Episode 5 : Gavin Neate (Neatebox)

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Gavin Neate (Neatebox) talks with Caroline Gibb (EaRN Development Worker)


Caroline: Hi this is Caroline from the Equality and Rights Network. I’m here with Gavin Neate, Gavin can just get you to tell us a little bit about yourself and then tell us what equality means to you.

Gavin: Thank you Caroline. My name as Caroline says is Gavin Neate, I’m the CEO and founder of a company called Neatebox, and for 18 years before I started the company I was a guide dogs mobility instructor so equality was something that was very close to heart in that every day I went to work I was trying to help people live a life that other people might have taken for granted. So training somebody how to use a guide dog was a fantastic way of me helping other people reach the equality that they wanted.

Caroline: So you did that for 18 years, did you notice any changes over that time, did you think things improved in terms of equality?

Gavin: I would to think that there was an improvement in that time. I certainly can’t think that there was a worsening of the situation. But as a white middle aged male that might not be something that was immediately apparent to me. I know that my attitude didn’t change and I was always working with people that had a similar attitude to me towards equality so it wasn’t something that I had a negative feeling about. I personally was very much for equality in all forms, be that sexual orientation, or gender, or age, or nationality or ethnicity, this was all just something which seemed so obvious to me. Working with people with a visual impairment every single day, you don’t see the disability you see the person. So that just seemed an obvious thing to me, you just see the person. But I think distance means it is very easy to then not feel equality or to feel that there was the need for equality, the further away someone gets from a human being, the easier it is to avoid equality. So, as an example of that in Scotland I didn’t come into contact with many people with an Afro-Caribbean heritage. I never felt negative towards them, but because I didn’t meet them on a daily basis, then it would have been very difficult for me to think of equality in different terms. That said I worked with a guide dog owner who lived in Restalrig who was from the Dominican Republic who was one of the greatest characters I could ever have worked with and again he was just a person, and that’s interesting “just a person”, if only we could all just be people that would be good.

Caroline: So do you think in terms of advancing equality or tackling inequality, do you think is it as simple as people getting to know people, becoming familiar with differences?

Gavin: I think getting to know other people is a massive part as I’ve just said of getting to know other people and mixing well and joining groups and meeting other people, but I also think there is a role to be played by the people who are more able, more engaged to actually help further the cause. I think that’s what I wanted to do with the technology solutions I found with Neatebox, and I now have a technology company and initially we worked on a pedestrian crossing system for people with a visual impairment, but the more I looked into it the more I realised that pressing the button at a pedestrian crossing was a challenge for people if they were in a wheelchair, or if they had a mobility scooter, or if they had Parkinson’s, or if they were a parent pushing a double buggy with children, how to you get to the pole and press the button? So there was equality in the solutions that I was bringing forward and I think people who have the ability are duty bound to make that move and try and make the world more equal as much as they possibly can. And people who don’t have that ability, the ability to go out and meet people and mix and to look at equality through a human interaction point of view.

Caroline: So I guess you are saying the onus is on the more privileged, if you like, to take that step?

Gavin: I think the privilege of understanding is a privilege that anybody, from any walk of life can have. I know when I started working for guidedogs, I could not stand up in front of a group of people and do a talk, I just ran out of breath and I was nervous and embarrassed and if I made a mess up it would put me off the next time. The more I did it the more I became, as we might call, privileged because I had the ability to stand up and talk in front of people. So privilege is something that can be learnt in that in that respect, using the word in that way. The more people do something, the more people volunteer for something, the more they become comfortable volunteering they are now in a privileged position. Although they are the person that put themselves into that position.

Caroline: Are you based in Edinburgh?

Gavin: Yes, I lived in Craigmiller when I first moved to Edinburgh. I then moved to Roslin, I then moved to Leith and now I have moved to Blackford, so I have been pretty much everywhere, I am having to move quite quick obviously. I haven’t been over to the Corstorphine neck of the woods yet but I’m sure that will happen sooner or later, so I have lived all over Edinburgh.

Caroline: So as an Edinburgh citizen, what do you think are the main equality and rights issues in the city at the moment from your perspective?

Gavin: I think if I’m looking at it from the point of view of disability as that’s the area that I have the most understanding of, is that design is something that we are too far behind. When I came up with my idea for pedestrian crossings and I spoke to the traffic industry experts, they didn’t know there was a problem. And you think if an expert doesn’t know there is a problem, how do you get those inequalities addressed? And it was only by having an understanding and taking my invention forward that I was able to come up with that. Of course there are loads of different types of inequality, we could look at the inequality of income, but Edinburgh is one of those amazing places where you can be a street away from someone who is earning £200,000 and you are renting a bedsit. Edinburgh is fantastic in that respect. So the inequality there is the inability to meet people, and I think that’s the importance of clubs, and going back to the internet, meetup is a fantastic thing on the internet where people can meet other people and you don’t have to be earning a certain amount of money in order to do it, so there are plenty of possibilities through that. As far as nationality is concerned, my ex-partner was Polish and had travelled from Poland to the UK and I suddenly became very aware of the Polish community and I am very closely linked to understanding the Polish community now, and my best friend is Indian, I don’t even think of them as being a different nationality, I just think of them as People.

Caroline: Is there anything else you would like to add about equality or about Neatebox?

Gavin: I guess equality of movement, the ability for people to get from A to b, and when it comes to disability, the ability to receive service when you get to a destination. And the equality of, not only the person with the disability being able to communicate their needs to the customer service team, but for the customer service team to understand their needs and make a sale because 75% of people with a disability have left somewhere early or not received a good service, and that is insane. There are companies out there missing out on commercial benefit because they don’t have the ability to sell to somebody who they don’t understand. So getting that equality for us as a company is the most important thing. We are starting in Edinburgh and hopefully that stone pebble dropped in the middle of the pond will spread ripples out across the world.

Caroline: Yes hopefully. Excellent, thank you very much for your time.