#NoStigmaHere – Interview with Martyn Coles

Martyn is a single dad of four girls, a carer for his disabled father, a small business owner (Coles Scaffolding Contractors Limited of Swindon) and a mental health campaigner. His company became social media famous thanks to their videos featuring the amazing Todd Scanlon, the UK’s first scaffolder with Down’s Syndrome. Martyn recently shared some of the highs and lows of the past year and what he is focusing on in 2023, including his #NoStigmaHere campaign.

How did you get into scaffolding and what made you want to start up a business nearly 10 years ago?

It’s a bit of a funny story – I was not really good at school, a bit naughty, and left at an early age. A friend’s uncle was a scaffolder and basically said “You’re coming to work with me so that you don’t cause your mum and dad any more trouble.” I went and gave it a try, and I’ve been there ever since.

You are balancing running a business with being a single dad of four girls, being a carer for your disabled father and having your own mental health struggles. Talk us through what it’s like and how you manage to cope.

Well, there’s no easy way of doing it. As any single parent would know, it is always difficult, but it’s just something you have to do. It was my decision to set up the business and my children came along at a later date, so you have no sort of plan before they arrive. We just take every day as it comes, I guess and every day is different, so it’s quite difficult, but I’m managing and that’s the main thing.

Life also throws you some curveballs – I understand your house went on fire in the summer. What happened and how did that affect things for you – mental health, family and business?

The fire, believe it or not, was due to my dad’s mobility scooter. It wasn’t charging, but the battery just ignited at three in the morning, and fortunately we all managed to get out and the fire crew was able to contain the fire. We have been really struggling with the situation. We were put into temporary accommodation in a hotel for 10 weeks, which wasn’t ideal – me, four daughters, two dogs and my dad in a wheelchair. In the end, I asked their mum if she would have the girls a bit longer because it wasn’t great for them to be there. And for me, being stuck in a room all the time – if you’ve got mental health issues, I’m sure anyone can feel this, that being enclosed in four walls just puts you in a dark place. But we are starting to get there; we have been working on our house, and we’ve got progress.

The construction sector has an image of tough guys who don’t admit to feeling a bit fragile. What would you say to someone who is struggling with mental health but hasn’t told anyone yet?

You’re not alone, that’s a massive thing. There are so many people out there, it’s starting to become more common knowledge that people are suffering. Don’t suffer in silence. There’s a lot of groups, a lot of people who want to help. Obviously, my journey, because I’m the owner of a company, I want to show that it’s not all bright and rosy; it is difficult, and we all struggle no matter what place we are at in life or how comfortable you are. It is tough, but anyone can suffer with mental health and my advice is speak out or get in contact with someone, because by sharing it there are always people who will help you along the way.

What has your experience of therapy been – how easy is it to be vulnerable?

It is tough because from my own journey automatically I think they are judging me even though they’re not. Everyone’s journey is different, but it is good and it’s helping me. The traumas that I’ve been through don’t disappear, but we’re managing and I’m moving forward and looking forward – so it’s on the right track. I don’t know how long it’s going to continue but we are working at it hard.

Many people first became aware of you when they saw a video clip of you with Todd Scanlon that went viral. Todd has Down’s Syndrome. Tell us how you came to give him a chance and what he has achieved over the last five years.

I went to school with his cousin, so I sort of knew Todd, but I didn’t know anything about Down’s Syndrome. We went on holiday a lot and every time we were on holiday he would always ask if he could come be a scaffolder with me. This went on for about two years so I finally asked his mum to let him have a try – I said he may hate it because it’s not the cleanest of jobs, it’s quite difficult, but finally she said go on and give it a go. I picked him up the first day and he was ready bright and early. We finished the first day and I took him to his local pub to get him a Coke and he asked the bar lady for a bit of paper and pen. I didn’t know what he was doing but then he sat down and signed it and said, “That’s my contract, I’m in it for life.” That was five years ago and he’s still here and enjoying it and he’s a great part of the team.

What other ways has Todd changed the atmosphere and the culture at Coles Scaffolding?

I’m not a very touchy-feely person, I don’t share my feelings very often – but Todd is a huggable guy, and that’s brought out a better side of me, a more caring side. He’s just changed the dynamics of the whole company, the whole way of thinking. When he comes in and he’s smiling and laughing it’s infectious, and it’s a great feeling having him with you. He’s done amazing and I want to say to his mum and family, the confidence she’s had in us to help him and guide him and push him along is phenomenal. At work we are another big family, so everyone cares about him and looks after him. His story is amazing, and I encourage everyone to watch it – the video, having gone viral, is available in all kinds of places including YouTube and TikTok.

What would you say to employers who are thinking about taking on people with disabilities and how is your #NoStigmaHere campaign helping to challenge this?

You’ve got to give it a try. It may not work for everyone, everyone is different. There’s no right or wrong way of employing someone, but just giving them the opportunity to try opens up a massive chance for the person individually and anyone else – from Todd working with us it’s given other people the confidence to approach other businesses and other sectors to try to get the work because they’ve seen it done. It’s not easy, it’s not something you can do overnight, but the bigger companies have the structure to make it work, so if a small company like us can do it, we hope we have set up the formula others can follow.

You have employed a young woman recently – can you tell us about this and how is she getting on?

My oldest daughter is 17 and she has had various jobs since she’s left school and hasn’t been too keen on them, so she asked if she could come work with me. I thought she wanted to do a bit in the office, but she said she wanted to be an apprentice. She’s been with us three months and is on full-time now out there with us, and we are going to arrange an apprenticeship for her. She loves it and it’s made my business better. When you’ve got a male-dominated company and employ a female everything changes for the better because you learn it’s not the same for everyone else. Just little things like going to the restroom has made things logistically different. But yeah, she is loving it.

You have also got involved with the Swindon Down’s Syndrome Group – tell us about your work there including your charity work – selling socks and shortly to climb the Atlas Mountains?

I became a trustee for the group and am trying to help raise awareness. Every charity is struggling through the cost-of-living crisis and COVID-19, so I’m just doing what I can, which is basically to batter myself to raise money for the group. The odd socks were amazing; they’re great because whichever one you wear, they’re a pair. On February the 24th five of us are flying to Morocco to do the Atlas Mountains to try and raise some money, so we will put up our GoFundMe shortly if anyone would like to sponsor us.

As you get ready to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Coles Scaffolding, what is your business vision for the next 10 years?

We would like to continue to grow the way we are, and ideally, I would like to take on some more young people that want to come into construction and show them that scaffolding is a good trade and can earn you good money. I would love to have some sort of training centre and probably not have just one but all four of my daughters working for the company in some form.

Watch the full interview at LinkedIn and visit Coles Scaffolding Contractors on social media:


Instagram: @colesscaffolding