James forges new career after brain injury

James McCullough of Patterson's Forge Hammer & Tongs and Jenine McIlroy, Business Advisor at Ballymena Business Centre
James McCullough of Patterson's Forge Hammer & Tongs and Jenine McIlroy, Business Advisor at Ballymena Business Centre

A Ballymena man has fought back from a traumatic brain injury to launch his own blacksmith business, thanks to help from the Go For It programme.

James McCullough launched Patterson’s Forge Hammer and Tongs in February at the National Trust’s Patterson’s Spade Mill in Templepatrick after learning the art of blacksmithing as part of his recovery.

An HGV driver for 22 years, James sustained a serious brain injury at work in 2005.

“I was lucky to be alive, but it left me house bound for over two years, with no job and no income, recuperating and rehabilitating from the impact of my injury,” James said.

He added: “I also had to relearn how to read and write and the Cedar Foundation’s brain injury service was a great in helping me achieve basic essential skills qualifications in Maths, English and IT, while also sourcing work placement opportunities for me to help me get back into work.”

James’ introduction to the National Trust’s Patterson’s Spade Mill was on one of his work placement opportunities with the Cedar Foundation.

He worked as a volunteer doing grounds maintenance, before being offered a part time paid role as a tour guide on the historic site.

He added: “The National Trust must have spotted my enthusiasm and offered me an apprenticeship in blacksmithing and spade making and this was when my love and passion for the art of blacksmithing really took off.”

James launched Patterson’s Forge Hammer and Tongs in February after spotting a gap in the market for delivering workshops and classes teaching people interested in the art of blacksmithing the basics of this ancient craft.

He turned to the Go For It Programme to seek expert advice and help with developing a robust business plan to help turn his idea into a business.

The Go For It Programme is delivered free of charge by a team of experienced business mentors through Northern Ireland’s wide network of enterprise agencies and is run locally in association with Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

James said: “My business advisor at Ballymena Business Centre was a tremendous help, providing me with all the advice and guidance required to get my business up and running.

“The workshops and classes are now up and running with many of them fully subscribed. I have also built up a steady stream of orders for decorative and everyday items such as wrought-iron gates, railings, furniture, tools and horseshoes.”

Jenine McIlroy, Business Advisor at Ballymena Business Centre, said: “James joined the Go For It Programme with a clear business idea, driven by a desire to teach as many people as possible about the art of blacksmithing.

“We are delighted that James is now up and running, and absolutely thriving. He is an exceptional blacksmith who puts his heart and soul into every piece of work he forges, and he delivers each class and workshop with the same passion and enthusiasm.”

For more information on Go For It, call 0800 027 0639.