Hello! My name is Paul Harris and I'm the Chairman of the charity Computers For The Disabled. This is my honest, short biography and I hope you enjoy it.
I was born in the Commercial Road, Stepney, East London in 1950 and we moved a few miles to Forest Gate E.7 when I was young. I was brought up in a very poor deprived background and Mum and Dad had nothing, just like most of the East End people back in the early 50s, well it was a just few years after the war. I went to Monega Road Infants School then to Forest Gate Whitehall school from 1961 to 1965 when you could get me there and when I was there I was a real pain in the arse to the teachers. I was a right tearaway in those school days and in my teens I was a "didn't care, couldn't care less" lad and never wanted what most kids wanted and that was to be a film star or pop star or a footballer, no not me, I wanted to be a bloody gangster. What a pathetic sad lad I must have been to think this way. Mum & Dad divorced in my early teens and Mum kicked me out at 15 as she couldn't cope with me with the police always on my tail, which I now make her 100% right to kick me out, as I was a right little bastard...
I learnt quickly how to survive the streets and got involved in all sorts of major crime, never petty crimes and I made many friends that were well known villains as this was the only way I could survive as I did not want to go to work or adapt to the correct way of life. Life then was easy for me then as I could drive like a demon but was as calm as a lamb at the wheel, so I was wanted on many capers as a driver as there was no security like there is now and Securicor and armed trucks did not exist. Banks building societies were easy targets in those days and get rich quick was the life I was in. I had more money than I knew what to do with but without a brain I just spent it as I got it. I was younger than the men I worked with and learnt so much about being a villain.
In my younger days I got up to many things I now truly regret and I am ashamed of as I have got older and sensible. When I look back now at my life now I see a complete waste of my younger years. When I was a teenager in the 60s and well into the early 70s, living around Forest Gate, Stratford & Canning Town, you had to be strong and tough to survive and I got easily involved in different crimes and with many well known east end villains who I ended up being associated with as great friends. Yes I had some straight mates but they were more acquaintances more than friends.
Life was great for me in those days having so much money to burn in the 60's with flash Jaguar cars at just 17 years old and bespoke 3 piece suits, shoes, shirts from the west end and going to the Ilford Palais and the room at the top club, Billy walkers Uppercut club, and the Lotus club in Forest Gate and having more money than I could spend. All this at 17 years old, drinking in private clubs to the early hours, playing cards in clubs, in betting shops all afternoon yes life was a dream in those days or so I thought then, but how wrong I was as I can look back now and I can see how I wasted so many years and I was an absolute disgrace and disappointment to my Mum and Dad. Yes you might say what a horrible man I was and you would be 100% correct. Well I got heavily punished by the courts and quite rightly so, but I wont go into this too deeply but I didn't see much life in the 70's.
When I met my wife Karen in the very early 80's I stopped what I called my glamorous lifestyle. I still kept my friends but the villainous life was over for me for ever, enough was enough, it was time to turn it all in and settle down and be a decent man. I married in August 1982 in Stratford registry office and had no party as I did not want to have all my villainous friends around me and my new wife, I wanted to start a new life away from my past, we just went off on the continent for a long honeymoon.
But life had a terrible surprise in store for me.
In 1990 when I was just 40 years old I suffered a stroke that left me with hardly any use of my left hand and leg and my speech was impaired. I needed a long stay in Orsett Stroke Unit in Essex and I was in a wheelchair for a long while and was unable to enjoy life as it was with my family. I had three beautiful small children at that time, 6 years, 4 years and a baby of only 9 Months old.
I thought my life was over. We moved house and area because our house was not manageable in Abbey Lane, Stratford E.15 and of course by then the east end was finished as a real community. We finally moved to a village called Noak Bridge in Essex which is on the border of Billericay. I spent a long while making a recovery and have now recovered about 85%. When I first suffered my Stroke my moods were moods of anger, my temper was of frustration, my marriage was in a disaster zone and my thoughts of suicide were very high and very real. All I kept saying was "Why Me", was this a punishment for my younger life style? Was this the end of Paul Harris?
After months of depression anxiety and thoughts of suicide I contacted D.I.A.L, a disabled UK help group who help and advise the disabled and they convinced me to find something to occupy my days. It was suggested that I try my hand at computers. I laughed under my breath at the thought. After some months of persuading, D.I.A.L got me a place at a learning centre and I took up the challenge. Since the day I first enrolled in the Centre my life changed. I found an outlet for my aggression and depression and I started to enjoy what I was doing. I couldn't believe that from an active streetwise villainous rogue, I was learning computers and meeting lovely people in the same disabled position as I was in. After some time I built some small low spec PC's for disabled friends I had met. I then built for local disabled groups free from any profit. Was this really me I thought? Was I doing something nice for once in my life?
I went on to further courses to get more knowledge, passing different exams and gaining huge amounts of PC know how. As time went by I contacted the Voluntary services sector and they suggested I should apply for Charity Status as they felt I was doing a wonderful job and offering a wonderful service. I never once hid anything about my early days as I needed people to like me as I was now. Jill Martin and Chris Watson of the CVS and myself had a meeting to get thing started. Mr Peter Woods a retired Bank Manager offered to do the accounts and books. We had many people wanting to enjoy the challenge and to help us get started. We filled in the Charity paper work for Charity Status and we were told it would be around 5/6 Months before we got a reply. In only 6 weeks we had the good news and became a Government Registered Charity. My friends and the many people who knew me shook my hand and congratulated me as I had completely changed my life and dramatically turned my lifestyle around. My friends treat me now with a lot more respect than they did before when we were all together back in the East End of London. It's a different type of respect now, and I love it! They are not saying well done Paul out of pity because of my stroke, they are saying well done as I have turned my life around in doing 'good' for unfortunate people. I often bump into old pals that I haven't seen for years and they wish me luck and say things like "We cant believe you are doing this for people, that's wonderful Paul".
In 2004 I was rushed into Basildon hospital Essex as my intestines pushed through my stomach wall. I was then transferred to Homerton Hospital in Hackney where I underwent major stomach surgery. When I got home I had district nurses in daily to attend to my massive stomach wounds that for some unknown reason were not healing up. After many swab and blood tests I was diagnosed with the wonderful disease known as MRSA. For 10 Months I suffered my wounds not healing, having a drain bottle inserted through my stomach draining of the disease. I had to sleep eat and live with this bottle strapped to my body for 10 Months having district nurses in twice a day. This disease wasn't going to finish me. After 10 months the MRSA subsided and the stomach tube and draining bottle taken out and I was free of this terrible disease. I now in July 2009 have been diagnosed with a non curable muscle and nerve wasting disease called peripheral neuropathy and this is not going to beat me either. I am going to fight any illness that is thrown at me cos I have my wife, grown up children, grandchildren and there are many disabled kids around the country that need my help and all this keeps me very strong and keeps me going. No I am not going to be beaten by illness.
It's a truly fantastic feeling being the Chairman of a Charity. I have a great team around me helping people across the UK. We all pull together to help keep our fantastic organisation running smoothly. I have met some fantastic people in the last 14 years from film and TV soap stars from people from the sporting world but the most fantastic and brave people I meet are the disabled people themselves especially kids and its these great people I respect the most and I give to them well over 90 hours of my time every week and I love it. I can't explain in words the pleasure it gives me.
My wife Karen is the "fetch and carry lady" she is the backbone of our Charity. She does normal woman's duties like washing, ironing cleaning, cooking and caring and a million other jobs but she still finds many hours a week for our Charity. My wife also finds 3 evenings a week as she is the secretary of Berry Boys amateur boxing club as this we hope will keep many boys from roaming the streets and it might just stop most of the boys turning out like I was. Well my 2 boys went there and my oldest is a high standard amateur boxer who hopes to turn pro 2010. It's worked for my boys. My wife works harder than I and when I'm struggling to find funds. We do PCs together for free to all disabled people and into the late nights sometimes until 2 in the morning and this gives us both great pleasure in making other disabled people happy. We work from our hearts, not for our pockets. If you wish to talk to me to find out more, or you have any questions, give myself or my wife a call, we will be happy to answer any queries. If you would like to write to me or email me the address to write to is on the website...
It's now for me a completely different way of life to the life I lead back in my early years in the 60's and 70's. I really thought being a villain was a fantastic way of life, but helping disabled people is far more rewarding and I can now finally sleep at night knowing what a fabulous job I am doing and I am now so proud of myself for turning my life around and other peoples lives around!