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Alumni stories

Joe Gardham

By Marcia Pearson

Joe Gardham portrait

Joe Gardham is responsible for creating some of the funkiest new community spaces seen in York in recent years.

Born and bred in the city, Joe came from what he describes as a “poor family.” To be able to afford to study for his degree in Sports Pedagogy at York St John he worked for four years prior to starting university.

Like many who decide to stay local, York St John was the perfect choice due to his already knowing the city and being able to live at home, avoiding accommodation costs.

But it was not just a matter of convenience and money. Joe, who graduated in 2005, recalls: “The university helped me find my place. I really believe in role models, and I believe a lot of that came from York St John.”

From this, Joe knew he wanted to go into a job which could help and support others who also weren’t from a wealthy background. This led to him creating the social enterprise, Social Vision.

Social Vision is a small local company that exists as a non-profit organisation. Joe explains that one of the company’s main aims is simply “making the city a better place to live, work and play.”

Malthouse is a project he is particularly proud of. Located on The Crescent in York, Malthouse was a once a derelict warehouse.

After working with property developers, local artists, food and entrainment people, the warehouse was transformed into what the York Press described as “a vibrant 'wonderland' with street food, beer and cocktail bars, a souk-style market, art studios and family entertainment”.

“We created this real kind of industrial takeover type thing by investing £11,000. The traders there made about £100,000 in an eight-week period” he explains.

A little act of kindness goes a long way. Just small things like letting someone pull out in front of you. Saying hello to a homeless person as you walk past.

Joe also worked and contributed towards Spark:York. Located in the centre of York, on Piccadilly, it is a community of small independent businesses housed in a series of shipping containers. These include food and drink stalls as well as retail stores and entertainment located inside.

Being the director of the company, Joe helps people in many different ways. These include communication, web design, marketing as well as creating amazing projects out of unused spaces.

“I have a real passion for ensuring financial barriers do not restricting people’s potential,” says Joe.

But he admits that it has not always been easy. “It’s been a long hard struggle because no one believes in you,” he adds.

When asked what advice he would give to himself when graduating, he said it would be to take more chances. “I was very risk adverse when I was younger” he adds. But if Joe hadn’t have taken some big risks, he wouldn’t be where he is today.

Joe recommends that those starting out should take any help offered. When you are younger, he explains, it can seem like weakness to ask for support and to admit that you don’t know something. “Let go of your ego. Soak up as much advice as you possibly can from people,” Joe suggests.

To Joe, social justice is about social mobility. He explains that every single person should be able to realise their potential regardless of where they’re from. “It’s making sure every person has an opportunity to fulfil their potential” – an ethos which is reflected in the work that he does every day.

To make the world a more just place, Joe believes that small gestures are important. “A little act of kindness goes a long way. Just small things like letting someone pull out in front of you. Saying hello to a homeless person as you walk past,” he adds.

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