By Simon Oxton
The fact that we were wearing the same shirt was ‘a good omen’ for Danny.
A former British champion of Taekwondo, Danny is not only studying law at Birkbeck University with the dream of becoming a barrister, he is also building a social enterprise — Pathways to Healthy Newham — to help tackle community problems through empathy, health and fitness.
But six years ago, while working as a personal trainer and grieving for his late father, Danny became homeless at age 41 in what he says were ‘dreadful circumstances’.
He was living in Newham with his parents in January 2018 when his father passed away suddenly. While grieving for his loss, Danny began to experience strain in his home dynamic as family members disagreed about his late father’s estate. Feeling emotionally isolated and ostracised by his relatives, Danny says he was then ‘kicked out of his own house’. He found himself homeless at age 41.
‘I ended up squatting and moving from one squat to another,’ he said.
Through a referral from the Newham charity NEWway in 2021, Danny found a flat through HOPE worldwide UK’s Two Step programme — and he is so grateful.
‘That’s an emotional moment — holding a set of keys when you’ve not had a set of keys and you’ve been kicked out of your own house. It’s not even the house; it’s knowing I don’t look like I’m going into temporary accommodation,’ he said.
‘Putting me in a house, that was a major step. They gave me a key. It’s so weird how a set of keys makes you think you’re at home. I’ve got a set of keys! These guys have done this for me?!’
While homeless and remembering his late father’s advice, Danny had resolved to ‘pick [him]self up’ and study. Through volunteering in Newham, ‘something electric’ happened while he was studying Citizen Social Science at UCL; he learned how to communicate effectively with both political leaders and decision-makers, and the people they represent. For him it was ‘a good insight’ into ‘feeling both sides of the equation.’
This experience was vital for Danny, who is now a working group member on two panels in Newham; ‘People Powered Places’ and ‘Community Voices’ both afford residents the opportunity to influence Newham’s strategy for local community projects.
Through his Newham network, he found additional opportunities to engage in issues that he cares about. At the Golden Key Academy in 2022, he completed training in how to plan and conduct public tours and was featured in a video for the Mayor of London, which details the thinking behind the development of the new City Hall in Docklands.
He subsequently established an Open City Festival tour in Docklands to promote the architecture and the heritage of the area.
Danny has a ‘massive passion’ for writing and is currently writing a book of case studies based on his experiences of homelessness and what he has learned since. ‘My hobby at the moment is finishing this book,’ he said.
Although he experienced homelessness for three years, Danny feels ‘no shame’ in his journey. For him life is all about ‘upskilling every day.’
‘When I get to 90,’ he says, ‘I’ll still be learning if I’ve got the marbles.’
Click to learn more about Two Step.