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There is no team Nono without Nono, so what is Nono?
It started some years ago when my autistic son learned the word ‘No’ and as an autistic, he would repeat it a lot. He would specifically say Nono to food as he struggled to eat. You can learn more about this here
Fast forward a few years and he wasn’t growing out of the ‘fussy eating’ stage and he was now 7-8 years old. I have had to think outside the box about how to keep him healthy.
Since he trusted everything that was brown (that’s also a separate story ) and he would only eat chocolate or chocolate cake…. I researched functional foods to start adding to his snacks.
Then a concern emerged about the sugar he was consuming as a result, so I investigated (innovative at that time) solutions, to reduce it and make it healthier.
His snacks had to be gluten free, dairy free, without any artificial ingredients and nutritionally dense…. Recipe after recipe emerged and I suddenly had a collection of different truffles that supported different functions. It was never planned to be a company, until others around me insisted.
The idea that as a single Mum, recently diagnosed with a chronic condition, looking after a disabled child with complex needs, totally unemployable in the light of many recruiters…
how was I ever going to run a company? So when I started from my home kitchen it was very clear that the people I wanted to be involved, would be the ones that I gave the opportunity to, because no one else would give them it. That was clear from the start. At first, we were a few single Mum’s, some with diagnosed mental health issues, some just isolated and crushed by their self-esteem. It was like a support group more than a production.
Then I discovered the world of Camden Carers and how many ex carers are left unemployed assuming they have no skills or experience. The first light bulb flashed. What if we give them an opportunity in a safe and nurturing environment? I could see immense possibilities looking at the skills and experience the carers had. It was when I noticed how my low functioning autistic son keenly participated in the work-related activities like labelling, packing, sticking, that I realise that this company could be our future.
With this mindset, I didn’t feel it was impossible, I thought it would take a ‘road less travelled’ and new formats designed, innovating with processes and time management… but not impossible!
Even if it was impossible, I could imagine, to try and give me and my son some sort of future to look forward to. Ether that or to be left at the mercy of others.
Outside of incredibly difficult circumstances around the health of my son, work was life saving, therapy, an opportunity for social interaction and purpose as well as meaning.
One could assume: why would you want to do more than what you already do with your son? I didn’t see it as such. It wasn’t even work. It was a lifestyle that I always wanted. ‘Nono Cocoa’ was born under the umbrella of Functional Food Co, as I have more to offer than just natural and nutritious chocolate.
Nono - because the truffles were designed for my son who would say Nono to everything, and Cocoa, well one would think because it’s chocolate, but no. We decided to honour our latest Autism Assistant Dog Cocoa, who not only saved my sons life on many occasions, and completely changed our lives, (yet one more story) but also, because of Cocoa we found an investor for our venture. It made sense and my son could pronounce it.
We have met so many wonderful people whom we learned so much from. I was crowned ‘the queen of underdogs’ and I started to feel in my element. This is what I always wanted to do – help the most vulnerable. Here I was looking at the environment I could build based on my experience, not only professionally but also personally. Experiences I have been hiding away from. I can relate to people in many ways through the crisis and pain they suffer, as I have always been the one who had the ability to pick myself up.
Preparing for our first Allergy Show one of ours youngest fun - not sure what this means?, sent us a video message shouting ‘Go team nono’! Herself on the autism spectrum, she was the one who created the name for the group of people that we bonded with at work.
If you want to change the world start with your own action at your own door step. So, I investigate the immediate network of wonderful people around me and was reminded of the connections I have already had from days when I was running a charity for autism. I approached Elfrida Rathbone Camden that runs the Leighton College for young people with special needs and it was a win win situation. The best outcome one can dream of at the start of our venture.
We started with a few students attending our production kitchen for work experience. We have learned so much from them. So much so that I designed a curriculum to see a real result for the young people and the possibility of preparing them for a real employment.
Wonderful young people that brought an energy, enthusiasm and joy into the kitchen. The rest of the team was influenced and inspired by them. The bravery to overcome difficulties and determination to be best they can be. When you think you are giving, don’t overlook how much you are receiving.
When asked about the values of team Nono and who we are, I realised how much we have
to represent and stand for.
Nono Exclusion was the first campaign that we ran, to bring awareness to others who may want to consider a more inclusive work environment.
Nono Stigma to the mental health issues affecting one in four people in the UK alone.
Nono Discrimination, Nono Harassment , Nono Bullies ….
We stand for what we believe in and we aren’t a charity asking for donations, but we want
to create our own future where unemployable is the criteria for employment – we are
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