Norwood hoping to clean up with car wash
Car wash staff with Norma Brier and Harrow councillor Keith Ferry
The car washing service just off the high street in Hatch End would not strike passers-by as anything out of the ordinary.
Staff are friendly and helpful, prices are competitive and vehicles emerge shiny and spotless.
What sets this one apart is that it is run by Norwood service users, in what is thought to be the first London commercial car wash manned by people with learning disabilities.
Backed by Harrow Council, the Norwood Future Clean car wash and valet service is the latest stage in the charity's supported employment programme.
Making the most of a window of opportunity
Employees are either from residential homes or Norwood's supported employment scheme.
They are in charge of everything from cleaning to customer service and ensuring supplies do not run out. They have received training in washing methods, health and safety issues and handling money.
"We want to make it as user-run as possible," explained project development manager Linda Looney. "If it can be totally user-run, that would be great."
So far 12 people have been trained for the project, which is modelled on a similar scheme run by Exeter-based charity Pluss, but the intention is to increase numbers where possible. The ultimate aim is for service users to earn their own living.
The venture is being run on eco-friendly lines, using biodegradable cleaning materials.
It is the second of Norwood's social enterprises - the first, launched in January, is a jewellery-making workshop and online store.
Business is booming. In June, 70 pieces were sold in a day at a one-off stall at the Harlequin shopping centre in Watford. But as Norwood chief executive Norma Brier pointed out: "There should be something for everybody."
The car service was "absolutely what we are about. It just goes to show that the training has really paid off and now they are a professional team."
In the four weeks since the car wash opened, more than 30 customers have had vehicles cleaned, some with a full inside and out valet. Business is currently limited to Wednesdays and Thursdays. The hope is to expand it to other days, find sites in other boroughs and to run a mobile valet service to travel to golf clubs or people's homes.
"I'd cleaned my mum's car before but now I'm learning new things like talking to customers," said Jamie Marsland. "It's getting my confidence up."
Ben Silver, who was tasked with cleaning the Mayor of Harrow's Mercedes, said he was enjoying the job. And as an Arsenal supporter, he preferred washing red cars.