5th October 2016
After a troubled start in life, former gang member Joshua Bopu is forging a successful career in modelling and is setting up his own clothing company.
You couldn’t wish to meet a more positive, up-beat individual than Joshua Bopu, which is even more surprising when you hear about the life challenges he has overcome. Joshua’s story includes the death of his mother when he was 9, just missing out on a professional football contract, and a 6-month jail sentence.
These challenges have given Joshua the impetus to change his life, and through his personal philosophy of setting small achievable goals every day, he has become a resilient and positive adult who is keen to set an example for others, especially his younger brother who has Down’s Syndrome and Autism.
20 year old Joshua completed his BTEC Extended Diploma in Sports this summer and is now juggling a variety of jobs alongside a burgeoning modelling career, which includes modelling for GAP. Joshua is also currently working to set up his own clothing company.
Joshua arrived in the UK age 5, speaking no English. Socially anxious and with dyslexia which went undiagnosed until he was in his late teens and studying at Barking & Dagenham College. A talented footballer, Joshua had a trial with Manchester City, but on the day he was due to secure a professional contract, he suffered a shoulder injury. Angry with the world, he found solace as a member of a gang and when violence reared its head he received an 8-month jail term under joint enterprise rules.
During his time in jail, Joshua had plenty of opportunity to reflect on his situation.
“I thought my fellow gang members were my friends, but I was wrong. I had caused stress to my father, and I was not providing a good example to my little brother.”
At the end of his jail term, Joshua was ready to start life afresh and was encouraged by his Youth Offending Service adviser to enrol at College. He struggled with his studies and sought help. It was at this point that his dyslexia was diagnosed.
Joshua’s lecturers describe him as "A very positive influence in the classroom and beyond. Joshua is thoughtful and when he delivered a football coaching session at a local primary school, the teachers were brimming over with praise for how he worked with the children.”
Joshua is skilled in communicating with children because he is also the main carer for his younger brother, now 16, due to his father’s ill health. He is also a mentor for other Barking & Dagenham College students, sharing his experiences and showing that transformation is possible for them too.
Nicky Gibson, Head of Learning Support at the College added: “Since we started working with Joshua we’ve seen him blossom into a totally different person who is committed to getting an education and improving himself. He’s a role model for others and we are all really proud of him and look forward to seeing him go from strength to strength.”
As an aspiring model, he attended casting after casting but without success. Never one to give up, Joshua says “I realised that no just means not now” he said. He persevered and won Best Male Model 2015 at the Inspiring Edge Fundraiser Fashion Show.
Grateful for the help and support he received, at the College, Joshua regularly returns to give talks and workshops to student groups to raise awareness of gangs, knife crime and joint enterprise. He also speaks about his experience of dyslexia and how his diagnosis, albeit extremely belated, has helped him enormously. He is hoping to raise the profile of dyslexia by telling his story during Dyslexia Awareness Week 3rd-9th October.
The College entered Joshua for the Association of Colleges Student of the Year awards and recently found out that he has been a ‘Highly Commended’.
Joshua says: “I feel like a totally different person than I was just a few years ago. With the right help and support from staff at Barking & Dagenham College I’ve been able to turn my life around. It’s certainly not easy but it’s definitely do-able and I hope I can inspire others to do the same.”
He hopes to launch his urban clothing company called Future Lotion, which he has set up with another former Barking & Dagenham College student, next summer.