Setting foot on the premises of the Stiftung Brändi in Sursee, Canton Lucerne, you might think it’s a standard industrial company. The workstations are a hive of activity, while in the background you hear the sounds of a local radio station. All around, employees are concentrating on their work. Some are stuffing documents into envelopes, others filling boxes with screws, nails or wall plugs. The latter is the core business of the foundation’s Sursee site: several million packaging units are processed here every year. It’s a sure bet that screws bought from a Jumbo retail outlet, for example, have been packed by Brändi employees in Sursee.
Founded in 1968, the institution has become famous throughout Switzerland with products such as the Brändi Grill and the Brändi Dog board game. “The latter has been produced almost entirely by people with neurodiverse conditions for 27 years, and is by far our most successful product,” reveals Head of Communications Matthias Moser. But Brändi Dog is not the only reason why the foundation is known beyond Lucerne’s borders. With over 2000 employees, it ranks amongst the largest employers in Central Switzerland; some 190 people with intellectual or physical disabilities work at the Sursee site alone. This makes the foundation much more than “just” a sheltered workshop. “As an industrial company, we’re a valued partner for many companies,” confirms production planner Christoph Estermann.
Production planner Stiftung Brändi
Back to the packing. Another working group has set up near the entrance. The six employees standing around a large table aren’t stuffing envelopes or packing nails, but wrapping presents. The Stiftung Brändi was commissioned by Mobility to pack and dispatch some 100 packages. The gift includes a bottle of mulled wine and a ‘Santa bag’ of treats. And to ensure that recipients enjoy unwrapping the contents, they all feature matching gift wrap. It’s no coincidence that the Stiftung Brändi accepted Mobility’s commission. The two organisations have maintained a mutually beneficial partnership for many years. Brändi has been serving Mobility’s postal invoicing needs for many years, and many of the nine Brändi sites host Mobility stations.
Christoph Estermann has been at the Sursee site for five years. Before joining Brändi, the qualified polymechanic worked in production planning and purchasing at a mechanical engineering company. According to the 39-year-old, “The quality specifications here are exactly the same as in the private sector." This means that products processed in Sursee are subject to the same criteria in terms of price, scheduling and quality as in the primary labour market. “This balancing act between commercial and social aspects is something that appeals to me.” He also likes the meaningful nature of his work. Christoph Estermann’s main aim – and that of the 60 or so other professionals at the Sursee site – is to improve the quality of life, self-determination and participation of their neurally diverse colleagues. The latter include Sina Hofstetter.
The young woman is wearing a green jumper, jeans and trainers – and she performs her work with infectious enthusiasm. Last summer saw the 19-year-old complete her practical training in housekeeping, and now she works four days a week in the packing department. “Housekeeping was a bit too physically demanding for me,” she says. “But now I’m very happy.” Sina Hofstetter enjoys packing the Mobility gifts with her colleagues. One of them is Loris Sager. The 18-year-old with Down’s syndrome has been working at Brändi’s site in Sursee for a year. He says that when he’s not wrapping Christmas presents for Mobility, he can be found on stage in a theatre. His co-worker Colin Sauter (18) also has a packed schedule away from work: he’s passionate about playing at Lucerne’s Kickers football club. And what’s it like working at the Stiftung Brändi? “It’s great!”
Responses like these are one reason why Iris Truttmann still enjoys coming to work at the Stiftung Brändi after 30-plus years. “When I started here, everything was on a much smaller scale,” recalls the 59-year-old work educator. However, her fascination for her profession remains as strong as ever. “What I like in particular is the diversity of the people.” She’s proud to be able to support people in their everyday lives. Although the work can be a challenge even after all these year, Iris Truttmann says that it’s extremely rewarding. “I’m grateful for that every single day.”
Photos: Patrick Besch
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