Originally published on West London Living

January 2019

CEO of furniture brand Vênoor Living Wesley Pereira on going back to his roots, the beauty of being imperfect and the importance of a strong family network within business.

https://www.westlondonliving.co.uk/fashion-design/one-to-watch/wesley-pereira/

Originally published on White Noise

September 2018

YouTuber, writer and podcast host Debra Oludare is a woman on a mission. After hitting rock bottom two years ago, she decided to turn her pain into a passion project.

Oludare created Trusting the Process, a podcast show that celebrates successful black women by providing an insight into their journey. Listeners can expect laid-back and inspiring conversation where Debra effortlessly directs her curiosity, with a touch of Nigerian flavour.

You were born in Nigeria, before moving to Birmingham via Northern Ireland, Scotland and Cumbria. Now you work just over the West Cross Route at the Monsoon Accessorize HQ as social media executive. How did you get into that?

After being made redundant from a role six months in, I was in a very difficult place. I decided to use the unfavourable circumstances to propel myself into the career in London I had always wanted. The journey wasn’t easy. I was looking for work for a year. Numerous interviews, over 100 applications, and a lot of ‘no’s. My current role originally sent me an email saying I had been unsuccessful in my application, but I have this belief that no is not always the final answer, and so I looked for a back door to knock on. Two years later and here I am.

What was the pivotal point where you thought: this 9 to 5 isn’t enough, I want to write, be on YouTube, and motivate people?

I’ve always been the kind of person who loves to create. Over the years, what that looks like is all that has changed. As a child, I was never without a book. I wrote short stories and diaries and believed one day I would be a published author. For me, I believe life is lived to its fullest when we walk in alignment with our gifts. Our gifts are there for a purpose bigger than us. When you create, it inspires someone else to create and, likewise, when you are open and honest about a topic, it comforts someone else to know that they are not alone. That’s what motivates me.

Tell me more about your writing?

Once upon a time, I found it bizarre to call myself a writer. It seemed pompous and misplaced, but over the years I have learnt to wear the title proudly. The truth is, throughout my career, education and passion projects, writing is a thread that flows throughout. I find expressing myself through words incredibly therapeutic.

The first three recordings of your podcast Trusting the Process were recorded at White City Place. What was the catalyst behind it?

During the year 2015, I was in a very dark place. I had been unemployed for a year, was dealing with mental health attacks in my family, and experienced the weight of heartbreak – all at the same time. I began to research other black women who had navigated difficulties and risen to success against the odds. I needed to trust the process, and their stories gave me the strength to do so. A lot of the women I followed were over the pond, such as Ngozi Opara, the founder of Heat Free Hair, and Zim Ogochukwu, the founder of Travel Noire. I could see so many great stories, but I knew they needed to be more easily accessible here in the UK. And thus, the idea to create Trusting the Process – the show that celebrates black women doing big things – was born.

You recently spoke at an event called Coffee & Prayer. Tell me more about that, and the role of faith within your life.

Coffee & Prayer is a monthly forum that is set to equip and empower women from different walks of life, founded by my friend and amazing author Susan Deborahs. I had so much fun hosting the panel and Q&A, where we spoke about relationships, comparison and identity – topics we as women all navigate in our daily walks.

As a young women who gave my life to Christ aged 16, faith for me is everything. I wholeheartedly don’t know where I would be if not for the influence and presence of God in my life. My faith is my strength, my hope, my direction for today and tomorrow. There’s truly nothing like experiencing the love of Christ and I consider it a great privilege that we as humans get to walk and live in that daily.

What’s the ultimate goal for you?

First and foremost, it’s to be happy, fulfilled, and live my purpose by giving all of my gifts to others. It’s to boldly be myself and push towards the best version of me, to live life, intentionally. If I could say one thing about trusting the process, it would be that it is entirely worthwhile. We will all face situations and seasons that challenge our trust. When I hit rock bottom, I didn’t understand the purpose at the time, but I can now see the fruit that came from it. Trusting the process is about trusting the direction of your life. Believing that everything, from the little details to the bigger picture, are working together for your good. It’s not always easy, but it is entirely worthwhile.

Originally published on White Noise

September 2018

Each year, QPR in the Community Trust  touches the lives of over 20,000 people. One of those was James Calling, who credits the Trust for saving his life after he attempted suicide. James got in touch to share his story. I went to meet him.

This interview contains in-depth coverage of suicide.

A young man with an array of beautiful tattoos on both arms is sat outside the BBC offices in White City. He’s got 18 in total: five roses (his dad’s favourite flower), rosary beads as a tribute to his maternal grandparents and Catholic upbringing, as well as the Latin quote “morte et dabo” which translates as “dead and gone.” His latest addition is a series of strikes at the back of his ear to commemorate each year since his dad passed.

One of the most striking, perhaps, is the word “broken” just above his Adam’s apple. He explains: “Being broken isn’t bad. After everything, I’m able to love a lot more. I try not to judge as much as I would have. I look at the world through clearer eyes.”

James Casling’s story has been well documented. He appeared on the BBC to tell the story of how his life changed on his 15th birthday, when his dad took his own life. In the years that followed, James attempted suicide on several occasions, and was sectioned to the Park Royal Mental Health Centre three weeks after his 18th birthday. He credits QPR for saving his life. After being introduced to the team’s Healthy Kickers football therapy programme, he’s become the top goal scorer for three seasons in a row, and gone on to coach children with disabilities.

I’m interested to know why football turned his life around. “I didn’t want [mental illness] to be my legacy. I’ve been on national television and said I have a mental illness; it’s nothing to be ashamed of. My family know that I’ve been a good person and helped people. It gave me something to make them proud. That’s all I wanted.”

In 2013, James was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Sufferers struggle to cope with strong emotions, which can lead to self-harming and suicidal thoughts, both of which he knows too well. “It feels hell, but then some days it feels like its heaven,” James explains. “There’s no in between. I’m always happy or I’m always sad. I’m always feeling too much emotion or too little.”

Although the disorder affects 1 in 100 people and seems to affect both genders equally, men are less likely to be diagnosed, according to Rethink. He says, “A boy being emotionally unstable is something that no one really talks about. They think, ‘Oh you’re a boy, you should man up.’… The last time I checked, 75% of people [diagnosed] with BPD are female. It’s being a male in a female’s world.” The 23-year-old shares one of its emotional symptoms. “I cry at little things, I cry quite a lot. I can’t control it. Not many men will say they cry. If I watch a video of me, I cry because all I can see is the pain.”

After being admitted to Park Royal Mental Health centre aged 18, James spent three months there. “I was surrounded by older people who’d suffered their whole lives and I couldn’t escape that.” It was a steep learning curve. “Some of the adults were aggressive and violent and constantly getting restrained. It opened my eyes up to reality. Before I went there, I didn’t love myself. I didn’t care about my wellbeing. But I learnt to love myself and that the darkness does end at some stage.”

His next statement almost seems telepathic, just as I’ve been thinking how mature he is for the duration of our conversation. “People say to me: ‘You’ve got the knowledge of someone who’s a hundred and has lived their whole life.’ I haven’t matured through age, love or happiness. I’ve matured because of pain.”

James hones in on the importance of mental illness awareness, especially in men. His dad, for instance, never sought help: “Knowing him, he probably ignored it and pretended it never existed, but it cost him his life.” The following statistics shock me. “You don’t see that suicide is the biggest killer for men under 45. I learnt in Park Royal that it’s okay to talk. How many men must die before someone stands up and says: let’s do something about it? Suicide destroys someone before it kills them. Someone taking their own life is the last step.”

Over the last five years, James has learnt coping mechanisms: working, riding his motorbike and sitting out the bad thoughts. There’s one friend that’s stood by James for the last eight years, who he visits almost daily, his ‘little brother’. He says, “He got a motorbike for his 18th birthday and I’d always wanted one. My dad had one. That was one thing we bonded over.” The pair are known to spend 16 to 17 hours a day on their motorbikes together. “There were times when we didn’t know where we were riding. He would always look over his shoulder and see that I’m behind him and I’d look in front and he always there.”

While James admits that he still feels the same as he did eight years ago, but there’s a pivotal difference: “I can manage it better. If I went to a cash machine and couldn’t get money, that would make me feel down and I’d go and do stupid stuff to myself. But now, I’m more at peace with myself.” He explains his personal philosophy: “It sounds clichéd, but I understand that everything happens for a reason. Why would I get upset about something I cannot change? The struggles you face today are the strengths you have tomorrow.” What does the future look like? “If I can make someone smile, then all the pain and misery I’ve been through is worth it. We need more love in the world, there’s enough bad as it is. If I’m still here in five years, that’s all I can dream.”

If you or someone you know is in need of mental health support, Time to Change and Mind have good resources for UK-based organisations. More info about QPR’s Healthy Kickers programme is here.

Park Royal is just north of White City and its light-industry exterior hides havens of creative excellence. One such is Contrado, one of the UK’s top print-on-demand companies.

With over 108 fabrics and 250 lifestyle products, and the option to make your own customised clothing, the possibilities here are endless. You can print your own shower curtain, or design a pair leggings. Once inside wielding a camera, I know how Charlie felt visiting the chocolate factory. This place really is the Willy Wonka for all things creative, whether you want to be the next Vivienne Westwood or Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. The space is huge, with fast-paced sewing and fabric cutting on one side and heavy machinery with calculated movements on the other. Here the saying, “what the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve” is a reality.

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