Normally I tell other people’s life stories rather than my own, so this is a rather different experience, but more of that later.
I was born slap-bang in the middle of the swinging sixties in Rochester, Kent. Dad, Ted was a printer and Mum, Eileen worked part-time at the local post-office. I did well at school and won a place at the local Grammar School in Gravesend. In 1984, I left home to study for a degree in Politics and History. The miners were on strike, The Clash performed in Brixton, I know, I was there, and I moved into student digs above a chip shop in Bristol, a city I called home for the next 23 years.
My first job was in corporate sales. I guess I must have been good at it, as I rose quickly through the ranks of a fairly large PLC and ended up in a senior role but I never felt comfortable with a flash car and an expense account. I met Jim in 1990 and he encouraged me to follow my heart. I left the world of annual bonuses and final salary pension schemes and joined a local manufacturing company. I became the General Manager of Bristol Blue Glass, a small artisan factory with a long history and a world-wide reputation.
It was literally out of the frying pan and into the fire…the furnaces were worked at 1400 degrees Celsius, not the place to be in a heatwave! The glassblowers fashioned the glass free-hand using the same tools and techniques the Romans were using some 2000 odd years ago. I never tired of seeing the elemental molten sand transform into a work of art before my very eyes. As well as supplying glass to retailers and running a visitor centre, we also had varied and often exciting commissions; for example, we worked with Warner Brothers Studios to make the goblets which featured in all the Harry Potter Films. One of my proudest career moments was accepting an award from the (then) Chancellor, Gordon Brown for our achievements in manufacturing. The celebration party after at The National Science Museum was pretty good too, what I remember of it.
After leaving Bristol Blue Glass, I met another man who was destined to play a significant part in my life. Bristol’s inner city had three of the most socially and economically deprived wards in the country at the time, and I got a job working on an EU funded regeneration project, helping new and existing businesses to develop and grow. My colleague, Latif Ismail arrived in the UK as a young teenage refugee, having fled war-torn Somalia. We hit it off and became close friends. When the EU project came to an end, Jim and I set up our own training company and Latif often worked for us, but he was also doing his own thing too. Mostly he was busy changing the world. Even then.
One day in 2008, he called me and asked what I was doing tomorrow?
“Nothing much”, I replied.
“Great, you are coming to the Foreign Office with me.”
And so, began the next part of my career which continues to this day. We worked together on various Foreign and Commonwealth Office funded projects under the Government’s PREVENT programme to combat terrorism but started to do much more besides. By 2012, Latif had decided to return to Somalia, now relatively stable but in urgent need of skills and experience to rebuild itself after more than two decades of a brutal civil war.