Jay Blades

‘Don’t suffer in silence’: Jay Blades MBE reveals how BNU helped him find his voice

Jay Blades MBE has revealed how Buckinghamshire New University (BNU) helped him to manage his struggle with dyslexia – and why his undergraduate degree was the perfect opportunity to make professional connections.

The Repair Shop presenter came from humble beginnings and rose to award-winning broadcaster and social entrepreneur. He counts his time at BNU as formative in helping him in his journey and he is encouraging new and existing students to make the most of their academic careers by networking and breaking down any personal barriers to their education.

In a recent interview he talked about the speed with which BNU identified and supported his dyslexia after he embarked on a degree in criminology and philosophy in 2001 – and why establishing good connections is critical to career success. He recalled joining the university and being eager to take up every advantage that was afforded to him, including BNU’s full range of support services.

Overcoming barriers

“Speak to academic staff and speak to Student Services because you will have an opportunity,” Jay said to students. “That's exactly what I did, I spoke to them and they sorted it out. First, Student Services arranged for me to be tested. Next, BNU applied for the funding to have my equipment and they spoke to whoever they had to about me getting a scribe and receiving extra time.

“Anybody who has a difficulty, in any way shape or form - it doesn't have to be dyslexia, it could be a disability - speak to people. The sad thing is, a lot of people suffer in silence and when you suffer in silence, nothing gets changed. You need to change these things and the only way you can change is by opening up and speaking about it. And especially at BNU there's someone to help.”

Never one to shy away from where he started in life, Jay talked openly about rising from a Hackney council estate and leaving school at 15 with no qualifications, to university graduate and later become the first Chancellor of BNU. He said BNU gave him the tools to better his lot in life, and he is urging new and existing students to follow in his footsteps and seize every opportunity to make the most of BNU’s diverse community.

‘Network, network, network’

“I went to university because I met someone who had a lot of knowledge, and she explained to me she got it from university,” Jay said to students. “So, I thought, if I come here, I'm going to get the knowledge, and I've got it by networking with so many different people.

“You need to network,” Jay added. “Mingle with other people, hear their thinking, see what's going on so you can have a real conversation. It's not only useful for when you're at university, but out in the big wide world. This is your network. You're actually building this up as you go.

“If you're a student here, go outside your discipline and speak to other people. That's the way. I met loads of people at university. For me, university was all about networking. To me it was kind of like a playground. It was like…you can just learn from anybody. That's what I was doing.”

‘BNU creates community champions’

His willingness to explore well beyond his discipline and to build a web of contacts while at BNU paid dividends, and in return, he now hopes to give back by working with the University to develop new furniture-related courses at the High Wycombe campus as part of a £15m building works programme.

Jay is a wonderful example of the kind of success that is possible at BNU which he explained is adept at creating “community champions”. Indeed, BNU Vice-Chancellor Professor Nick Braisby previously described Jay as an “inspiring individual and a shining example of the transformative power of the education we provide at BNU”.

Jay added: “I’m always striving for better. My mission is to influence people I'm never going to meet. I think no one should ever be complacent and say, ‘that is it’. No, set a goal. I set a goal for everything.

“I would say…anybody who's looking to come to BNU, why wouldn't you, if I'm an example of how studying here can change your life? Once I came here, things totally changed for the better. I had a purpose and a focus. I knew what I was looking to achieve, and this university helped me.

“I think what BNU do is they create community champions, and that's what they did with me.”

Jay will be formally invested as BNU’s first Chancellor in September.