Jenny Trott of Mecoco
Jenny Trott founded Mecoco to give her son valuable and much needed work experience, and has gone on to help many others like him. Jenny hopes to change perceptions about what an inclusive workplace is, and continue to raise aspirations and improve opportunities for disabled people
RARE entrepreneur series: meeting the beating hearts behind the RARE brands
Mecoco is a social enterprise; it is the ethical solution for home fragrances. Our candles, melts, diffusers and more are made by our inclusive team of disabled and non-disabled people, all of whom are getting valuable and valued workplace experiences.
Our products are developed and manufactured specifically to ensure all the team can be involved, and we pride ourselves on the quality of what we make. 100% of our profits are reinvested in the business.
What was the driving force in starting your own business in the rare disease space? Was there an unmet need you were responding to?
My son James has the rare disease PPP2R1A. As he approached school leaving age my husband and I realised how limited the opportunities were for him, especially in the world of work. We wanted James to have something meaningful to do in his week and not merely go from one “activity” to another. As someone with a significant learning disability and physical disabilities James wasn’t given career guidance or work experience opportunities at school, and there was no expectation from the professionals around him that he would get a job. It was clear to me that if James were to get experience of being part of a workplace then I would need to create that for him. I spent a few years wanting to build that opportunity for my son but didn’t know what that might look like. After a chance meeting with someone in April 2019 I realised that candle-making was an ideal process for James, and for others, to be involved in and so I embarked on starting the social enterprise Mecoco: a home fragrance business. We make high quality candles, wax melts, diffusers and more. Mecoco stands for MEaningful COntribution in your COmmunity, which is exactly what our mission is.
How does your business benefit the rare disease community?
We currently welcome 24 individuals to our workshop each week for part-time work experience, including pupils from a local additional support needs (ASN) school. Currently, of those colleagues four have a rare disease diagnosis and there have been two other young people with rare diseases who have moved on to other opportunities. Mecoco doesn’t have any entry requirements other than a willingness to be part of a team and try their best, so we have colleagues with significant learning and physical disabilities, something we think is extremely rare even in disability focussed businesses. We are an inclusive business too, which means that we are a team of both disabled and non-disabled people who work together as colleagues.
The benefits our colleagues experience are feelings of satisfaction from seeing their work complete, and from creating a professional product which we then sell on our website. We have witnessed friendships develop between disabled colleagues as well as between disabled and non-disabled team members. The latter is particularly important when you consider that a large proportion of disabled people spend much of their time in the company of other disabled people and rarely mix with non-disabled people other than those paid to support them. We have worked hard to create a place of belonging for the team where everyone’s contribution is valued. We have created bespoke equipment, processes and even chosen which products to make whilst ensuring that as many people as possible can be involved at each stage of production.
What advice, if any, did you get when setting up your business? Has there been anyone in particular who has been pivotal in supporting your business?
As a social enterprise I was able to tap into various specialist sources of support when setting up Mecoco, but I also found great value in chatting to other parents, disabled people and professionals to get an accurate picture of the lack of similar opportunities and what they hoped Mecoco might be able to offer. I was sure that something like Mecoco was desperately needed but it was important to check if enough other people agreed!
I was also lucky at the beginning of the journey to be joined by two other mums of disabled young people, and they became fellow directors, helping me to get Mecoco off the ground.
How do you manage the demands of running a business with your own health needs, those of someone you care for, or those of your employees?
I am fortunate that my husband, Craig, had planned to cut his work hours. Having James’ Dad around has been critical in making sure that James’ needs are still seen to whilst allowing me the time I’ve needed to work at Mecoco. Having a good support team for James has also been important. We have used self-directed support for James for many years, so when he left school, we were well placed to enlarge the team of support workers to three; James is supported at work, and in the community five days a week. However, we feel, both as a family and a business, vulnerable to both James’ health and support staff availability. If James is unwell, or his support staff call in sick it leaves Mecoco exposed; something other business owners are less likely to have to consider.
As an inclusive workplace we are very sensitive to our team’s health and social needs. Each colleague is given one shift a week which they can use in a way that works for them. An individual may manage an hour of work before they need to leave, or they may manage a four-hour shift. All we ask is that they are as reliable as their circumstances allow.
What advice do you have for someone starting their own business?
The biggest hurdle to jump if you are thinking about starting a business is just to do it. I think our own self-doubt and lack of self-confidence can be the thing that stops most people embarking on the journey. Secondly, it’s important to check that, even if you want to start a social enterprise, there is a way to make money. Make sure that potential customers think your idea is a good one and that they would part with their hard-earned money to buy whatever you are selling; don’t just ask your friends and family! Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I talked about Mecoco to anyone who would listen (and still do!), and it’s amazing who will offer help, to connect you to experts to support you.
What are the most rewarding aspects of establishing and running your own business?
My reward comes every day that I am in the workshop with the team. Seeing a wide variety of people interacting, creating, learning, and having fun in a way that they can’t do anywhere else is incomparable.
What would you consider to be the greatest achievements of your business thus far?
The greatest achievement of Mecoco has been to survive two years of covid restrictions, have an ever-growing community of customers who really care about what we are doing, genuinely love what we make and come back from more, and to have a large team of colleagues who love what they do too.
What advice would you give someone considering working in the rare disease space?
Real inclusion is at the heart of what we do at Mecoco. I truly believe that when we are creating new spaces for people with rare disease it should include non-disabled people and those who don’t have rare diseases too—moving away from models of separating people according to labels.
What are your hopes for the future of your business?
Our aim is for Mecoco to be financially independent from funding and for us to be able to employ some staff on the team, who are currently all volunteers.
If you hadn’t founded Mecoco, what was Plan B? What did your 10-year-old self want to be?
My 10-year-old self, wanted to be a doctor, but that was a life-time ago. I have had numerous different jobs since I left university nearly 30 years ago including working in marketing and being a photographer. So, there wasn’t a plan B, Mecoco is my Plan B! It feels like all the jobs I have done leading up to starting Mecoco all gave me the skills and confidence that I needed to be able to run the business, and thanks to the motivation of James, and his needs, I am enjoying the best job I have ever had.
To find out more about the work of Mecoco please visit: