Lee Chambers of Essentialise Workplace Wellbeing tells us about how spending time in a hospital bed helped him hone his vision of what he could contribute, the challenges of having invisible disabilities, and why disability is a beautiful world of colour.
How do you identify as disabled, and what does it mean to you?
I have a range of challenges that have impacted my life and brought me to the work I do today.
In 2014, I started suffering from autoimmune arthritis, which caused me to lose my mobility, and I had to spend time regaining it. Then in 2021, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s, which has given me an understanding of my strengths and weaknesses and helped me become clearer about the journey I’ve been on.
As my disabilities are hidden, I’m even more passionate about sharing my vulnerabilities, my difficulties and my successes.
Tell us a little about your business.
I launched Essentialise Workplace Wellbeing in February 2020, after spending time as a stay at home dad working out how to make a positive difference in the world. We support a range of companies to build wellbeing and inclusion strategies, deliver training and workshops, and understand how to make a social impact.
Why did you start the business? Share your story so far.
My idea for Essentialise started when my health failed in 2014 and I had plenty of time in a hospital bed to think about my life and legacy. I had a successful video game business and a range of qualifications in psychology and human performance, and I wanted to do something meaningful using these, alongside my industry knowledge and mental health lived experience, to build something purposeful.
Having worked in corporate finance, local government and elite sports, I had knowledge of creating frameworks and delivering training. After recovering, I started to consider how I could bring something different to the wellbeing space. I could see organisations needing support to deliver solutions effectively, so I started researching how to do this. By 2020, I was ready to start being part of changing the narrative in business and bringing wellbeing to the fore. Little did I know that the pandemic would send me on this rollercoaster, but I wouldn’t change it for the world!
What do you see as the main challenges facing your business and its continued operation or growth?
There are plenty of challenges in business, and we are aware of a few we face. We are growing with every quarter, so finding talent with both the skills and vision to ensure we can manage the increasing capacity is like a race. We are in a competitive sector that is evolving at speed, so we keep innovative and agile and ensure we stay ahead of the trend line but also remain true to our values.
All our work is bespoke and tailored towards our clients, and it can be a challenge to scale that effectively without losing the personalised touch. We are in the process of beta testing a platform that will allow us to reach a wider audience and make more impact without increasing the workload to unstainable levels.
What can we do to encourage more disabled entrepreneurs to start businesses – what is holding them back and what can we all do to help change that?
I would definitely say that just seeing other disabled entrepreneurs being open about their brilliance and their challenges has inspired me. So often, businesses are born from something we’ve seen in the world that we want to change or create to enable and empower others.
If I look at it with my business hat on, the stigma still holds us back; funding and understanding can be a difficulty; and we have to work harder balancing the everyday challenges we face alongside the everyday challenges of business ownership.
Things that I think would improve the situation are better access to clear support and funding, increased awareness in the business community of both the challenges and adjustments that can be made, and igniting the curiosity of others to see how our experiences can shape us to become resilient, resourceful and innovative in ways that others may not be.
What do you consider your greatest achievement or the proudest moment in your life so far?
I’ve had a real journey, including being taken from my accommodation to my parents with mental health struggles and spending 11 months learning to walk again. I have two wonderful children and I won the Great British Entrepreneur Award for Service Industries in 2021. I’ve started two businesses, and sold one, even when others doubted that it was something I’d be able to do.
There is so much I’m proud of, but a recent event sticks out to me: being entrusted as a director and trustee of a well-established dementia charity that helps thousands of people. It was a proud moment and an honour to be selected for something so precious and meaningful.
If there was one thing you could change about peoples’ perception of disability what would it be and why?
The one thing I would change is the black and white vision that many people have toward disabilities. Disability itself is incredibly diverse and impacts us in so many different ways. Some people have a significant privilege that supports them, while others don’t have the same access and support.
Sometimes people see the extremes and forget the middle: for example, seeing Paralympians as heroes but not understanding what their everyday lives are like. And on the flip side, seeing disabled people in their times of highest need and thinking they are so far away from the inspiring people they’ve seen on television.
The reality of being disabled is not black and white: it’s a beautiful world of colour, and I wish more people would both see and explore that.
Who or what inspires you?
My biggest inspiration is the disability adult football team that I coach. We train every Monday, and I’m inspired by how they are free from their struggles and difficulties and can express themselves freely when they step over the touchline. Every player has a different disability or mix of conditions, yet when we train together, we are a team and we are all on the same wavelength. It’s a place where disability collectively becomes ability, and it’s such a joy to be part of.
Do you have a recommendation for a book or a podcast which has helped you along your journey?
One book that really had me thinking about my journey and making a positive impact was Grit by Angela Duckworth. It really got me thinking about how effort and focused attention can be used to my advantage, and how my own neurodiversity can be used to fuel my passion and persevere through challenges in business in a way similar to those that I face in everyday life.