister Margaret who knows how much she loves work.

Close up of Mary-Ellen smiling.
Mary-Ellen has worked at SDE for over 20 years

“On her birthday she wants to go to work because she gets on the bus and they sing her happy birthday.”

McMurdo knows his employees personally.

“Mary-ellen is a wonderful part of the team and is very switched on.”

She and her sister were always treated the same growing up.

“She was expected to do everything just like the rest of us. The fact that she has downs syndrome we didn’t think of her as different.”

Margaret and her husband does not mind having Mary-ellen live with them, but they know they need to think of an alternative. 

SDE Employees at a bowling rink.
SDE creates social opportunites through events like bowling.

“We want her to get into a space where she can go flatting in a supported environment with someone coming in to check on her. It’s better for her to do the transition while we are still around.”

“I want to be a sister to her and not a carer. I want to be able to be a sister and have that special relationship with her.”

McMurdo aims to provide the most supportive work environment he can.

Employees eating lunch in the break room.
Many disabled people in the South Island rely on the community that Hamish McMurdo has created.

“We work pretty hard to give our guys a meal almost every day. We often talk about belonging and giving them a feeling they have somewhere that is theirs.”

He believes people have good in their hearts but sometimes do not understand others with disabilities.

“It’s not that people don’t want to understand, it’s just when you aren’t around disability all the time people just don’t need to understand. Anyone who leaves here no matter how long they’ve been working here for, would leave a more understanding person about disability and vulnerable people.”

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