When I moved to London from rural Suffolk in the 1990s, I had big dreams of finding fame as a West End actor, but instead of finding the streets were paved with gold, I ended up sleeping on them.
A vicious review was enough to destroy my confidence, I found myself unable to go on stage and soon spent six months living on the street. I was broke and homeless, and was resorting to sleeping on benches and eating from bins.
It was in shining shoes that I found my personal redemption and now I’m delighted to be able to help many other people who have found themselves in a vulnerable position in London, get back on their feet.
I remember seeing a guy outside Liverpool Street Station shining shoes of passers-by, and thought to myself that if he can do it, so can I.
I scraped together the cash to buy a set of brushes and some boot polish, and haven’t looked back since. Today some of the City’s biggest and best banks and financial institutions are my customers.
It was originally a means for me to get some quick cash in my pocket, but there was something incredibly therapeutic about the act of polishing shoes.
I started out on my own offering shoe-shining to workers around London, and although it was tricky at times my perseverance paid off and it progressed into a prosperous business.
Sunshine Shoeshine is a social enterprise and for the last five years I have employed a team of ‘Sunshiners’ who are vulnerable people with various social problems, who go into London offices to clean workers’ shoes.
As a social enterprise, we work closely with various charities and community projects, and we’ve helped raise cash for Marie Curie Cancer Care, RNIB, Oxfam and the British Heart Foundation. Over the past five years, I’ve now been able to help around 40 Londoners get back into employment.
Many of those who have come through our doors have experienced just how difficult it can be to find work when you’ve suffered from mental health or social problems, spells of homelessness or have had come to the UK as an asylum seeker.
London can be a tough town and anyone can have a run of bad luck. I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to get your life in order if the wheels fall off, which was why thought it necessary to try and help others who were going through similar issues.
What’s really helped the business is the changing attitude to shoe-shining. A shoeshine nowadays is considered essential for both men and women, regardless of wealth or profession.
Now, we’re able to list some of the most prestigious banks and financial institutions as some of our clients, and the customers love watching the Sunshiners gain in confidence whilst also getting beautifully shined shoes.
I’m very proud of Sunshine Shoeshine and of all our incredible Sunshiners. It’s very rewarding to make a real difference to other people’s lives.
I never thought I would end running a shoeshine business, but looking back on it now I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.
If you’d like to hire a Sunshiner to visit your office and polish the team’s shoes, please visit SunshineShoeshine.com or call 020 7183 4746.