Jay Blades, turns forgotten old furniture to unique signature pieces of art, and that’s not even the coolest bit about him. His company Jay & Co works with teenagers from troubled backgrounds, helping them transform their lives along with transforming furniture.
I had an opportunity to chat with Jay, and talk to him about his journey.
How did the idea of up cycling furniture by working with troubled young people in the community come about?
Jay: I started working with young people at a charity called Street Dreams. I have always loved working with them, helping them do something positive with their lives. As with a lot of charities, the funding dried out. But I wanted to continue the good work, and started thinking about how to bring in some revenue, setting up a company that continues doing the good work but self sustaining.
I started ‘Out of the Dark’ in 2009, teaching kids to make furniture, which then morphed into Jay & Co. It was about getting kids together, who wanted to work, teaching them to create something out of nothing.
What has been your one of your most memorable stories of achievement as a mentor to your kids in your workshop?
Jay: I met a young girl who hadn’t smiled for six years! She was suffering through depression, on the suicide watch, and was hurting herself. Her mother had tried just about everything she could, when she was introduced to me. Within just three months of working with me, her smile was back. She had found her purpose. She is now a professional upholsterer.
And this is just one of the stories, a memorable one. I have worked with so many youngsters who have turned their lives around.
The splash of colour in your pieces. The yellow paint dipped leg, or that single colour button on the upholstery making every piece unique. Tell us more about your ‘signature’
Jay: It actually happened quite by accident. One day at the workshop I was painting the legs of a chair and had finished painting three when I got a phone call. When I looked back at the chair, it was so striking. I thought to myself, why not just paint the one leg. It gives the form of the legs more attention, enhancing the details. Suddenly it is not ‘just another chair leg’ but a statement.
I wanted to use buttons on upholstery, but not in the normal way. Just the one coloured button diagonally opposite the painted leg.
How has the recent Brexit affected the mood in your neighbourhood. Your views…
Jay: Brexit in my opinion was a good wake up call to the government. For long has London controlled how the rest of the UK lived. The North- South divide has always existed and found their voice at this referendum.
The scare mongering and recent reports related to the surge in race crimes have absolutely nothing to do with Brexit. I am very skeptical about these reports. I have worked in crime and statistics before, and race crimes have always existed even before Brexit. Muslims, women, gays, blacks all have been subjected to it, but have never been reported as they are today- because they weren’t relevant. Brexit brought everything back on to the spotlight.
The mood: People are unhappy. This is a call for change.
You mention in your blog, that you don’t go out too often. How do you unwind after a long day, or on weekends.
Jay: The truth is, I’m always working. Even through weekends. Today for example, I’m going out to the local shops to source for materials. I also have a few shows coming up that I need to prepare for, shoots and interviews. Money for Nothing on the BBC and Gok’s House on Channel 4. I enjoy what I do, and it really doesn’t feel like ‘work’
Lastly, In your view, what is the one simple life skill every one of us can adopt- a trick or a hack, that could make a huge difference?
Jay: ‘Be like a child.’ Have fun. Stay curious. Enjoy everything. Explore everything. Experience everything.