Only Human: Meet James Fildes, SPACE North East
Here at the BIC, we know that business is personal and we love to know the people behind your brands. This series of features throws the spotlight on real experiences of being in business – the good, the challenging and the sometimes surprising!
In this edition, BIC coworking tenant James Fildes opens up about his experience of running a business inspired by his own struggles with mental health and suicidal thoughts.
What we do: SPACE North East is a men’s mental health group providing a support network through group sessions, sponsored walks and educational events.
The idea for the business came from my own painful experience of depression triggered by my struggle to come to terms with my parents divorce.
I was dismayed by the lack of support on offer to men grappling with mental health issues so once I was back on my feet, I decided to do something about it.
How it feels to help others in need: I regularly find myself having a ‘pinch me’ moment. When I was suicidal, I was so disconnected from the idea that I had a future. I couldn’t see myself turning 30, couldn’t imagine not being depressed, or even just living a life that was remotely worth living. When you’re on a knife edge, waiting for the next pitfall, it’s a scary and lonely place to exist.
So, when I look at my life now, running my own business, helping men to get the support that I so desperately needed, I feel almost disconnected from my past! The person I was back then, I no longer recognise. It doesn’t feel like me anymore. I often read my journals from back then just to make me realise how close I came and how lucky I am that I found the strength to ask for help and make the changes.
I feel grateful that this is how my life has turned out. Not everybody has the support network that I had, and I guess in some respects, that’s what we’re trying to create with SPACE. A community-based support network, where men feel supported to open up, deal with their issues and come out the other side stronger than before.
My motivation to keep going when things are tough: I’ve seen what hell looks like from a personal point of view. I know how it feels to stay in bed for days at a time, with no job, in debt, overweight, lonely and numb. So, when the times get tough, it almost reassures me that what I’m doing, is a good thing. It’s good that it’s tough because it means I’m alive and I’ve taken some responsibility on my shoulders, trying to make the world a better place.
A good friend of mine once told me, that everything good that’s happened in your life, was probably achieved through the result of doing something difficult. So, I just picture that and say, the alternative is that I shut down and go back to the worst version of myself, or I keep going because I know that good things will come of this.
The most valuable lesson I’ve learned: The importance of pursuing something meaningful. It’s a common trope that life is about the pursuit of happiness, and that’s what we all unconsciously strive for. However, one day while listening to (the admittedly decisive character) Clinical Psychologist Dr Jordan Peterson, he stated: “What’s more useful than the pursuit of happiness, is the pursuit of something meaningful”.
Happiness is an emotion and we rarely feel any emotion consistently. Therefore, when we don’t have happiness, it would make sense that we’re unhappy! Whereas pursuing something meaningful, gives your life structure, purpose, and a reason to get up in the morning and helps you contribute to a cause greater than the sum of your parts. Dedicating my life to improving the lives of others has helped transform my life and I’d even say crystalised the idea that my dark times are now truly behind me.
How I look after my own mental health when running my business: This is a tough one, as I genuinely believe each person’s methods of looking after themselves, are intimately reflected in what their experiences have been. There are the obvious things, such as exercise, socialising, eating well etc. and they absolutely work, but for me personally, I’ll go a little bit deeper with them.
I now exercise in the gym between four and six times a week, but I’m outside walking every single day. When I was unwell, I would sometimes spend days in bed, sleeping during the day, eating pizza and playing on my PlayStation through the night. So, exercising in a social environment and walking are absolute MUSTs for me, every single day. I also limit my alcohol massively now, which has an immeasurable impact on my mental health.
Throughout the week, I now don’t feel ashamed to take some time out and remember what life’s all about. If I’m stressed, I try to I spend lots of time with my brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews as they give me such a huge lift, always.
I’ve taken up hobbies, both new and old. I do things now, that I’d have probably laughed at myself for ten years ago. As an example, I love going down the beach, having a coffee and reading my book to totally shut off. For context, I didn’t read a full book until I was 28! So, a total U-turn for me. Another big one for me is I make my bed every single morning and keep my space tidy. They may seem like small and even obvious choices, but they’re so important in starting and finishing your day right.
I couldn’t have succeeded on my start-up journey without: Like anything, leaning on others for support is essential to ensure you avoid pitfalls, but also build a network around you to help lift you up when you inevitably wobble.
Without my family none of this would’ve been possible, they gave me so much support when I needed it, even when they didn’t necessarily know how to. A specific volunteer needs a shoutout, Tristan Durrani, who attended our first group and hasn’t left my side since. To call him a rare find wouldn’t quite do his presence the justice it deserves.
Finally, I’d have to say the team at the BIC as they’ve been exceptional since day one. Specifically, Anth, Debbie, Jo, Lilla and Kevin for welcoming me into the BIC. They’ve all been so helpful and have provided me with so many opportunities, and I’m forever grateful for all they’ve done for me.
My most memorable business moment to date: The moment that really stands out was winning the Social Enterprise of the Year award. We really had no idea that we’d win that, and it was a real testament to how hard we’ve worked over the last two years. Seeing the competition that we were up against such as Veterans in Crisis and Media Savvy, I couldn’t fathom how far we must’ve come to be in a position where we beat those guys, as they’re all doing an unbelievably good job.
My next chapter involves: We’ve lots of events coming up, with another four Space To Think events next year, a few partnerships I can’t quite talk about yet, a walking group in the spring and we’re starting a podcast too. We’re looking to get a physical presence in Sunderland City Centre and begin expanding our services to the wider northeast. Exciting times!
Find out more about my business: