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From the boot of my car…

7 April 2015

From care to the Strangeways riot, from the boot of my car to an entrepreneur helping young people! This is my story.

Coming from a single parent background from a tough council estate with very little stability in my life, I was rejected by my step father at the age of 13. I spent all of my teenage years and much of my adult life, in the care of the local authority sleeping rough on the streets and spending time in a number of youth offender institutions across the UK.Sam Smith selfie in his office

I had little, if any, kind of education I often ran away from care, spending my time on the streets, getting involved with the wrong crowd, easily led and getting into trouble with the local police, committing petty crime to make ends meet. I lost many friends through heroin addiction. I found my brother lying dead in his flat, as a result of a heroin overdose.

I spent a little time on the Youth Training Scheme on £25 per week but I couldn’t even hold a YTS job down. At 18 I was arrested for shoplifting a Sony Walkman and was subsequently remanded to HMP Strangeways.

On 1st April 1990, I was caught up in the worst prison riots that England has ever seen. The riot was an event I will always remember. I thought I was going to burn alive as fires that had been started by other inmates raged throughout the building. Its the 25th Anniversary of the UK’s worse prison riot, and I remember it as if it was yesterday.

These are just a few life experiences that I had to fight through.

So how did it all change?

What ultimately changed my life was when I met my partner. She was to give me the love and care that I desperately needed. On being released from prison I found a place to live in a homeless hostel, but still with no job, I found myself just hanging around the streets, whilst my partner was working part-time in a local sandwich shop. I often nipped in to the Butty shop, where she worked, to make me my lunch.

After spending almost 18 months in the hostel where I did my cleaning duties, for which I was awarded points, the more points scored the more help I could get finding a place to live. From this I developed and learned independent living skills which led me to get my first flat. My partner and I moved into our first one bed room flat together.

My partner became pregnant and we had a son. This was a life changing event. During the pregnancy I often spoke about getting away from the environment we were living in, there were very little opportunities for work, due to my low self esteem and no confidence nor experience. I no longer had any confidence in the social care system because I felt let down and disowned by the lack of support I was given.

My son was born in the year 1994, which was the most remarkable experience for me and my partner. Together we decided we needed to move away to get a fresh start, so we made our way to Blackpool.

Determined to provide love and care for my family

Newspaper article on Sam's Stoey

The press pick up on Sam’s story!

Growing up as a teenager I felt let down by the system labelled a failure, a no hoper.
I was determined that I would provide love care and strong family values for my son – I knew I had to act given these new responsibilities.

One day I decided enough was enough and that I had to better my life the only way I knew how. I decided I would go and buy a bucket and sponges and go out into the local community washing cars from the boot of my car.

Knocking on doors, touting for business, I soon grew a loyal customer base. So much so, that I needed to fund my rapidly growing business. I was directed to the Prince’s Trust where I undertook business management courses and ultimately secured the funding to buy my first van, and better equipment. I won numerous awards and was nominated for the Princess Trust Business of the year in 2000 becoming a North West Winner.

Through my customers, I discovered new services I could offer, in addition to the car washing and valeting. This included window, carpet, driveway and patio cleaning amongst a range of other services.

Supporting a business… and supporting young people

Sam and  four of his apprentices

Sam Smith, owner of Excellent Car Wash on Common Edge Road, has taken on several apprentices. He is pictured centre with apprentices L-R Kane Power, Richard Bassett, Phillip Pearson and Nicholas Davies.

Securing larger cleaning projects, I was finally able to move into business premises, a disused petrol station forecourt! I then began expanding my services throughout the NW. The centre soon began to thrive cleaning in excess of 50,000 cars a year.

During a 14 year period I was able to offer single handed support to over 320 young people, in my time at the cleaning centre. Young people from local schools who needed work experience. I was able to give time to young people who came off the street asking for work. Job Centre referrals. I gave everyone a chance, a stepping stone to develop work ethics.

I can now see clearly the challenges that all young people face. It is from this passion and desire to help support the young people that the Support the Youth project was born. No longer in the cleaning business, I can now devote my full time attention to helping the next generation.

With the support from the Big Lottery Fund’s small grant Awards for All programme, I have now set up Support the Youth to help young people from difficult social backgrounds – like mine, with the purpose of creating employment and stability in their lives. With the North West suffering record numbers of unemployment, Support the Youth are the solution to a social and economic problem. We’re  committed to improving the development of current and future generations of young people, creating options and pathways to enable them to become socially responsible citizens in a civil society.

So that now I’m on the next stage of my journey, I’d like to say thank you to the Big Lottery fund and others who have helped give me the inspiration to bring my story to life.

Listen to Sam share his story as part of a storytelling workshop run by the Big Lottery Fund

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