An Essex scrubber – and very proud of it!
CHRISTINE Beedle is a self-confessed Essex Scrubber. What’s more, she is very proud of it – so proud, in fact, she has written and published 2 books as testimony to her colourful story.
However, those anticipating a seedier version of 50 Shades of Grey will be severely disappointed. Everyone else, mind, will surely be captivated by a story which is, in fairly equal parts, autobiographical, business guide and comment on English social attitudes.
The Essex Scrubber has been penned by Christine Beedle, who celebrated her 70th birthday a few years back. The first 2 volumes of a planned trilogy lay the foundations of a remarkable story which begins on a small farm in the wilds of Cornwall and tells how Christine went on to build a business, (Colchester-based Monthind Clean, which grew to employ 850 staff when she sold up), change the face of the cleaning industry for good and be awarded an MBE for her services to industry.
In between, there is a fascinating and moving human story of triumph, tragedy and no little humour. The first volume – Keeping it Clean – begins with an eye-opening confrontation between Christine and a gents’ urinal as she begins her career as a part-time cleaner to try and make ends meet prior to the death through cancer of her first husband, Peter. The second volume - Down on her Knees - takes the story on from there.
The whole story is not just about Christine’s journey from cleaner to businesswoman. It is also about those invisible ‘angels’ who clean our offices after we have gone home but who sadly get called a multitude of less complimentary names, sometimes deservedly but more often not! Christine sets out to prove just what they can achieve if given the chance.
Christine, who lives in Lexden, Colchester, hopes the books will prove an inspiration for other business entrepreneurs as well as a great read for anyone who enjoys a good novel.
“During my term as President of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, I often spoke in public about setting up a business and I came across many women who made it through adversity. These stories need to be told to inspire others and that is why I wanted to write this book. I’d been making notes for about ten years so finally decided it was time to pull it all together. It’s my story but, equally importantly, it’s a story about the cleaning business and about turning adversity into success,” said Christine.
Half the proceeds from book sales have been going to local charities, often through Rotary.
Christine was founder president of The Rotary Club of Colchester Centurion - the first dual gender club in the area - where she continues to play an active role.
The decision to self-publish the initial run of the books is reflective of Christine’s steely determination to do things her way. “A top literary agent expressed a keen interest in publishing the book but when he arranged for the book to be ghost-written, it just wasn’t the story I wanted to tell – it wasn’t my story,” said Christine. “A scriptwriter for one of TV’s big soaps also took an interest but wanted to dumb down the story far too much.”
So Christine pressed ahead with her own publishing plans and is prepared to let readers be the judges of whether she has made the right move, including her decision to write the story in three separate volumes. The third volume is in note-form and will be coming soon..
The Essex Scrubber takes Christine from her Cornish roots to Colchester when she married Peter, a world-wide export sales manager with Woods of Colchester. For a short while, Christine was able to lead the lifestyle she had known she always wanted - middle class and comfortable. Then tragedy struck and Peter became terminally ill with cancer shoprtly after leaving Woods to set up on his own. Christine had to cope with the trauma and pressure of bringing up two young children and setting up and running her own business in an industry dominated by men.
She does so with guts and class, a combination of characteristics inherited from her parents – the work ethic of her late Polish bomber pilot father and the style of her still elegant Cheltenham College mother.
She set up Monthind in 1975. She borrowed £2,000 to set up her first major cleaning contract, Willis Corroon in Ipswich. Monthind continued to clean the Willis Corroon building for the next 21 years and many prestige clients included leading companies such as Eastern Electricity, AXA Insurance, British Telecom, Securicor Omega, MSC Shipping and Mecca Leisure. In 2000, with a turnover of £3.5m, Christine sold the business. There were many dedicated members of staff whose steady promotion through the company underlined Monthind’s philosophy that its strength is its people.
Christine worked closely with the CSSA (Cleaning and Support Service Association) for ten years and was the only woman on the Association's Board of Directors. She was regularly approached by the government, the DTI and the Low Pay Commission for her views on employment issues, such as National Minimum Wage and Working Time Directive.
Recognition flowed as Christine was voted East Anglia Businesswoman of the Year in 1992, won the Women into Business Award presented by Kenneth Clarke, Chancellor of the Exchequer at 10 Downing Street in 1995 and the MBE for Services to the Cleaning Industry in 1998, presented by the Queen.
“It was a fabulous journey but the most enjoyable part of it all was seeing women join the business and grow with it. We always promoted from within and when I sold the business, 800 of the 850 staff were women,” said Christine
Since Christine’s sale of the business in 2000, the company has continued to grow, providing a wide range of specialist cleaning services from its offices in Colchester and Norwich.
Part of Christine’s success was never forgetting the basics. During the day she may well have been one of the original women power-dressers with Chanel suits, but at night Christine was not averse to donning on a cleaner’s tabard and working alongside her ladies. “Whenever we won a new contract, I would make a point of doing some shifts to suss out the territory and staff.”
The Essex Scrubber is a story which shows, with tears and laughter, how misfortune can be turned into opportunity and how success can be found in the most unexpected places.