James’ Success Story
James has turned his life around in the past few years, and this is how.
Born and raised in Poplar, James (left) is East London through and through. He grew up to become a London taxi driver for 30 years, of which he says there were good times and bad times. Eventually, various health issues got in the way and he became unemployed. He was also finding that as Poplar changed, a lot of his social connections were changing with it. It was a struggle for him to adjust to all the changes happening in his life and he hit a low point.
But, if you had known him back then, you wouldn’t recognise him now, 2 years later. With volunteering and plenty of creative endeavours on his plate, James is full of life and enthusiasm for his future. We knew we had to talk to him as he is a perfect example of our three strands approach – of social connections, healthy eating, and fitness coming together to improve overall wellbeing. With help from the community, a new approach towards fitness and nutrition, and an unbeatable spirit, James has turned his life around.
So how did he do it?
Physical activity has been a big part of his journey to recovery. He took part in the Silver Line Project, ran by Moses Adeyemi (winner of the Channel 4: SAS Who Dares Wins), which he said was fantastic. It was one of the first things he did that allowed him to feel optimistic about his future. Getting a bike in order to get around was the next step in this. In his own words: it helped change pretty much everything for him. Within 4-5 months he was already starting to feel better mentally, and his physical fitness had improved so much that his doctor said he had a perfect blood pressure and BMI.
He combined this with a new approach to healthy eating. As a big believer that a healthy body leads to a healthy mind, cooking good food at home became a big passion for him and a big part of his life. He loves cooking vegetables, in particular, and occasionally experiments with vegetarianism – he’s even traded in soy milk for cow’s milk for ethical reasons. He says that it can be satisfying to cook for yourself and it really makes you think about what you eat.
But it has been re-integrating himself into the community around him and getting back into his artistic side that has been massively therapeutic to him. As a kid, he was always interested in art and was constantly drawing. Although he undertook a painting and decorating apprenticeship when he left school (which he did as it was the closest thing to art), sadly, he didn’t follow it into a career. There wasn’t enough support or mentoring at school for him to do so, he thinks. As a taxi driver, he would meet a lot of people who actually did do art for a living, and it would always surprise him that people actually could make a living out of it. He has, however, been playing the guitar for an impressive 43 years now, occasionally playing in pubs. It’s been a massive part of his life.
About two years ago he first got into contact with Poplar Harca, enquiring about housing and transitioning out of employment. Through this he met various people like Vicky Coakley at the Aberfeldy Centre, Bala Thakrar from Trussler Hall, and Moses Adeyemi. They were central to encouraging him to start doing things, to create things in his life that would get him out and about.
Now his plate is jam packed with creative activities. With encouragement and links from the community, he has gotten into creating art with recycled materials and is currently helping to do up a micro-pub. Taking a creative writing class with Mind encouraged him to work on his own novel: a – perhaps semi-autobiographical – story about a taxi driver who tries to become a guitar player. And, of course, his guitar playing. He volunteered to play at our Healthy Poplar Week, used to tutor, and he’s currently looking to run classes at the Aberfeldy Centre. Teaching brings out the best of him, he says. Very excitingly, James is also undertaking voluntary work at a printing company in Hackney. He’s going to be designing posters and business cards for them.
What advice does James have?
James says that people can go through their entire lives not knowing their talents, simply because they’ve never tried things. People’s lives are so structured; they have to make decisions so early on about what they want to do and start building up a CV at such a young age, so they don’t try new things. That’s why he’s taken these past few years to explore everything – something he thinks everyone should do. People can be close minded, he says, but try new things, see what you’re good at, and keep an open mind.Back to Stories
Try new things, explore.