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Lemons into Lemonade

Lemons into Lemonade

We often hear that if you do well at school, you’ll get into a good university and, eventually, land a good job. There's a pattern here: work hard and you’ll be successful. What we are, unfortunately, not taught is how to navigate a constellation of external factors beyond our control. Failure is a part of life, but how you navigate these setbacks is what makes it worth living.

James Fellowes, Founder of the Bridge of Hope, is an example of perseverance. From being a senior corporate executive, he found himself unemployed seven times in nine year and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Today, however, James proudly shares his story of resilience and determination. He embraced failure and learnt from it, recognising his greater purpose in life in the charity sector.

Bridge of Hope is testament to this new perspective as the missing link between employers and charities. James recognised that there are people with fewer opportunities than him, qualified candidates who are systematically subject to failure due to their race, age, sex, gender, criminal history, mental illness or physical disability. This is why the Bridge of Hope platform serves to empower untapped talent within marginalised communities, to get them job-ready and into sustainable employment.

The road to this realisation, however, was not easy.

James had a privileged childhood, growing up in Newmarket. He received an excellent education, both at school and university, and then earned a place on a graduate scheme for the biggest hospitality company in the world. Needless to say, he continued to work hard and was successful. In 2002, while working in the world of drinks with Diageo, James moved to the US with his family. Things were looking very good.

However, in 2008, the American Dream ended.

Demand for premium alcohol plummeted and layoffs soared. This would be the first time James was unemployed. From following a linear career trajectory to navigating uncertainty, things were beginning to unravel.

Unemployment doesn’t just alter your CV: it hits you on a deeper level and can affect everyone in your family. But when there are more pressing issues, like paying the bills and finding a new job, we often side-line our own health, or deny there’s anything wrong. For James, it was the latter and he was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

James returned to England to receive treatment and, as he was improving, he started to look for work. However, this would be nothing like fancy offices and suits; instead, the only job James could find was in a frozen food factory working in minus 55-degree temperatures. Despite being over-qualified, James continued to work hard and was promoted to the Assistant Junior Janitor position. An achievement, but a far cry from the senior titles he held.

Fortunately, after 5 months, James got a job offer for work in the alcohol industry. Again, James exceeded all his targets, but was made redundant and replaced by more junior staff to cut costs. At this point, one often questions the correlation between working hard and success because, in reality, the graph is a lot messier than we’re made to believe.

That day in church, James made a pivotal decision to leave the corporate world for good. He wanted to change the world and make an impact through working in the charity sector. Once he made up his mind, everything else fell into place. From reconnecting with George Freeman, who encouraged James to pursue this plan, to meeting Michael Corrigan, a partner with a similar vision and a charity, James was able to launch the Bridge of Hope pilot in the horse racing industry.

Today, despite COVID-19, Bridge of Hope has seen tremendous growth as many companies are waking up to the need for greater diversity in the workplace. Bridge of Hope is run by a man who has seen the ups and downs of employment, of having a steady income as well as losing all job prospects. These lived experiences are what make his story unique and his commitment to inclusive employment genuine.

The experiences are what allowed him to turn lemons into lemonade.