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.
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.
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 www.jayand.co