As more of us are turning to cleaners to ease the burden, Jane Hardy and Helen Carson talk to some local women who rely on the mop brigade to help them cope with a busy life
Let’s face it, housework’s a chore. Who could honestly admit that scrubbing a toilet pan, or diving into a mammoth pile of ironing is the happiest way to spend one’s free time? And it’s with those unpleasant chores such a feature of our everyday lives, that some of us are more than happy to shell out a few extra pounds a week for a little bit of hired help around the house.
Cleaners, it seems, are coining it despite the fact that Northern Ireland householders are feeling the pinch of the economic recession.
But it’s not just a houseproud few who are happy to hire some help as time-poor working mums and businesswomen will also gladly splash the cash to get those chores done.
And with the average couple spending 40 minutes a day arguing about who does the washing up, employing another pair of hands around the house could prove a worthy investment. As the husband of one interviewee said, it’s cheaper than divorce.
Cleaners say they are busy too, with a big demand for their services, especially among professional families who simply don’t want to spend their weekends hoovering and dusting.
And so we spoke to a number of local people who either work in the sector or who are happy to hire their services to find out the untarnished truth about busy women and their cleaners.
Maid in heaven ... why we love our helpers
The tv presenter and her cleaner
Pamela Ballantine, (54), is a freelance broadcaster who lives in east Belfast.
I’ve had cleaners on and off for over 10 years, initially because my weekends were too precious to spend with a Hoover in one hand and a duster in the other. This was when I was working 12-hour days at UTV.
My first cleaners operated their own agency, were from Northern Ireland and gave references. When I moved house, I got a personal recommendation as I think normally that’s the best way.
One Monday, which was the cleaners’ day, I’d forgotten they couldn’t come as the Tatler was doing a shoot in my home. So I left a message saying sorry and back came a text that was clearly meant for the other cleaner, saying ‘That ***** doesn’t want us tomorrow.’ The word wasn’t due to pre-emptive text, as I checked, so I told them they needn’t return.
The cleaners I have now, a marvellous husband and wife team, Ken and Christine, came through personal recommendation.
They do an hour each every week and I pay them £10 an hour, which is the going rate.
They dust and they Hoover and sometimes do the windows for me. I know that now I’m freelance it is a luxury but at the moment, I can manage it. And it’s nice.
My mother always had what was known as a ‘daily’. Mrs Halliday was one, and I always remember her rather dour statements.
She’d say to Mum ‘You know, it’s my wedding anniversary, Mrs Ralston, it just seems like yesterday.
And you know what a bloody day that was.’
Another cleaner mixed up words — her comment to my mother ‘You’re so perpendicular about that’ has become a family saying.
If I lived with my partner Alan, he’d probably do all the housework, as he’s obsessed with having a tidy house.”
Christine Magowan, (49), runs a cleaning and gardening business with her husband Ken. They live in Crossgar.
My husband and I have been working as cleaners for seven or eight years. We have around 20 clients, including Pamela Ballantine.
Ken and I both worked in a factory producing electrical equipment in Ballynahinch.
Then my husband took redundancy and I decided I’d had enough. It worked out well and we started this business.
We’re not obsessive about cleaning our own home, as we own a terrier called Fudge, although professionally we have high standards.
But we both like cleaning and my husband does gardening work too.
Cleaning is 90% of our work and I would say business is increasing.
We clean for quite a few young people too, professional couples who lead busy lives.
We don’t employ other people, but do it all ourselves and go in as a team. Pamela is absolutely fantastic to work for, a really nice lady. We don’t see her often but when we do see her, she’s very pleasant. Most of our clients are nice and we often get Christmas boxes.
Financially, it’s a good business, too, and pays the bills. The only bad side is when you take off on holiday, you have twice as much work to do when you come back.
We work 35 to 45 hours a week and relax in the evening by walking the dog.”
The saleswoman and her cleaner
Jilly Dougan (43) lives in Bleary, Craigavon, with her husband, Yellow Door Deli owner and chef Simon Dougan. She works part-time in sales and marketing for Hannon Meats.
We’ve had a cleaner for 12 years, since we were first married. It’s one of those secrets of a happy marriage. You know when you have really busy lives, you don’t want to spend your time cleaning but you do want a clean house.
Hannon Meats took over the business I ran for 18 years, and I now work three days a week there in marketing. The rest of the time I grow lots of herbs and produce for the Yellow Door Deli which I love as I’m an outdoorsy person.
I don’t want to come across as a lazy wife just working three days a week but the garden and orchard are semi-commercial and make more than I pay our cleaner.
Michelle has been with us for four years and works nine hours a week, but we do have quite a big house. It’s 4,000 sq ft and has four bedrooms. I’d rather not say what we pay her. She’s brilliant and does everything. She irons all the clothes, does the washing, hoovering and tidies up after us, plus she cleans the bathroom. We have three wee dogs, two Jack Russells and a spaniel, and she’s great with them too. I can phone her and say ‘Would you let the dogs out?’ and she does.
Flexibility is important with a cleaner but it works both ways. Michelle has kids and if one of them is ill, we work around that. She’ll bring her youngest over and she helps me with the herbs.
My mum had cleaners so I’m used to the idea. I think you do become friendly, especially when Michelle does one day a week. We’ll have a cup of tea and a scone together, and a gossip.
A good cleaner needs to be honest, pleasant, easygoing and flexible, which Michelle is. And employing a cleaner saves on arguments — it’s money well spent, I think. Men do have this attitude that the women do the housework.
Simon will hold something up and say ‘Does this need ironing’ meaning ‘Will you do it?’ But as a couple, you need time to be together and talk.”
Michelle Lyness (48) is a part-time cleaner and lives in Lurgan with her children, Jake (16) and Rachel (9).
I used to work in a local shop and Jilly came in to advertise the Yellow Door Deli. She’d known me as a customer in the shop and mentioned that they wanted a cleaner.
I have to say that I really enjoy cleaning and I get a sense of pride out of it, especially working in the Dougans’ lovely palatial house.
The job is flexible and fits in with my children, which is important. And the Dougans are flexible too.
My daughter Rachel comes up sometimes and goes into the garden with Jilly, which she loves. And, of course, it pays the bills.
The other thing about cleaning is you can just get on with it, and do it on your own. You get into a routine.
The only downside is I don’t have as much energy left when it comes to cleaning my own house.
Our relationship is fairly friendly and the Dougans are really nice people to work for.”
The businesswoman and her cleaner
Barbara Dempsey (64), from Portstewart, runs an electrical business in the town and two holiday homes. She is married with two grown-up children.
I have two properties which can each accommodate 12 people, so I need cleaners in every Saturday from 10am to 4pm (between the two houses) to get them ready for guests.
The houses have to be really clean as people are paying for this, and it is their ‘special time’.
The cleaners have no idea what they are going into, while most people tidy up after themselves, others don’t.
There may have even been a hen party in, too. It is a lot of work.
I cannot supervise cleaners as I run another business, although I do check the houses before the guests arrive, but it might only be half an hour before, so I wouldn’t have time to fix anything if it is not up to standard.
The cleaning team also help with welcoming details such as fresh flowers. There are only a few weeks during the year when the houses are empty, so the cleaners do a deep clean which involves jobs like freshening up grouting to make the properties look really pristine. Sebastian from Causeway Cleaning is wonderful.
He notices all the little details that make a huge difference — whether it’s fresh flowers for my guests or fresh linen.
Sebastian McCluskey (33) owns Causeway Cleaning. It has branches in Belfast and Coleraine and offers domestic and commercial services.
The biggest demand for house cleaning is in the summer months when people are going away. After that, it is wealthy homeowners.
We would have 300 customers a month during quiet periods, as people tend to come and go. Most of these want their homes cleaned five hours a day, Monday to Friday.
We will do everything from vacuuming, dusting and cleaning the bathroom to laundry and cooking. We also do carpet and window cleaning.
Others just want a three hour clean once a week, so it’s a quick blitz around the house before the weekend.
We charge £10 an hour for our maids, who are professionals. They are fully trained, insured and reliable. It’s not like employing someone independently, when you don’t know who you are getting.
We also get a lot of cleaning work after weddings when they are hosted at someone’s home. Many people cannot afford hotels now, so they will have the reception outside their home.
I set up the business myself three years ago, after getting paid off from a senior sales manager’s post. Now, here I am with two branches, it’s not always easy, cashflow is the biggest problem.
The biggest demand for house cleaning is in Belfast and Newry in particular. Although it’s rare to get business in Armagh or Omagh. I employ 70 part-time staff, and the Coleraine branch gets a lot of business from the holiday trade.
Homeowners want to employ a cleaner as it gives them peace of mind. When they are working all week, they don’t want to spend their free time doing housework.”