16th June 2021
Thank You Day began with just 13 individual members of the public proposing the day. This is Gavin’s Story.
My journey to where I am today has been a difficult one – my early years were marred by trauma. I was brought up in Newham in East London around a lot of violence, with my dad being very abusive towards my mum. We were often running away from him and staying in refuges. I was unsettled, never feeling safe, and those early years really shaped the person I became.
Growing up in those social conditions of extreme violence and poverty, the only role models I had as a teenager were those who sold drugs. Your environment sets your standard and where I lived, selling drugs was accepted as normal. It’s just what people like me did to get by. Up until I was twenty, that was my life and I just lived it day by day not sure if I was going to live or die.
Things started changing for the better when I found faith at twenty years old. Christianity opened me up to a whole new world and introduced me to pivotal people in my journey. I was given my first job as a football coach for young offenders; having someone believe in me triggered something so that I could finally start feeling good about myself.
From there, I became increasingly involved in youth work. This has taken me to where I am today, having set up my own company Reach Every Generation and founded the Building Lives Project, which is National Lottery funded. We work with young people who are ten to seventeen years old and at risk of gangs and serious violence. We do our best to coach them and direct them in the right way, and I think we’re doing a great job of it. I still deal with my own mental health problems and post-traumatic stress, but I’m here at thirty-one, have founded a successful organisation, bought my own house, and got married with three beautiful kids.
So for me, I know it sounds cheesy but I have a lot to be thankful for. Thank You Day provides a great opportunity to express gratitude, which is especially important with everything we’ve all been through over the last year. While the NHS staff and frontline workers have been incredible, there’s been so much work on a grassroots level that didn’t get clapped for. I want to clap for that one person who was doing shopping for their neighbour and no one else knows about.
I’d be neglecting my heart if I didn’t also say thank you to young people. I saw directly through my work all the negative ways in which the lockdowns affected them. We saw a decline in young people’s mental health and a lot of anxiety, with some forced to stay in homes similar to the one I grew up in. There’s so much emphasis on the education that got wiped away, but we also need to recognise all the time young people have lost and can never get back. I want to say a big thank you to them for being patient, being resilient, persevering and getting through.
We’ll be celebrating Thank You Day at Reach Every Generation by having a charity football match against Big Love Charity. Football is great at bringing people together and giving them a sense of belonging. It’ll be a family day for people to come on down to, get some face paint, watch the match and just have fun. That’s what Thank You Day is about: lifting the mood of the nation and helping us to feel more connected.
Meet all the Thank You Day proposers.
Profile written from interview by Helena Barrell.