Explore Your Archive: Disability History Month 2016

Blue Celebrated

MS 4647 William Robert Mackenzie
William Robert Mackenzie (left) [MS 4647]
 One of the interesting accessions received at Archives and Collections, Library of Birmingham, back in 2013 was papers and photographs about William Robert Mackenzie (b. 1920) and his working life at Parkinson Cowan, (formerly the Parkinson Stove Company), later Thorn Gas Appliances Ltd.   [Accession 2013/167  MS 4647]

The factory was on Flaxley Road, Stechford, Birmingham, and Mr Mackenzie worked there from 1935 – 1983, beginning as tea boy and finishing as Departmental Manager for the Spares Department and Sheltered Workshop.

Mr Mackenzie was an active member of the Association for Research into Restricted Growth, advising on employment, and he helped to develop a Sheltered Workshop for people at Thorn Gas Appliances Ltd. who became disabled after joining the firm.

Article from the collection recognising the ‘Fit for Work’ award.  [MS 4647]
In 1981, in recognition of their exemplary policies and practical achievements in the employment of people with disabilities, and more than ten years of integration at work between able-bodied workers and workers with disabilities,  the firm was presented with a  ‘Fit for Work’ award  by the Manpower Services Commission. Mr Mackenzie, as the manager primarily involved in enabling this achievement, was chosen to attend the ceremony in London to receive the award and certificate.

The Reverend Raymond Smith, chairman of Birmingham’s Committee for the Employment of Disabled People, said in a press notice issued by the Manpower Services Commission on 4 December 1981: “The winning of a Fit for Work award is the sign of a positive and enlightened policy in helping to employ disabled people, integrate them into the working life of a firm or organisation and retain workers who become disabled through illness or accident. Thorn has an excellent record including a sheltered industrial group of disabled people working in its spares department and it is to be applauded for the work it has done.”

Celebrating the achievement of William Robert Mackenzie [MS 4647]
Celebrating the achievement of William Robert Mackenzie
[MS 4647]
Thorn Gas at Stechford had more than 70 people of its 1100 employees registered as disabled.  “We have people here with all kinds of disability ranging from asthma to blindness – yet they are all proving that they can carry out worthwhile work”, said Mr Mackenzie. Some people continued to work alongside their able-bodied colleagues after adaptations had been made to machinery and equipment; other staff re-trained and were found alternative employment in the Sheltered Workshop.

The ‘Fit for Work’ organisation now provides a free service of occupational health advice to support working people who experience long-term sickness absence return to work.

Fiona Tait

3 thoughts on “Explore Your Archive: Disability History Month 2016”

  1. Thank you for this post – very interesting to me, particularly as my father worked there.

  2. I believe my uncle worked for Parkinson Cowan in the 1960/1970s and he was asthmatic. Wondering now if the companies enlightened policies towards a whole range of disability was a factor in his employment there. May have to have a delve into this collection and see if I can spot him in a photo!

  3. My father worked at Parkinsons from the fifties to the nineties his name was Patrick Byrne and his son William Byrne many uncles to

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