PROJECT #BEYOUROWN BOSS: KATRINA THOMAS
Katrina Thomas is a London born dance and gymnastics coach with a twist. Everything she does is centred around mental wellbeing and making her services accessible to the ones who need it the most – children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Each year, more research emerges about the link between a healthy body and a healthy mind and UDA Ltd take this to a new extent by creating spaces where children feel safe from both judgement and street violence. The staff are not only sports coaches, but mentors to the children, encouraging them to be themselves, to set goals and become emotionally resilient to achieve them. Every child who encounters this company is motivated to do 3 main things: Be Unique, Dream Big, Stay Ambitious.
Katrina’s #BEYOUROWN BOSS Story
I was born into a mould – social housing, divorced parents, Caribbean background – but I’ve been determined to break barriers my whole life, always intent on being something more than a product of my environment.
After taking part in community dance classes from the age of 15, I set off for Bath Spa University to not only gain a degree in dance and performing arts, but to show the younger generation in my family that anything is possible with hard work and determination. It was hugely important to show my younger siblings, especially my sisters that they have unlimited options, that dreams are achievable. Seeing someone so close to them break the mould of having children and living on benefits would encourage them to do the same themselves! The change of location brought about realisations of how people in other areas lived and the kind of life that could be possible.
Having excelled at university, I fell pregnant. Normality for a 21-year-old from my background. However, by no means was this where I gave up on my dreams. The next 18 months presented challenges that would push most people to give up. With no space at home, I moved into a hostel with my son, accepting help from my family to juggle an administration job and a newly born baby, and settled into a routine which could have become life.
Feeling myself slipping back into the system, I knew I had to make changes, so I decided to quit my job without any other options lined up, only the realisation that I was becoming too comfortable in my situation. All those hours at work to line someone else’s pockets? From there, my degree came in handy for choreography jobs and dance coaching in after school clubs. One of my biggest achievements has been choreographing music videos for many established artists from the UK, gaining extra qualifications along the way.
Just as things were looking up, my son started to struggle at school. Although assessed and found to be intelligent beyond his years, he was having social and concentration problems leading to multiple expulsions from school and myself, making a habit of dropping work to be there for him at the last moment. As women, we are so often forced to make a choice between having a career or having children; a decision which doesn’t seem to affect the fathers of those same children.
In effect of toxic relationships, mistreatment from judgemental parents, hair loss and weight loss, I eventually had to give up 4 jobs and rely on benefits to support my son, who has been since diagnosed with ADHD. However, by this point, my reputation had preceded me and I was being requested by name for freelance coaching jobs all over London. UDA was not so much launched and slowly picked up speed, until I needed support and decided to train my sister, who was struggling to find work at the time, to the position of Senior Coach.
Having this demand was so fortunate for me. As women, we are expected to be the ones to give up other aspects of our lives to have a family. We are constantly having to trade off one dream for another, sacrifice relationships for work or vice versa. If I was in a position where I had to choose between supporting my son or working a job in somebody else’s company, I would have been out of options to support my family financially.
The infrastructure fails us here, some of us are fortunate enough to be self-employed and to live on our own terms, to build something which works for our family and our routine. But for some women with children on an entrepreneurial journey, there’s a huge lack of support.
Now offering afterschool clubs, holiday clubs and community classes, I’ve taken my experience with my son and converted it from my biggest challenge to the driving factor of everything I do. This not only means that I have a strong focus on mental health within my company, but I also work so hard to make my programmes accessible for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In some cases, it’s helping a child build the confidence they need to break the barriers they were born into and for others, it’s allowing a single mother to be at work while her child is in a safe, affordable place.
Millennial women are in a period of transition where we’re expected to be able to ‘do it all’. #BEYOUROWN Boss, to me, means not only gaining recognition for the work I do with children but also being in a position where I’m recognised and influential to other young women, always doing what I can to support them and help them to realise, they’re not stuck!