James Hunt tells us about finding the balance, the power of positivity and why helping the community has become both his purpose and proudest achievement.
How do you identify as disabled, and what does it mean to you?
I have both physical and mental disabilities. Physically, I have suffered back, knee and muscular injuries which still cause problems now. Being sat in a chair is the worst thing I can do for these injuries but then the physical side of my work can be too much sometimes, so the challenge is finding the balance. I also have dyslexia and have recently been diagnosed with high level ADHD, which also cause challenges.
Tell us a little about your business.
Cafgas Community Interest Company is Wales’s first plumbing and heating, not for profit, social enterprise. We are boiler installation, service and repair specialists. The difference between us and nearly every other gas company is that the surplus revenue that we generate goes towards helping the communities that we work in. We don’t just work in communities, we work for them. The profits that the business generates go entirely into our in-house community organisation called Nanny Biscuit.
Nanny Biscuit is a multi-faceted project designed to identify, develop and embed a series of smaller community focussed projects. It was created to bring the community together in a positive, empowering and purposeful way to create positive outcomes for individuals in areas such as mental health, isolation, disability, ex-forces support, local ecology and age concern.
Why did you start the business? Share your story so far.
When I left the army, I was suffering, mentally and physically. There was there was nothing really that interested me to get involved with but I was very much drawn to helping other people, rather than being helped. Nanny Biscuit is my nan’s name, because she used to sneak us biscuits. She passed away in 2017 and I decided I needed to do something about how I was feeling and help people. So we did a Christmas party for people suffering with loneliness and isolation. I fell in love with helping others and decided that this I what I wanted to do, so I set up Nanny Biscuit in 2018. I spent the next year building my confidence and generating ideas of what I wanted to do, starting with providing free holistic therapies and our own version of DIY SOS. I realised that this was going to cost money but what I didn’t want to do it was grant chase. I really don’t like filling forms in – I struggle with things like that due to the dyslexia and ADHD. It’s also easy to lose your direction when going from one pot of money to another, each with different criteria for eligibility and what you have to do. I know what I want to do, so the idea of Nanny Biscuit is a company that is capable of really helping our local community without having to grant chase.
What do you see as the main challenges facing your business and its continued operation or growth?
The challenges really come from my own disabilities and limitations. Being a gas engineer is a very physical job and sometimes my injuries prevent me from working. Being sat in a chair is the worst thing I can do for my injuries so, on a physical point of view, that is a challenge and something that I’ve got to learn how to manage. The physical side can be too much while the sitting down is too little. I need to find the medium – it’s ongoing.
And then ADHD is very, very challenging as well. Give me something that I love and I will burn a hole in that paper with my laser focus, but give me a spreadsheet with a profit and loss and I find it tough. I’m one of the people that learn by doing – I have to be able to touch it and I’m able to grasp it very, very quickly. I’ve always suspected that I had ADHD but I got officially diagnosed last month. They’ve given me medication to try. Initially I didn’t want to go down the route of being medicated, however, I’ve tried it and we’ve still got to find my ideal level but it’s pretty impressive. At the moment, I’m getting about an hour or two at the sweet spot where I’m actually enjoying doing work that I’ve always hated. But I also see ADHD as like a superpower as well. I definitely think differently and am very creative which has allowed me to have the impact that I’ve had. Over the pandemic with the initiatives we brought out, we calculate that we’ve delivered around half a million pounds worth of impact on less than 50,000 pounds worth of funding.
What can we do to encourage more disabled entrepreneurs to start businesses – what is holding them back and what can we all do to help change that?
I don’t think I’ve had much help in the past. I had to pay privately get myself diagnosed with ADHD because of a lack of funding – there isn’t a lot of funding out there at all. Awareness of conditions and also any help available really needs to be highlighted more. When I was in school, I don’t even think ADHD was a thing anyone knew of back then so I don’t really blame my teachers, but I wasn’t getting the support I needed.
With my physical disability, I had snapped my knee and had every ligament replaced. I turned up for a job centre assessment on crutches but they scored me zero – the system is inherently unfair.
So awareness and a better support system in general is needed.
What do you consider your greatest achievement or the proudest moment in your life so far?
Without a doubt, the initiatives from Nanny Biscuit over the pandemic are my proudest achievement. We were the first community group around to recognise the issues that covid and lockdowns would cause and were proactive and fast in setting up support systems from scratch. Within one month of setting it up, we had a food warehouse of 50 volunteers, were delivering emergency food, plus manning phone lines for people suffering loneliness and isolation. We had strong links with councils, volunteer services and social services, all of whom were referring people to us. We delivered 46,000 meals. We worked with care homes delivering things like birthday cards and holding COVAID concerts (concerts outside of care homes for residents and their carers to enjoy). For Christmas 2020, we delivered 1450 Christmas dinners. And then we set up an event called Grand Week in Wales, partnered with charities such as Green Paw Project, Fare Share, Marie Curie, Adferiad Recovery, YAB Wrexham and Blood Bikes Wales, with lots of events which brought people together through fundraising to combat isolation and spread positivity. In 2021, we delivered 2000 meals at Christmas and now I’ve just opened free food pantries. The last two years have just been the best two years of my life. I can’t take credit for all of it because I’ve had an amazing team. There’s no doubt about that – that was my proudest achievement.
If there was one thing you could change about peoples’ perception of disability what would it be and why?
Awareness on all levels needs improvement.
Who or what inspires you?
I’m inspired by people that have to overcome their own challenges, and then reach a level that not only helps them, but helps the people around them. For example, Tyson Fury really, really inspires me. Improving life for others and reaching out – that’s what inspires me.
Do you have a recommendation for a book or a podcast which has helped you along your journey?
I think my recommendation is to just to try and surround yourself with positive, positive people, the dreamers of this world, and don’t be scared. For me, one of my biggest challenges was believing in myself. At the beginning of the pandemic, I had a day where I thought ‘What have I done? I can’t do this’. But because I was able to surround myself with amazing positive people, we got each other through. My recommendation is to just seek help and connect with the right people.