Downend’s Karl pushes for equality and prosperity

May 05 2014

DOWNEND has certainly been put on the sporting map through the prowess of Olympic medalist Jenny Jones.

karl brown

DOWNEND has certainly been put on the sporting map through the prowess of Olympic medalist Jenny Jones.

But now another of our area’s young talent is pushing through to ensure Downend doesn’t get left behind when it comes to encouraging youngsters to reach for the top in business.

Solicitor Karl Brown, who grew up in Downend, has just been appointed to the prestigious role of president of the Bristol Junior Chamber which promotes trade, commerce and industry in the city.

The organisation represents the under 40s business owners and professionals, developing leadership skills and working with major stakeholders in the city such as the council, police and groups like Business West.

Karl, 38, is keen his work should not only focus on central Bristol but its outskirts, giving opportunities to people in areas like Downend.

His current success is the result of many years of hard work, starting as a student at Downend School, where he stayed on to take A levels. 

“I was fortunate the school was able to arrange a work placement at a law firm in the city centre and doing that placement really confirmed to me that I would like to try to be a solicitor,” Karl said.

The University of Hertfordshire beckoned and Karl successfully completed a law degree, bagging a 2:1.

A legal practice course at UWE followed but Karl then found it difficult to secure a legal training contract so undertook paralegal work in London.

“Finally, through perseverance, and one hundred applications later, I got my training contract with a firm in Somerset,” he said.

Four years later, in 2005, Karl returned to Bristol to work for his current employer, Clarke Willmott, where he is an associate working in the commercial property team, helping buy and sell development land. His ambition is to work his way up to become a partner in the firm.

It was a client, the then president of the Bristol Junior Chamber, who told Karl about the chamber’s work.

Curious, and keen to find out more, Karl went along to a meeting and in no time he found himself chair of education and skills.

“The client knew I was passionate about education and giving back to young people in Bristol and he suggested that I step forward for the post.

“The chamber tries to give back to Bristol by running a mock interview scheme in local schools. We also speak with 16 to 18-year-olds, giving them CV and interview tips.”

After spending four years in the role Karl was elected as vice president of the chamber and became president in April.

“I want to prepare BJC members to be leaders of 21st century Bristol. I also want to explore the concept of innovation in Bristol, what I call ‘Brand Bristol’. Part of our ethos is to help sell Bristol but I believe in order to achieve this effectively we have to have a proper understanding of what are Bristol’s unique selling points if we are to compete nationally and internationally.”

Karl’s parents, Baldwin and Connie, still live in Downend and Karl is proud of them and the area he grew up in with his two sisters.

Baldwin and Connie came to England from Jamaica in the 1970s and worked hard to make a good life for their young family.

“My dad was a plasterer and my mum was a sister and then a ward manager at a local hospital,” Karl said.

“Through their hard work and values they instilled in me, they showed me you can start from a modest background and work your way up to the top.”

It is precisely this background which makes Karl passionate about social mobility.

“I see it as an economic imperative, not just a moral imperative,” Karl said.

“If we’re going to compete on an economic basis with other cities and countries then we’ve got to make the most of our talents. We can’t rely on a narrow group of people and not use the talents, skills and ideas of the majority.

“Through going into local schools and speaking to youngsters who aren’t from privileged backgrounds with access to the professions - young people who were in the same position as me when I was at school - I see that some can lack aspiration and don’t believe that they can actually make it as a solicitor, accountant or politician. I want to show them that if someone like me can do it, they can also do it.”

And how much did Karl’s upbringing in the area have to play in his determination to make a success of his time as president?

“I’m very proud of my roots in Downend,” Karl said.

“I had an excellent childhood growing up there and a great home and family life. This is one of the reasons that with my work at the Bristol Junior Chamber I’ve gone back to Downend School to show current students that if I can make it to where I am then there’s no reason why they can’t too. This is also why I’m keen the junior chamber doesn’t just represent young business people from central Bristol areas like Clifton and Bishopston but also areas like Downend.”