A long time ago
in a town not so far away...
My Background in Brief
I have lived and worked in Southend-On-Sea all my life. I was educated in Thorpe Greenways, Bournes Green, Thorpe Bay High School and South East Essex College. My education was completed, when as a mature student, I went to the University of Greenwich where I studied a BA and Masters in Business Administration.
I have been a member of the Labour Party for almost 15 years, and joined because I strive for the same values of compassion, empathy, understanding and kindness, which leads directly into policies that would help everyone in society.
I sit on the Board as Operations Director of the Stockvale Group of Companies, which owns and operates Adventure Island, Sealife Adventure, Radio Essex, local restaurants and property.
I believe in creating the best possible environment for business to thrive, which in turn creates more jobs, financial security for people; and if spent correctly, the level of public services we all want.
I was born in 1981 in Rochford Hospital together with my twin brother, and a decade or so later I became one of eight siblings! My mother was born in Jamaica to an English father and Jamaican mother, and came over to England when she was 11 years of age. She was in her late teens when she met my father who was working with his family in the Kursaal amusement park. Several years later they married and had three children, all while he was building Peter Pans Playground with his brother and parents. I was 3 years old when they separated, and a single parent household became a low-income household after unforeseen circumstances resulted in the reliance of social benefits.
As a child I did not understand the connection between the roof over our heads and the food in our bellies to Government policy. It is hard to thank someone or something I do not know. I have an understanding that 120 years ago the Labour Party was formed as a necessity to protect people from destitution and exploitation, and that their undying passion and compassion to keep people from dying on the streets ultimately meant that I didn't. Labour is much more than a Party, it is a life-saving and life-changing idea that has saved millions of people without the need or notion for appreciation. I am Labour because now and in the future there are and will be people like me unknowingly reliant upon us to protect them too. Yet the Labour idea did not stop at simply saving me, it gave me the opportunity to be aspirational and financially self-reliant.
My story does not provide every answer about myself and my views, however, I hope there is enough for an informed decision to be made about me both personally and professionally. I have written what some may argue is a touch too honest in places, however, I want you to know that I am not perfect. I have yet to find anyone that is - with all due respect to anyone that thinks they are! The warts that I have left in are not only about showing my transformation as a person, but also to highlight that I intend to conduct myself as a Councillor with the honesty and integrity that I would look for in this role (perhaps it may have been simpler just to say "I'm honest"!).
So, let's begin...
At 13 years old I took up an afternoon paper round delivering the Evening Echo for £7.50 per week. Though not a lot of money it was more than the nothing I was earning before. After a year I started delivering papers in the morning, where the pay went up to the princely sum of £12.50 per week!
After a year and a half of learning the inner workings of newspaper delivery I was offered the opportunity to increase my pay packet even further by joining the family business (then known as Peter Pans Playground) – as a Sweeper! I was responsible for sweeping what is now known as the west side of Adventure Island for £2 per hour. As a 14 year old I would have to wait another year and a half before I was allowed to become a Ride Host, so it was long days performing very physical work. I moved me to the Sideshows, and then at 16 I achieved my long held ambition and transferred to the Rides! Another year passed and I had joined the Post Office sorting the mail.
I then moved back to Adventure Island to the Photos & Golf department. I was promoted to the Treasury Department. This role provided a great lesson in dealing with numbers, and instilled a very high level of attention to detail that I carry with me today. Performing well in my role, at 20, I was put in charge of the Treasury department, as well as Cashiers and Customer Services.
The years would pass with maintenance in the winter and summers in the Treasury. After 4 years I learnt so much about how a business runs both operationally and strategically, but the more involved I was, the more I discovered just how little I knew.
Although I used to sit in on the board meetings from 19 years of age and saw how business was done, I had very little to offer myself. I had wanted to contribute and became disillusioned at my lack of knowledge and ability to do so.
I had started to realise that I did not know anywhere near the amount I needed to progress to where I wanted to go. My family were showing me about entrepreneurship and what appeared to be success, however, outside of my roles in the Treasury and maintenance, I was unable to really contribute to the strategic journey of the company.
At 23 I had decided the only way I would ever succeed was to expand my limited knowledge and return to education.
I have experienced both sides of the education coin. I was extremely fortunate to attend Greenways Infants and then Bournes Green Infant and Junior School. The teachers were enthusiastic, attentive and willing to help all the children. I thoroughly enjoyed school life, but was painfully unaware of what was to come.
The ‘11 plus’ is still in place in Southend with two truly outstanding grammar schools in the town; however, I only made the top 300, and with a cut-off at 180, I was to attend what was widely recognised as the worst school in Essex - Thorpe Bay High.
Five years later and I came out with a dead-end, directionless future, and an attitude I have spent a lifetime shaking off.
I loved the sporting aspect and excelled, but learning in an environment of class sizes hitting 35 plus and surrounded by each other's chronic ill-discipline did create a sufficient disadvantage.
I was lucky enough to make the top groups in the year, but that merely reduced the exposure to the difficulties in the rest of the school.
There were some outstanding teachers, but Thorpe Bay High School was set up to fail.
I did manage to pool together satisfactory GCSEs and went on to attend South East Essex College where I took Media Studies Advanced GNVQ. However, I know I could have done better and achieved so much more. The same is true of most of those that I went to school with. Of the 190 pupils in my year, I can confidently say that the vast majority had the potential to do something special. We all suffered under what I now know was poor political leadership and this is one of the issues that I will do everything I can to address.
At 19 my wasted education was finally over. I completed my Media Studies course, where I discovered I was not going to be a children’s TV presenter, and followed this by completing one year of a two year HND Music course, where I discovered I would not be a music producer. Once the course was done, so were you. I scraped my pass, qualified to do very little, and headed into full-time work at Stockvale (Adventure Island)!
After 4 years working for Stockvale, feeling ready and eager, I checked that my Media Studies A Level equivalent was enough to get me into university and made the application to study a BA in Business Administration at Greenwich University. Fortunately for me the cost of university was not too prohibitive – I left saddled only with a £20,000 debt as opposed to the £50,000 debt of today’s student.
Over the years of working for Stockvale I began to understand that actually working hard led to achievement, and that working to the best of your ability led to fulfilling your potential. I put this mentality into action during my studies and for the first time I felt a sense of confidence about my capabilities. I would spend my days in the library obsessing over each assignment. I remember my first essay earning a decent 2:1, but I was slightly disappointed. On enquiry, I learned that using Wikipedia as source material was not what was considered ‘academic’. It took me a while to understand what this meant, but slowly I began to understand about concepts of sourcing, rigour and scrutiny. I was always a little contrary, but this level of education turned me into a monster! 'Knowledge' has to be subjected to the harshest environment; to be intimately undone to get as close to the root of its beginnings as possible: Where did it come from? Who said it? What was their agenda? And so on. It is a very draining exchange for people who simply want a yes or a no! Sadly, not many share my enthusiasm for splitting the atom on every given subject! For the first time I felt I had succeeded in what I had set out to do. I achieved a 1st Class degree in Business Administration and the Merit for Outstanding Achievement, and the same for my Masters (MBA) I would subsequently take.
Coming up to my 28th birthday with my education complete - for now - my options were open. After much thought I decided to return to Southend and the family business. I had continued to work there during my studies learning different departments along the way, but now I would be fully committed once again, but now with a confidence and level of knowledge that I did not have before.
I went back as ‘Business Manager’, and implemented changes across the company working with the team. Each year I was given more responsibility until I was made an official Board Member and Director at 33 years old.
My leadership duties include:
Board (Strategic Planning)
Operations (Rides, Cashiers, Photos, Go-karts and Cleaning)
Treasury and Finance (Management Accounts; Business Analysis, Budgets)
Leadership and Culture
Sales and Marketing
Human Resources (Performance Management, Recruitment, Welfare)
Entertainment and Events
Corporate Social Responsibility
My role has taught me so much in so many areas, but the most powerful learning has come from managing the well-being of people. We are not just numbers on a spreadsheet. Our feelings and thoughts must be at the centre of decision making. Every season there are over 1000 people that join our Company, each one with their own personal situation.
We run a mini-society and have to put all the things in place, such as introducing Chaplaincy and free counselling, that would facilitate and create a happy and friendly environment. In spite of ignorant observations about how the company is run, I am enormously proud of how we develop and transform young people to fulfil their potential - winning no less than the Queens Award for Promoting Opportunity (through social mobility).
Very often we interview people that struggle with confidence, mental health issues and capability issues, and they like me, are given the time, patience, care and support required to transform into becoming the best version of themselves. I am proud about what we have done to change the lives of the Stockvale society for the better, and very much hope to expand this as a member of Southend Council.
So I have been brought up in relatively challenging circumstances - something which I will never forget - and would always do my best to help others in similar circumstances. However, I have the privilege of being part of a family business that has provided me with financial stability - and to that I owe so much.
Looking back I am thankful for all these experiences and feel ready give back to the town that made me.
I am humbled and honoured to represent the Labour Party in the local elections, and sincerely hope you can find faith in me to do everything I can for the people of Thorpe Ward and Southend-On-Sea.