Interview with Jana Dowling, founder of The 888 Collective

Find out how her own experience with mental health in the workplace inspired Jana Dowling to launch The 888 Collective, a social enterprise focused on creating work opportunities for people with mental health issues, acting as a stepping stone to get them back into the working environment.

What’s your career background?

My very first job was washing vases in a flower shop. After quickly realising flower arranging wasn’t for me, I set about getting a job in television. It took me over 70 sent CVs to get an interview (I had no experience and I have no degree) but eventually I landed a production assistant job.

I proceeded to work and progress in TV until I became a production manager, mainly working in live reality. I was fortunate enough to then be head hunted and offered a job setting up and producing London Fashion Week’s Daily Newspaper. Even though I had no experience in publishing, the editors who brought me on board took a real chance with me and I worked hard to prove I was worth it.

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Alongside TV and publishing, I’ve dabbled with presenting and stand up, and until last year I was back in TV producing and directing.

I’ve always been freelance, which is why I’ve taken the opportunities to traverse into different industries. Nothing is rocket science apart from rocket science and the theory behind producing is the same no matter what it is.

Where did the idea for The 888 Collective come from?

It came from my own personal experience and struggle with my mental health in the work place. After a severe depressive episode that caused me to take four months off work, I had a tough time managing my mental health and getting back on my feet.

That said, I took my recovery on with the same determination and focus I’ve given every work opportunity I’ve had. When I was ready to get back into the work environment I was faced with another daunting obstacle: who will hire me? What can I do now?

Luckily for me this worry was taken care of by a close friend who offered me a job as her PA, and after eight weeks of mistakes and anxiety, her support and leniency led me to be in a position where I was back to producing and directing online videos for her clients. Without that opportunity I’m not sure where I’d be right now.

Having found my feet again and being open and honest about my experience I met a lot of other people who were in the same position I was. I kept hearing myself say “I wish you had a friend like mine that could just give you a job to help you get back on your feet”.

I realised that saying “I wish” wasn’t going to help anyone. I knew I wanted to pass on the hard work and tools I have created for myself to manage my mental health and create same opportunity I was given for as many other people who need it as possible.

Who’s your target audience?

Anyone with mental health issues looking to get back into or just into work for the first time. Those who are looking to take control and build a healthy relationship with their mental health, and want tools to help them manage their symptoms so they can achieve their personal goals.

Over 300,000 people with long-term mental health issues lose their jobs each year. It’s reported to cost the UK Economy up to £8 billion a year. We want to help every one of them get themselves back into work and in the long term educate employers and employees on how to manage mental health issues in the work place with a view to reducing this figure.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Mostly it’s direct emails to targeted individuals. Instagram seems to be where people reach out to us and directly message us. We also use twitter and coverage in papers and on blogs helps us a lot with getting the word out there. We are still very new and finding our feet.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Finding ways to generate income to be able to expand and help more people, when helping people is my primary focus. Within the first few months it became clear my original business plan wasn’t going to work so I had to adapt and generate new leads – but that’s what business and mental health is all about.

Facing seemingly impossible challenges with my own mental health, which have led me up until this point have prepared me for obstacles presented before me. Obstacles seem more like exciting challenges to me now, it’s all about perspective.

And your proudest moment so far?

When our first employee Natasha told me she had secured a full time job. She worked really hard to take control of her mental health issues while working with us and took on every challenge we presented her with. I couldn’t be more proud or happy for her. She’s wonderful, creative, and deserves every opportunity that comes her way.

Why is work so important to you?

My work not only helps others, it also helps me. I love what I do. I have BiPolar disorder and everything I teach I have to do for myself. I keep control and on top of my mental wellbeing so that I can create the opportunities I was given for others.

I learn more about myself every day and little ways to elevate and manage my symptoms. Managing mental health issues is an ongoing process and at times it can be challenging but it’s also enlightening and exciting. We all have it in us to take action and strive to reach our goals and I’ve learnt that it’s actually really fun to do it as a collective.

Who inspires you?

Sheryl Sandberg, she’s an incredible woman and her insight into business and human nature is impressive.

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

  1. Be flexible with your business plan and how you generate income at the start.
  2. Make sure you’re providing a service or product that stands out, whilst incorporating measurability for your business
  3. Trust your judgement, accept help and collaborate. Don’t be selfish with your company, be smart with it.

You can find out more about the 888 Collective on their website.