A ‘free-from’ chocolate company based in Holsworthy has been presented with the prestigious King’s Award for ‘Enterprise: Promoting Opportunity’.

On Tuesday, July 25, founders of Moo Free, Andrea and Mike Jessop, received their award from Lord-Lieutenant, David Fursdon at the chocolate factory.

The award identifies the company’s efforts to create an inclusive and accessible environment for those of all different backgrounds. The company offers workplace opportunities for autistic people, giving them equal salaries, treatment and the opportunity to grow skills, confidence and thereby increase employment and social opportunities.

Twenty per cent of Moo Free’s workforce are known for having some form of autism with an average of ten people with a physical or mental disability being helped each year.

Andrea Jessop, Moo Free CEO and founder, said: “As a business, we have strong ethics surrounding equality, diversity and sustainability, not just with the chocolate products we create, but for the wider community, and of course, our Moo Free family, who include many amazing people including those with autism. We aim to offer an inclusive environment, giving opportunities to people who need them and we are incredibly proud to be receiving this award.

Autism can show in many ways, and everyone is different. We have great knowledge and experience in handling these situations and have employed many valuable team members over the years who are hardworking and dedicated to their role. Everyone deserves a chance, and this to us is how it should be. Our experience is that people who are given valuable work experience and opportunities, and are treated equally and with respect, in and outside of the work environment, are more confident and independent as a result.

“Starting a new job can be a daunting experience for anyone, but it’s amplified for someone with autism. We have additional processes in place to ensure a smooth transition to onboarding our new members to the business and make sure that they are comfortable with the tasks, surroundings and their new colleagues. Procedures like flexible working patterns and a buddy system help with the transition of starting employment at Moo Free.

“In the food manufacturing industry, it’s common to work on a strict shift pattern. At Moo Free, we appreciate that for some people with autism this is too long a day, or is too far removed from a person’s routine, and for some, one that is not easy to adapt to. We work with individuals to make sure they are comfortable with the job they are doing and the hours they work.

“We pro-actively direct our recruitment to make sure we always have 20 per cent of autistic people in our workforce and have close relationships with the local organisations who position people with disabilities into work, enabling us to provide work experience or employment to people from these groups.”