Bee inspired - how bee keeping changed one young man’s life.
Role model Ezekiel Barzey who turned his life around through a bee-keeping initiative
Ezekiel Barzey used to get into trouble a lot, living what he dubs “the road life.”
Reluctant to go into too much detail, the 19-year old from Dalston said this involved “running around and getting into trouble with the police,” since the age of 13.
Ezekiel believes he could even be in jail now, had social enterprise The Golden Company not stepped in and helped him rebuild his life two years ago.
He was one of the first young people recruited on the bee-keeping youth project, and it is moving to hear the gratitude he feels.
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“I’m glad I joined because it’s made me a whole completely different person,” he said.
“I wasn’t aware of what I was doing at the time and I’m not saying I was the worst.
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“But now that I look back on it and reflect it allows me to feel a sense of achievement that I actually turned my life around and people can look up to me and say, “He’s changed, he was going down the wrong path but now he’s doing a positive thing, he’s going to get far in life.””
The Golden Company is the brainchild of Zoe Palmer, who was impressed by the relaxed and calm attitude of beekeepers she met in Albania while filming for the nature channel National Geographic, and thought keeping bees would be a good way to engage young people.
The idea was to give them confidence, life skills and a connection with nature, which she hopes will empower them to set up their own projects and businesses in the future.
Ezekiel admits he wasn’t too keen on bee keeping to begin with.
“I was nervous of bees so I didn’t really want to get into it,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say I had a phobia, but it’s just like I was nervous in the sense that I didn’t want to get stung, and I thought their only intention was to sting you.”
But Ezekiel was impressed with the way The Golden Company mentors made him feel “safe and secure,” when he turned up for the first session.
“The advice and training they give you and the way they treat you as an individual made me want to stay,” he said.
“At the end of the day they don’t stereotype you for your past, they look at the potential within you, they give you opportunities and support you,” he explained.
Along with the other young recruits, Ezekiel has been trained in urban beekeeping, permaculture, carpentry, cosmetics-making, and life skills.
All these “Bee Guardians” earn an income for their share in the running of the business, and the project received the 2010 Youth Award for Innovation from the Royal Society of Arts.
It has come a long way in the last two years since they began with three teaching hives in St Mary’s Secret Garden, just behind the Geffrye Museum in Kingsland Road.
Borough Market now provides a market stall free of charge, where the recruits sell their own salt scrubs, lip balms, body creams and honey, and in return they man the market’s own merchandise stall.
Earlier this year Capital Bee - the London Mayor’s bee initiative - commissioned the Golden Company to deliver training for London based community groups.
And corporate partnerships have been set up with furniture retailer Warren Evans, investment bank Nomura, and law firm Reynolds Porter Chamberlain LLP.
Ezekiel now looks after bees on the roof garden, 11-storeys up on top of 11-storey Nomura’s rooftop garden alongside the Thames, and the investment bank has agreed to buy all the honey made on site to use at client breakfasts and morning meetings.
“If I looked at myself a couple of years ago, I never thought I’d do bee keeping in a big investment bank,” said Ezekiel.
His story would be moving to hear at any time - but riots in the borough earlier this month give it all the more resonance.
“The Golden Company gives you opportunities and that’s what the government needs to give to the youth, opportunities so they can feel like they are part of something rather than feeling excluded,” he said.
“In a way I felt excluded before, because in the society we live in there’s not anything to look up to, there’s a lot of negative stuff going on in the community,” he explained.
“But because we are individuals, the Golden Company let me think differently - even if there’s a lot of negative stuff going on around in the community you yourself have to think positive so you can move on in life.”
Ezekiel thinks that the project is not just beneficial for him but to inspire others to also work to change their lives.
“It doesn’t just help me - it helps me to help others to start thinking positive, because obviously they can see the change in my life, so it will encourage them and it can give them the focus they need to change their life.
“In that way I can say I’m a role model,” he said proudly.
Overcoming his fear of bees has meant Ezekiel has also established a connection with nature – something not many young inner city youth experience.
“Now when I see a bee I’m not scared of it, I won’t panic, I know that I can do more harm to the bee than it can do to me,” he said.
“The bees are calm, if you do annoy them or do something to provoke them they are like human beings, and obviously they are going to get angry.
“I’m more in touch with nature in the sense that I understand how the bees operate, and what sort of activities they do to process the honey and what not.
The most interesting fact he’s learned is how they actually make the honey.
“I thought before it just builds up, but now I’ve found out the facts it’s that they actually eat the pollen and regurgitate it - so in other words it means they just vomit it.
“To think of honey now as bee vomit you feel put off - but at the end of the day it still tastes so nice,” he said chuckling.
Ezekiel is also aware of the wider implications his work has for the global environment.
With 90 per cent of the world’s crop species depending on pollination, and declining bee populations, now is the perfect time to promote bee keeping.
“People might look down on bee keeping, but it’s actually helping the community because if we didn’t have the bees we wouldn’t have half the food we eat today or some of the clothes we wear today,” explained Ezekiel.
“They play a massive role in society but people just don’t understand that.
“Now I understand what the bees do I appreciate them for being there and doing what they have to do, because they help us.”
Hearing Ezekiel talk about how the Golden Company has changed his life is powerful stuff.
“Personally I know I’ve got a lot of potential within me but it’s up to me whether I want to bring it out and let people see that,” he said.
“I reckon now I have joined I have got a chance in life to become successful, I’m glad the company was there for me when I needed it.
“I’m going to stay positive and focused because there’s a lot of opportunities out there - but it’s only if you’re willing to go out there and get them, no one’s going to hand it to you, you have to go out and grab it, and that’s what I’ve done.”