I grew up in tough economic times, in the late seventies and early eighties, in a relatively depressed area of the United Kingdom (Wallsend, Tyne, and Wear). (Note: there are much worse areas of the world!) I lived on the banks of the Tyne, literally in the shadows of the nationalised shipyard. Every year or so, a royal visitor would make a fleeting visit to launch a huge ship. The whole area worked directly or indirectly for what was then British Shipbuilding, a nationalised industry. Up until around 1973/74, when I was eight years old, it all went reasonably well.
Then the world changed: the huge industries weren’t agile and couldn’t compete with the new industrialised countries in the Far East. Nationalised shipyards were uncompetitive and lost business. On the surface, that was probably all most people knew.
While the closure of these industries was headline news, the real-life stories that happened as a consequence did not make the press.
The workforce at the time was 100% men – men who had been brought up in a macho world and were the leaders of the household. Consider what happened when the workforce was reduced from 20,000 to 10,000. Overnight!
On a human scale, many, many people were robbed of their self-respect. Many were driven to alcohol. Wallsend had an abundance of watering holes, and it was much easier to spend your days in a drunken state than do something about the problem. Remember that at that time, ‘entrepreneurship’ wasn’t part of the vocabulary.
Mass unemployment led to riots in some areas (within half a mile of my secondary school, for example). They became no-go areas. Life was quite tough.
When I was twelve, I had my ten minutes with the school careers adviser. I told him I wanted to go to university and qualify as an engineer. He looked at me with disdain and told me to be more realistic – people from my school and background didn’t go to university.
Shortly after that, I was cycling through one of the no-go areas on my way home from school. The area had been built in the early sixties and was based on ambitious urban planning ideas. The fourteen-storey blocks of apartments were known colloquially as the ‘fourteeners’. They generally stank of urine or antiseptic, depending on whether the local council cleaners had been around recently.
While cycling through this area, I had an experience which fundamentally changed my views on life. I witnessed a person who had lost everything jump from one of the fourteeners. I knew there had been other occasions when this had happened, but I hadn’t yet seen it for myself. To this day, some thirty years later, I can still picture the scene.
I determined there and then that my why was to help people transform their lives – to give them a purpose to prevent them from finding themselves in that situation. Although at the time, I didn’t realise this had become my WHY. I have since reflected on things and worked through several exercises to delve into what drives me, and it always comes back to that point.
My forthcoming book is part of that why. The desire to help people transform their lives gives me the motivation to sit down and put pen to paper (or at least to dictate to a computer).