Passionate About Inspiring Others
It’s fair to say that none of Darren Clark’s schoolteachers would have predicted that he would be a successful, award-winning entrepreneur and an international speaker who has inspired thousands of people across the globe with his tireless campaigning for dyslexic people everywhere.
Unable to complete his formal schooling due to his own undiagnosed dyslexia and ADHD, today Darren is widely respected and loved for his passionate advocacy for dyslexic people everywhere. From the USA to Kenya, from the UK to Australia, he has forged partnerships and connections that are making a real difference to adults and children with dyslexia by influencing teachers, students, and campaigners.
In person, he is friendly, charming and unassuming. He has an openness which draws out the best in people he speaks with. A thoroughly likeable and down to earth man, he and his partner Kelly Holbrook set up Spotless Cleaning in 2011, which became one of the biggest cleaning companies in the South West. They went on to set up several successful businesses to create the Spotless Group. More recently, Darren and Kelly created a group of companies under the banner Global Dyslexia Group, which included a digital marketing agency for the dyslexia sector, motivational speaking, and support for schools and parents in understanding dyslexia. They also provided corporate training for largecompanies focusing on how to support staff with dyslexia and other Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs). At the end of 2020, they made the decision to simplify their business model so that Darren could move forward under his own personal branding as an independent neurodiversity consultant, offering the full range of marketing, speaking, training and advocacy services previously offered under the Global Dyslexia Group banner.
In 2020, during the national lockdown, Darren and Kelly set up an online Global Dyslexia Group Inclusive Network to enable people living with SpLDs, and the campaigners and professionals who work with them, to network and communicate across the world. The GDN Network’s monthly meetings attract a succession of inspiring speakers and the network continues to grow and flourish.
It is only seven years since Darren was formally diagnosed with dyslexia, and only two years since he decided to do what he could to raise awareness and campaign for dyslexia. With characteristic energy, he contacted 76 organisations to offer his support, and discovered the International Dyslexia Association in the USA. He had just missed the deadline for their annual conference but he decided not only to attend the following year (2019) but to be a speaker – and he succeeded. As he says:“Everything we do allows us to grow in strength and gives us the confidence to do more.”In 2019, Darren was recognised as SWA Male Entrepreneur of the Year for his string of successful businesses. His activism for dyslexia was also recognised that year, when he was invited to become a global partner for the International Dyslexia Association, an Ambassador for the British Dyslexia Association, and a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group advising the UK government on issues associated with SpLDs. This is not only a man with a mission, he has a plan and apparently boundless energy to fulfil it! So it is worth looking back to see how Darren started out on his amazing journey.
Growing up in the 1990s, secondary school was a nightmare for him. The victim of bullies and an education system that branded him stupid and brutalised his sense of self-worth, one of the most astonishing things about Darren is that he isn’t bitter or angry. He just wants to make the world a better place for neurodiverse people – somewhere that values the neurological differences that give people unusual perspectives and the capacity to think outside the box. Darren was not diagnosed with dyslexia until he was 37, but even if he’d had the diagnosis it’s possible it wouldn’t have made much difference to the way the education system would have treated him in the 1990s. He spent most of his school days in “The Unit”, a tatty, uninsulated portacabin on the edge of the school grounds where the “problem” kids were sent - allegedly to receive additional support, but in practice to get them out of the way. He was not even entered for exams – he was given colouring books to pass the time while his friends and classmates sat their GCSEs.
Always a popular boy, Darren spent most of his weekends with his friends in the local arcade playing games such as Streetfighter at 20p a go. He’s described how he realised that to make his pocket money go further, he needed to become really good at the game, so that he could carry on playing for free. Then he had an excellent idea: if he bought his own arcade machine, he could charge his friends to play on it! So he set about doing everything he could to raise some money – mowing lawns, washing cars, running errands, doing paper rounds – and within a few months he was able to make some deals and buy a Streetfighter II machine. Looking back, it’s clear that this was an early indication of his entrepreneurial spirit. Buying the arcade game machine created his first passive income stream and consolidated his place at the centre of his social group. This was hugely important. He had been separated from his friends in school because he always did so badly in tests, and he was pretty much excluded from all lessons except for Art, Drama, and PE. As a result, he’d lost a lot of confidence: being labelled stupid, he found it terrifying to be asked to read or write something in class. So he used humour to navigate his way through school, and became good at evasive answers.
Despite his popularity, Darren was constantly struggling to manage everyday life. His undiagnosed dyslexia created problems for him not only with reading and writing, but also organisation and planning, while the dyslexia combined with the undiagnosed ADHD affected his focus and concentration. Yet he always managed to stay positive. As one might expect, Darren’s optimistic outlook is largely due to a supportive and very loving relationship with his parents. But that doesn’t give a complete picture. His home life was difficult, too: his father suffered so badly from depression that he had to give up work, and his mother also gave up work to care for him, so their circumstances were quite restricted. Worse, though, the estate they lived on was dominated by petty crime and serious bullying. The family was terrorised by break-ins and beatings, and vandals smashed their car with baseball bats. Darren was 12 years old when his dad had to give up his job. Until then, life had been pretty good (except for time in secondary school) but it became very dark and stressful and difficult through those early teen years. By the age of 17, he developed shingles from stress and anxiety, and he can now recognise that his own mental health was suffering too. He knew that he had to get his first job, but he had no qualifications and didn’t know where to start looking. Undeterred, he cycled for miles on his BMX getting application forms and got his mum to fill in the forms for him. He had dozens of rejections. But he is a great believer in goal-setting: starting with very small plans, and building from there, and he finally got a job as a trolley collector at Sainsbury’s.This was the break he needed. Darren decided he would work his way up to a job on the tills, where at least he would be indoors. So he took on any overtime that was going and worked his socks off to impress his supervisors. His numeracy is fine, so once he had achieved his job as a cashier, he worked really hard and became a supervisor himself. He applied for anything that came up, doing odd jobs, volunteering for extra shifts, all to make himself indispensable.
Through sheer hard work and determination he gained a promotion, then another and another, then applied to Somerfield as a Produce Manager. Once he had “manager” on his CV it opened doors and he had several similar jobs, rising through the ranks all the time. He was great at creating opportunities using his communication and people skills. But hiding his difficulties (with his dyslexia still not diagnosed) was creating huge pressures for him and damaging his mental health. He always felt he was taking on roles he couldn’t do, and suffering from a severe ongoing case of imposter syndrome. Life was getting much better but it was exhausting and stressful all the time. He thought his difficulty with reading - the words moving around on the page - was due to stress. He always felt vulnerable but was somehow able to repeatedly push himself out of his comfort zone. He kept moving up the corporate ladder until he was appointed as a regional manager for Tesco.He might have been expected to stay in the relatively safe environment of such a large and successful company, but Darren knew he had more to offer. So he took an extraordinary leap of faith and gave in his notice, to start up his own business, Spotless Cleaning, with Kelly Holbrook. At first they were doing the cleaning round themselves, having taught themselves how to get the best results and make their customers happy. In setting up Spotless Cleaning, they learned so much about marketing that they decided to set up a marketing company. Their success has grown from there. Since then, Darren and Kelly have created jobs for more than 400 people and established a substantial portfolio of successful businesses.
Darren’s generous nature drives him forward with a tremendous positive energy which makes him want to give back rather than to put others down or prove them wrong. You might expect him to be bitter about his school experiences, but nothing could be farther from the truth: he only wanted to make things better for today’s children who might be struggling with dyslexia or another SpLD. He approached his old school and asked if he could share his story, wanting to inspire children with challenges like the ones he’d faced and let them know that they truly could do anything they want to do. Since that first talk at his old school, Darren’s success as an inspirational speaker has generated invitations to speak at hundreds of venues all over the UK. As well as his partnerships with the International Dyslexia Association and the British Dyslexia Association, he’s partnered with the Able Foundation in Malawi, and he is an International Ambassador for the Dyslexia Organisation in Kenya, based at the Rare Gem Talent School. A tireless campaigner on behalf of children and adults with dyslexia, he works with schools to help them become more inclusive, and he and Kelly provide corporate training to large companies to raise awareness of dyslexia in the workplace. Their workshops raise awareness in the corporate world that relatively small adjustments can contribute to making life easier not only for dyslexic staff, but also for dyslexic customers. Given that an estimated 10-15% of people have dyslexia, this is good for business in many ways. Inclusive practice supports customer loyalty and good staff retention, and helps companies to value the innovative ways that dyslexic thinking can often solve problems by thinking outside the box. As Darren tells his audiences, the key to success is to tap into their own strengths and skills and be unafraid to think differently. If the last seven years are anything to go by, Darren Clark is only just getting started.
Credit to :
Gillian Austen @ Red Pen Editorial
Ambassador For Bali Dyslexia Foundation
Global Partner For International Dyslexia Association
Appointed To The Board Of Directors For Dyslexia Organisation, Kenya
Ambassador For British Dyslexia Association
Ambassador For Orcam