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Brain injury survivor shows his metal to forge successful blacksmith business

Press release   •   Jul 23, 2019 09:29 BST

James McCullough of Patterson’s Forge Hammer & Tongs and Jenine McIlroy, Business Advisor at Ballymena Business Centre

A Co Antrim man has fought back from a traumatic brain injury to launch his own blacksmith business, thanks to help from the Go For It Programme in association with Mid & East Antrim Borough Council.

This project is part funded by Invest Northern Ireland and the European Regional Development Fund under the Investment for Growth & Jobs Northern Ireland (2014-2020) Programme.

James McCullough from Ballymena launched Patterson’s Forge Hammer & Tongs in February 2019 at the National Trust’s Patterson’s Spade Mill in Templepatrick after learning the art of blacksmithing as part of his recovery from a life changing brain injury.

Speaking about his journey, James said: “I was an HGV driver for 22 years, but sustained a serious brain injury at work in 2005. I was lucky to be alive, but it left me house bound for over two years, with no job and no income, recuperating and rehabilitating from the impact of my injury.

“It was a long road to recovery that included spending extensive periods of time with the Community Brain Injury Team at the Northern Health and Social Care Trust. I also had to relearn how to read and write and the Cedar Foundation’s brain injury service was a great in helping me achieve basic essential skills qualifications in Maths, English and IT, while also sourcing work placement opportunities for me to help me get back into work.”

James’ introduction to the National Trust’s Patterson’s Spade Mill was on one of his work placement opportunities with the Cedar Foundation. He worked as a volunteer doing grounds maintenance, before being offered a part time paid role as a tour guide on the historic site.

“It was amazing to work at the last working water-driven spade mill in the United Kingdom. I was fascinated by the history and heritage associated with the Spade Mill and wanted to learn everything there was to know about the traditional techniques of forging steel into spades.

“The National Trust must have spotted my enthusiasm and offered me an apprenticeship in blacksmithing and spade making and this was when my love and passion for the art of blacksmithing really took off. I worked alongside the National Trust’s team of experienced blacksmiths who gave me extensive on-the-job training and taught me everything they knew. I was also constantly honing my skills and mastering the key techniques of my craft by creating pieces of work for family and friends.” added James.

James launched Patterson’s Forge Hammer & Tongs in February 2019 after spotting a gap in the market for delivering workshops and classes teaching people interested in the art of blacksmithing the basics of this ancient craft.

He turned to the Go For It Programme to seek expert advice and help with developing a robust business plan to help turn his idea into a business.

The Go For It Programme is delivered free of charge by a team of experienced business mentors through Northern Ireland’s wide network of enterprise agencies. It provides expert advice and help with developing a robust business plan to help turn ideas into a commercial enterprise.

James said: “After completing my apprenticeship with the National Trust, I spent a number of years travelling around Northern Ireland teaching people the basics principles of blacksmithing. I was really surprised that there are so many people interested in learning the art of blacksmithing and that’s when I had the idea for the business.

“However, I had no idea where to start and that’s when I got in touch with the Go For It Programme. My business advisor at Ballymena Business Centre was a tremendous help, providing me with all the advice and guidance required to get my business up and running.

“They helped me with practical things in the early stages like setting out a business plan and doing a detailed two-year financial forecast that determined whether my idea was financially viable.

“This business plan and financial forecast allowed me to approach the National Trust with the idea of renting an unused workshop at Patterson’s Spade Mill that would give me a historic setting to pass on my knowledge and experience of this traditional skill.

“The workshops and classes are now up and running with many of them fully subscribed. I have also built up a steady stream of orders for decorative and everyday items such as wrought-iron gates, railings, furniture, tools and horseshoes.”

Jenine McIlroy, Business Advisor at Ballymena Business Centre, on behalf of Mid and East Antrim and Borough Council, said: “James joined the Go For It Programme with a clear business idea, driven by a desire to teach as many people as possible about the art of blacksmithing.

“We worked with James to develop a business plan, focusing on key areas such as defining his service provision, marketing and financial forecasting. This gave him the necessary paperwork and confidence to approach the National Trust and secure Patterson’s Spade Mill as the perfect work space.”

“We are delighted that James is now up and running, and absolutely thriving. He is an exceptional blacksmith who puts his heart and soul into every piece of work he forges, and he delivers each class and workshop with the same passion and enthusiasm. It is a must-try for anyone interested in trying blacksmithing as a hobby or future career.”

If you have a business idea you’d like to develop or if you are thinking about starting a business call 0800 027 0639 or fill out a form here