Daniel James left the Army at 21. He turned an unfortunate accident post-resettlement into an opportunity to take up a job he’d always wanted to do and become a blacksmith.
What’s your Military background?
I joined my local Infantry battalion as a boy soldier at 16. I trained as a machine gunner and Served in Northern Ireland for nearly two years and then I went out to Cyprus.
How was resettlement?
I came out of the Army at the age of 21 and I got work with a small engineering company in my local town. I fell into general engineering at first – fabricating and welding and then I progressed from there to work in the oil and gas industry. I lived up in the Shetlands for a couple of years, working for BP on the gathering plants on a number of projects.
I had a foot injury and it put me out of action for a while because I needed an operation and it was at this stage that I wanted to start my own business doing welding and fabricating. I felt the economy wasn’t right at the time so what I did was enrolled with the National School of Blacksmithing. I did a three year fulltime course over in Hereford. I finished the course and then went out to Sweden and worked under the guidance of a number of the country’s top blacksmiths. Then I came back and set up my own business: blacksmithing, fabricating and welding.
What kind of stuff do you do on a daily basis?
I’ve got gates, handrails – they could be contemporary, traditional gates – so it’s all the traditional scroll work on the gates or it could be a gate where somebody has come in with a design that they want making up. It’s anything to do with ironwork – restoration, conservation.
Why become be a blacksmith?
I had a bit of a creative side when I was at school and my uncle was a blacksmith so I used to go to visit his workshop as a youngster and it was something that I always wanted to do but the timing was never right.
After I got the foot injury I just felt ‘it’s now or never’. So, I decided, with the support of my family, to go and study the craft of blacksmithing.
How did X-Forces help you?
I approached X-Forces back in January when I’d come back from Sweden. I got my business plan together with their help and guidance. I wanted to set up my own workshop but it was too much for me to do so I made contact with a blacksmith who’s about 10 miles away from my home town and basically the business plan totally changed. It was a case of taking on contract work from this blacksmith. I’m able to use all the facilities and it went from what would have cost me at least £25,000 to set up down to around £6,500.
The guidance and advice that X-Forces gave me was second to none. They opened my eyes to the world of business. We studied business at college; but it was only a small part of the course.
Even now, I know they’re at the end of the phone. If I’m concerned about something, I’ve got my advisor who I can speak to.
Do you find yourself reflecting on your Military experiences?
Yes, I think definitely. I’ve found that especially within the blacksmithing side of things when you’re doing something – because with the Army you have to put 110% effort in – I’ve found that has helped me with the creative side; say, the scroll work – to get it looking bang on and not just a case of ‘that will do’ sort of attitude. I think that has come from my Military background. Whenever you do something, it’s 110%!
Since its launch in July 2013, X-Forces has helped to launch 389 new entrepreneurs, to whom £4,129,976 in seed funding has been lent, as an official partner of the government’s Start Up Loans Company.