Renaissance Man

Words Miran­da Wilkin­son

OVERDUE caught up with the mul­ti-tal­ent­ed Jay Blades – Eco design­er, Social enter­pris­er and award-win­ning BBC pre­sen­ter on what’s real­ly impor­tant in life.  

‘2020 is the year of think­ing, time to eval­u­ate our lives and see what works and what doesn’t.  It will pass, one of the biggest things we can do is not lis­ten to neg­a­tiv­i­ty.  No point wor­ry­ing about things over which we don’t have any con­trol over.  Put pos­i­tiv­i­ty into your life whether that’s smil­ing, danc­ing or music.’

Jay describes him­self as a com­mu­ni­ty work­er who restores fur­ni­ture in a mod­ern way.  The for­mer is what defines him, what he aspires to do, what he start­ed off doing and what he intends to con­tin­ue doing; and the lat­ter has been the con­duit that has allowed him to shape the path of many young people’s lives.  

Jay Blades with his cre­ations

The path­way into his call­ing came in the form of a part­ner­ship with the Thames Val­ley police, advis­ing them on how to work with eth­nic minori­ties.  Tar­get­ing specif­i­cal­ly deprived areas in Oxford, with high teenage preg­nan­cies, drugs and high crime Jay devel­oped out­reach projects, researched police issues and began medi­at­ing between the com­mu­ni­ty and the police.  

His hope is to become the Jamie Oliv­er of fur­ni­ture, he wants to tack­le what needs to be done in our soci­ety for young peo­ple. He is a role mod­el and father fig­ure for the young men and women he works with.  He men­tors them until they say he is no longer need­ed from around the age of 11.  His two claims to fame are that he made a young girl smile who hadn’t smiled in 3 years and Leanne from Lit­tle Mix was one of the girls he men­tored.  

Born in Hack­ney, Jay was raised by his sin­gle mum on a coun­cil estate, with no male role mod­els.  He attend­ed high school in High­bury where he was sub­ject­ed to a great deal of racism.  Expelled at 15 with no qual­i­fi­ca­tions, he began to work a lot of low-lev­el jobs to make ends meet.  Know­ing he was capa­ble of much more, he took the deci­sion to go to Uni at 29 years old to study Crim­i­nol­o­gy and Phi­los­o­phy.  Whilst there, he was diag­nosed with dyslex­ia and giv­en a scribe to help with his stud­ies.  It was dur­ing this peri­od of study and self-dis­cov­ery that he met his first wife, and they quick­ly start­ed talk­ing about how they could bet­ter soci­ety and con­tribute to mak­ing a bet­ter world for dis­ad­van­taged young peo­ple.    

Jay says that the only peo­ple teach­ing young dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren and ado­les­cents eco­nom­ic inde­pen­dence are drug deal­ers.  This is a pow­er­ful state­ment and food for thought par­tic­u­lar­ly in these times of uncer­tain­ty.  Jay says this is very much an exist­ing prob­lem and he would also like to see edu­ca­tion­al reforms as he feels the cur­rent sys­tem has no bear­ing and no cor­re­la­tion with the YouTube gen­er­a­tion.  

He home-schooled his daugh­ter for a num­ber of years, as he didn’t feel there were any good schools avail­able for her and that she would be exposed to the things he didn’t want her to expe­ri­ence.  He shared the school­ing with his part­ner and for a few years he han­dled most of the prac­ti­cal ele­ments of her edu­ca­tion, until she decid­ed to attend a voca­tion­al per­form­ing arts school.  

Jay has a very clear life ethos and comes across as a no-non­sense, straight-talk­ing char­ac­ter.  He says his mot­to is: ‘Walk like you have some­where to go.  If you don’t have a direc­tion, you’ll end up nowhere.’ 

Describ­ing him­self as a real­ist, Jay says his men­tor­ing style is guer­ril­la men­tor­ing; very true and direct.  He has me doing an exer­cise he uses on the young peo­ple he men­tors; the boil­ing an egg syn­drome which is a very sim­ple task, but when you break it down it is very com­plex and requires many com­po­nents, many of which we take for grant­ed.  He uses this anal­o­gy to great effect, break­ing down the lives of those he men­tors, so that they don’t feel over­whelmed or get dis­cour­aged.  It’s sim­plic­i­ty in motion.  

He bal­ances his TV career, film­ing two shows for the BBC, The Repair Shop and Mon­ey for Noth­ing, with work­ing with young peo­ple and teach­ing them how to restore and refur­bish fur­ni­ture so that they are able to learn new skills; giv­ing them a voca­tion and the chance to cre­ate new oppor­tu­ni­ties for them­selves.   Part of his phi­los­o­phy is to work him­self out of a job.  

The Repair Shop BBC

When speak­ing to Jay, it’s hard to imag­ine that just five short years ago he left his fam­i­ly home after the break­down of his mar­riage, and end­ed up in Wolver­hamp­ton, where he spent a con­sid­er­able amount of time sleep­ing in his car.  A good friend even­tu­al­ly came to his res­cue and helped him find his work­shop, where he still works today cre­at­ing a vari­ety of eclec­ti­cal­ly styl­ish mid-cen­tu­ry pieces which he sells on his cur­rent ven­ture, Jay &Co

We move on to more super­flu­ous con­cerns as I ask him about his style, in terms of dress and design, some­thing which is fre­quent­ly seen on his dai­ly Insta­gram posts, where he shares a Thought of the Day using the plat­form as yet anoth­er way to reach out to peo­ple who made need hope or inspi­ra­tion in their lives.  

He mod­est­ly says he is still learn­ing what his style is, but it’s very dis­tinc­tive although he claims he hasn’t instinc­tive­ly worked on his aes­thet­ic.  With fur­ni­ture he starts by design­ing for him­self and fol­lows his gut and if it works then the world has the oppor­tu­ni­ty to buy it.  

Inspired by nature’s colour scheme, he has an innate sense for blend­ing and match­ing shades in a unique way which pro­duces strik­ing designs.  

He sources his fab­rics from his local mar­ket and works with what­ev­er is avail­able as opposed to order­ing spe­cif­ic items, which he feels is a more organ­ic cre­ative process.   With clothes, it’s his love of train­ers and a desire to cre­ate a cohe­sive look that dri­ves his over­all style.  He isn’t brand loy­al but likes stuff that fits and uses a tai­lor for the per­fect sil­hou­ette.    

He is more unequiv­o­cal about life and knows his direc­tion and that his cur­rent suc­cess is only a step­ping­stone to help­ing more young peo­ple and show­ing them there is a dif­fer­ent way of doing things.  His end goal is to influ­ence peo­ple he will nev­er meet.  He feels that if we all behaved in this way it would cre­ate a rip­ple effect that would nur­ture us all. It’s a mind­set that we should all have.  The need for this comes from grow­ing up in a dis­ad­van­taged area and see­ing peo­ple nev­er look back or help oth­ers because if you do that, what are you say­ing about where you come from. 

In terms of whether life teach­es you resilience or it’s some­thing you learn life Jay feels it’s a bit of both; all the set­backs have tak­en him for­ward and he is glad to have been able to under­stand that one of the scari­est things is to believe in the process of where we are going if we are in any way capa­ble.  

What does Jay Blades, some­one who has lived a remark­ably colour­ful life see as the high­light of it so far?   ‘I’ll tell you that when I am on my death bed, as there is so much more to come.’ 

I think it’s pos­si­bly the gift of his lega­cy…

The Repair Shop is cur­rent­ly on BBC1 at 8pm every Wednes­day and all Jay’s cre­ations are avail­able to buy at