Jay Blades on Dyslexia, Kindness and Giving Back to Your Community

Jay Blades enjoys making TV shows that make people feel good. This is clear from his CV. A former community worker who dabbled in furniture restoration at the age of 40, he is best known for presenting The Repair Shop, which sees a team of artisans restore heirlooms to their former glory.

Now the Londoner, 51, has another heartwarming streak underway; BBC Two’s Jay’s Yorkshire Workshop. Shot in Bradford, it follows a team of experts and interns who have come together to make bespoke furniture for local heroes nominated to be a part of the show by members of the public. “With this show, we are celebrating the people who are not visible, so these are people in your community who do exceptional community work, who care for the most vulnerable in our society and they sometimes do it without any pay, or they’re just doing it on their own backs, ”says Blades, who also features Money For Nothing, and Jay And Dom’s Home Fix.

In each of the six episodes, Blades meets the special people who receive the furniture and hears why they were nominated to receive this recognition. Three experts – Ciaran, Isabelle and Saf – as well as six passionate carpenters from Yorkshire are responsible for making the workshop’s stunning designs. Throughout the series, we learn about the interns’ learning experience on the job, as well as their personal reasons for being on the show.

Overall, this is the kind of TV that restores your faith in humanity. The father of three agrees, recalling how during filming he often found himself reflecting on the greatness of the society we live in. “Often on the news you have a lot of depressing stories; there’s a lot of news you’d rather not hear. But then when you get involved in a show like this… And that was just one estate, it was just in Yorkshire! Imagine the rest of the country.

There are 18 local heroes in total, and the host suggests they’re the “real celebrities,” rather than the ones we see on reality shows. “These are people who don’t have a six pack, a nice pair of white teeth, these are people who are like us. They are normal people – and these normal people do an amazing job. And I don’t hit the celebrities, because some of them do really good community work. But when it comes to that, it’s like, how many people are out there doing community work? Hope he comes back for a second round because I want to celebrate some more people.

There are a lot of heartbreaking moments in the first episode alone – especially when we hear about Jack, who was named by Connor. Connor explains to Blades that he suffered from life-threatening liver disease and, after posting on social media to ask if anyone would be willing to donate half of his liver to try and save his life , Jack made contact. Despite being complete strangers, following the operation, they first became friends, before forming a couple – and they are now moving in together. So Saf and his team take it upon themselves to surprise Jack with a superb mid-century buffet for the new pad.

Discussing the couple’s incredible love affair, Blades said: “When I heard it, first of all, I was like, ‘This is not real!’ It’s a beautiful fairy tale, and even Disney couldn’t write this story. Sometimes in life you wish you could find love like that, and you’re right there in front of it. It’s a love story beyond all love stories, as far as I’m concerned – this person saved your life and now you’re together.

One of the UK’s most beloved television personalities, Blades is keen to use his platform for good, raising awareness and speaking out on issues that concern him. And it looks like he’s inspired others to do the same – most notable, perhaps, is Little Mix’s Leigh-Anne Pinnock. They first met when, at age 14, she joined a youth club and choir that Blades was conducting.

The pop star recently asked him to be a director of his charity, The Black Fund, and you can tell how proud he is of their relationship. “I communicate with Leigh-Anne almost every day actually,” he says. “I send her a ‘thought of the day’ and keep her positive and focused. She is very, very dear to me.

Does he hope that watching Jay’s Yorkshire Workshop will encourage more people to participate in community-related initiatives? “Absolutely. I know people will be inspired by this, to look on their doorstep and see charities, organizations, individuals that they can volunteer with.

“There could be something to do with cancer, mental health, maybe with nursing homes, maybe with anything. You can spend two hours there, but these two hours are absolutely necessary for this organization [or] individual charity, to move forward.

Another project recently announced by the BBC that Blades hopes to inspire viewers is his upcoming documentary on dyslexia. Entitled Jay Blades: Learning to Read at 51, it will be a one-hour, one-hour program airing on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.

“When I went to college, and they diagnosed me as having the reading ability of an 11-year-old, and that’s when I was 31,” the star says, “that gave the seal and seal of approval to tell people I’m dyslexic.

Speaking about his experience filming the documentary, he says, “I’ve never seen someone be as open as I am about dyslexia and take this trip with a camera stuck to their face. What they’re teaching five-year-olds now is exactly what I’m learning. It’s a brave thing, but I know it’s going to inspire people.

Jay’s Yorkshire Workshop begins on BBC Two on Wednesday 18th August.

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