Following a long day starting with an early morning cycle, Lee Townsend still maintained his bubbly personality when speaking with Eastlondonlines on an afternoon at the end of March.
Townsend, who was described as a “legend” by Croydon FM, wants to use his days productively to get as much done as possible. “I’m a morning person but I must say 2am was a little excessive today, ” Townsend joked.
In the 60-minute interview that followed, the 45-year-old offered an insight into his many projects in Croydon and his goal of making a difference within the community.
Having grown up in Croydon, the ties to the borough are close to Townsend’s heart.
However, having moved to Jamaica in 1993 at the age of 16, he has had the opportunity to experience two such different cultural backdrops.
“Jamaica helped to shape me in terms of my moral compass and serving my community, there is a large cultural difference out there so my father always taught me to be caring of others,” said Townsend who added that his father passed away when he was 18.
“He inspired me to appreciate people in the way that I do now.”
From Jamaica back to the UK
When returning to the UK in 2007, Townsend felt isolated, having lost contact with all of the friends he once had in Croydon. Having to ultimately start his life here from scratch and with little money in the bank, it took Townsend much dedication and hard work.
“Sometimes I couldn’t even get to university because money was tight, sometimes I’d be in tears, but I was doing it for my family, ” he said.
Townsend had a close relationship with his family, and his voice was particularly joyful when referring to his five-year-old daughter.
“The most important thing that I teach my daughter is to be confident, every single day before she goes to school we have our own ritual that ends with a fist bump to remind her of this.”
After graduating from University of Westminster with a 2:1, Townsend then discovered that he was dyslexic and suffered from dyspraxia whilst also later being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder at the age of 33.
“I know what it’s like to be disadvantaged and getting accused of being lazy when you just didn’t know the measures. Now I help people in the community to believe in themselves and know they are enough and get their voice heard.”
In 2012 Townsend created Lenses of Croydon, a self-funded photography group for all skill levels.
Although the group has its home in Croydon, it has also spread across the world to Calcutta, Pakistan, Canada and other places. The group has also encouraged seven younger members to pursue photography degrees in London.
Townsend was excited to reveal to Eastlondonlines that Lenses of Croydon partnered with Disability Croydon, a support group for disabled people and their families, are taking over the area where Millets, the clothing shop, used to be between Church Street and the High Street.
They will be opening a reference library for photographers stocked with photo books and university level material for those who want to learn but are unable to begin a degree. They aim to be hosting a book club and create a potential dark room.
Townsend proudly announced: “This is an exciting upcoming project that no one within the group actually knows about as of yet. There will be more news to come…”
Raising awareness of mental health
Before moving on from his job at the BME Forum, which aims to engage Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups into all aspects of the Croydon community, Townsend was raising awareness of mental health within this community through talks for the Ministry of Empowerment, a social enterprise.
Townsend said: “During one of the talks, a woman shared her cancer experience, and it made a few members of the audience cry.
“I asked how they would feel if we set up a cancer support group I don’t think they believed we really would but of course we did just that.”
Now known as T.R.U.S.T Cancer Support Group, the members involved have since continued to support one another in the Croydon Community and now provide speakers all over the country who open up the taboo conversation of cancer. “This is the project I am the proudest of,” Townsend said.
Townsend, who is also a mental health advocate within the Croydon community, was passionate to explain his role in setting up the BAME Barbers Network.
The collaborative project with the Croydon BME Forum and Off the Record, a charity providing youth counselling, trains barbers to take blood pressure tests on their clients in improving the detection and management of high blood pressure.
“Barbers are also trained in mental health awareness. If they had had a discussion with a client and they felt they could need some support, they would have cards with projects signposted to hand over when they give them their change.”
Since barbershops have been closed over lockdown periods, Townsend has been using his confident ability to get people connected by hosting online zoom sessions with barbers and their clientele with a GP also on hand for advice, each for a six-week period. The barbers will then be fully informed to continue the awareness and support alone.
Being an active individual, Townsend also offers Mental health support to other members of the Croydon community through sporting activities. This includes runs, football and basketball matches to ensure help and support is available to all members of the community.
“Being the outgoing person that I am, I feel an importance to help those people who may feel overlooked or not have the confidence to speak up when they are in need of help.”