A Gulf Wars and Balkans army veteran with PTSD, a recovering alcoholic, a former prisoner and an anxiety sufferer come together to form a Liverpool wellness venture. Tony McDonough reports
In a crowded market it helps to have a strong USP and that is particularly true in the corporate wellness sector which has mushroomed in recent years.
According to data specialist IBIS World, the UK corporate wellness market generated more than £600m in 2022 and grew in size by 11.3%. The Global Wellness Institute estimates wellness is now worth a mammoth £2.8 trillion worldwide.
It’s a modern-day gold rush but with wellness outcomes perhaps more difficult to measure than other types of business, how do you ensure the ‘experts’ you bring into your business know what they are doing.
Liverpool-based Claritee Group can offer the rich life experience of its senior team. As one of its three directors, Tony Sandle, put it… “whatever your issues might be, there’s a good chance at least one of us have walked a mile in your shoes”.
Tony joined the British Army aged 18 and stayed for 34 years, reaching the rank of Major. He fought on the front line in both Gulf Wars as well as tours of duty in places of conflict and upheaval such as Bosnia.
He is still an Army Reservist. Those experiences though he said (with a wry smile) were “a piece of cake when compared to growing up in Kirkby in the 1970s and 1980s”.
In 2013 he was diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), not uncommon among service personnel who have seen active service. But what was surprising was it was not the horrors of war that was the underlying cause.
“Those experiences in war zones were the trigger for my PTSD but the cause goes back to my childhood,” Tony told LBN.
“Growing up I was a scally on the streets of Kirkby and was getting in trouble with the police. Back then I had people who were prepared to help and mentor me.
“And that is one of the reasons I do much of what I do now. I want to do the same for others, and Claritee affords me that opportunity.”
Claritee was founded in January with Tony coming on board in April. Founding directors are Alex Clapp and Sarah Mapar. Sarah’s partner, with whom she has a young child, is Bern Giam, the company’s business development manager. All have stories to tell.
Alex, an experienced entrepreneur, started having problems with his vision five years ago. His sight has deteriorated to the point where he has lost 90% of his vision in the right eye. However, he still has no diagnosis as to the cause.
To compound his problems in the last two-and-a-half years Alex was forced to face an addiction to alcohol. He is sober now and has spent months in rehabilitation facilities.
He has faced a “battle with my inner demons”, adding: “This has been a huge challenge to say the least, allowing me to grow mentally and physically.”
Sarah graduated from university in 2013 full of hope and optimism. However, she admits she struggled in her early career, often feeling “overwhelmed” with periods of anxiety.
She added: “If I could offer a vital piece of advice to any women who resonate with feeling overwhelmed or intimidated, it would be to remind yourself daily that you are capable and worthy of any career-oriented goal you desire.”
Bern has a long career in the fitness, martial arts and health industries but, a few years ago, had a few issues of his own, which he draws strength from now, which you can read about on the Claritee website.
“I’m responsible for my actions and admit my mistake with my naivety of procedures concerning finances,” said Bern.
“While serving a custodial sentence, I was approached and asked to lead the development of men’s mental health within the prison. I accepted as I wanted to help and make a difference to my fellow inmates.”
Claritee is divided into three divisions: Events, corporate training and wellbeing and a charitable arm which is funded in part by the activities of the other two divisions.
Tony said: “The charity helps people across five areas which fit in with our collective experiences. They are military veterans, young people aged five and upwards, homeless, people with addictions and ex-offenders.
“In the charity sector there is a concept called the honest pound. This refers to how much money a charity puts towards its primary purpose. With a big charity you will pay the chief executive a certain amount and there will be other salaries and expenses.
“So the charity might raise X amount but perhaps only 50 or 60p in the pound will actually be spent on its primary purpose. That is called the honest pound. Our aim is to make our honest pound the full pound.”
Tony says they take what might be considered an unusual approach to business development as it limits the number of partner businesses in its corporate portfolio arm to four each year.
“One of the issues we face in this sector is being judged by the number of people who enter the corporate training world and, quite frankly, don’t do a good job,” he explained.
“We don’t just say to an organisation “you need this” or that before we have spoken to them. We may spend two to three months talking to a potential partner business, finding out what the issues are first. And we won’t charge them for that time”.
“At the end of every decision is a warm body, which means when managers make decisions those decisions are going to have a direct impact on real people – those warm bodies.
“The question we always start with at Claritee is ‘why?’. A person might get into work late. Rather than a manager asking why they were late, they may just discipline them. Everything that happens at home or in peoples’ lives will impact their work.
“People are the most precious resource a business has, and time is their most important. Why wouldn’t you want to help your employee to be the best version of themselves? You can’t solve all of their problems, but you can achieve a lot if you simply try and help.
Claritee has written only one corporate training programme called The Starting Block. Tony added: “Why would we devise more when we don’t yet know what a specific organisation’s issues are?”
The business also calls upon the services of multiple experts to support its work as and when they are needed. In the development of The Starting Block, Tony took into account the view of more than 50 cross industry experts, who attended three pilots they ran.
“I am reluctant to say I am a wellness expert,” said Tony. “I have three degrees and bags of experience through my work in the army, but I don’t know it all.
“When speaking with business leaders on the corporate side what we suggest must be the right fit for them at that time. If we feel their issues are not something we can help with, we are happy to refer them to someone else.
“Or if they are simply unsure what they want we might say “why don’t you try The Starting Block?’
“We never pretend to know what we don’t know – for example; we recently won restricted funding to our charity division (Tony shared) and we are currently developing a course to support veterans with PTSD.
“Although it would be easy to think I personally have the experience to develop such a project on my own, I am not a trained health professional.
“So we have partnered with some credible and qualified NHS experts to ensure we deliver an ethical and effective course.”
On the events side, Claritee is focused on taking on the thorny issue of why so much corporate team building revolves around alcohol. Getting drunk and bonding is a concept deeply embedded in corporate culture.
“It wants to provide an alternative to the booze-fuelled events so many of us have become used to,” said Tony. “The team is working with Alcohol Change UK, the organisation behind the annual ‘Dry January’ and our chosen charity partner is NACOA.
“We held an alcohol-free team building night in St George’s Hall in Liverpool for 300 people called ‘Be the Spirit’. We had fantastic speeches and activities, and everyone had a great time. It was a hoot.
“We held another one for 200 people at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester. Within 5 years we want to be able to hold an alcohol-free event big enough for the O2 Arena in London. This isn’t about telling people to not have a drink, it is just about offering an alternative.
Claritee’s team, says Tony, offers “knowledge, skills and experience”. “We are looking to get a greater market awareness, not just about what we do but how we go about it. We want people to know we are an ethical business.
“I believe in the vision that we offer and I believe in the strategic direction. I love coming to work and I really want to help people in the way people helped me when I was a scally on the streets of Kirkby.”