Ballymena man forges ahead after stroke

Dessie Blackadder


Dessie Blackadder

A Ballymena man has fought back from a traumatic brain injury to launch his own blacksmith business, thanks to help from the Go For It Programme in association with Mid & East Antrim Borough Council.

James McCullough from Ballymena launched Patterson’s Forge Hammer & Tongs in February 2019 at the National Trust’s Patterson’s Spade Mill in Templepatrick after learning the art of blacksmithing as part of his recovery from a life changing brain injury.

Speaking about his journey, James said: “I was an HGV driver for 22 years, but sustained a serious brain injury at work in 2005. I was lucky to be alive, but it left me house bound for over two years, with no job and no income, recuperating and rehabilitating from the impact of my injury.

“It was a long road to recovery that included spending extensive periods of time with the Community Brain Injury Team at the Northern Health and Social Care Trust. I also had to relearn how to read and write and the Cedar Foundation’s brain injury service was a great in helping me achieve basic essential skills qualifications to help me get back into work."

James’ introduction to the National Trust’s Patterson’s Spade Mill was on one of his work placement opportunities with the Cedar Foundation. He worked as a volunteer doing grounds maintenance, before being offered a part time paid role as a tour guide on the historic site.

“It was amazing to work at the last working water-driven spade mill in the United Kingdom. I was fascinated by the history and heritage associated with the Spade Mill and wanted to learn everything there was to know about the traditional techniques of forging steel into spades.

“The National Trust must have spotted my enthusiasm and offered me an apprenticeship in blacksmithing and spade making and this was when my love and passion for the art of blacksmithing really took off.”

James launched Patterson’s Forge Hammer & Tongs in February 2019 after spotting a gap in the market for delivering workshops and classes teaching people interested in the art of blacksmithing the basics of this ancient craft.

He turned to the Go For It Programme to seek expert advice and help with developing a robust business plan to help turn her idea into a business.

The Go For It Programme is delivered free of charge by a team of experienced business mentors through Northern Ireland’s wide network of enterprise agencies. It provides expert advice and help with developing a robust business plan to help turn ideas into a commercial enterprise.

James said: “After completing my apprenticeship with the National Trust, I spent a number of years travelling around Northern Ireland teaching people the basics principles of blacksmithing. I was really surprised that there are so many people interested in learning the art of blacksmithing and that’s when I had the idea for the business.

“However, I had no idea where to start and that’s when I got in touch with the Go For It Programme. My business advisor at Ballymena Business Centre was a tremendous help, providing me with all the advice and guidance required to get my business up and running.”

Melanie Christie Boyle, Chief Executive of Ballymena Business Centre, on behalf of Mid and East Antrim and Borough Council, said: “We are delighted that James is now up and running, and absolutely thriving. It is a must-try for anyone interested in trying blacksmithing as a hobby or future career.”

If you have a business idea you’d like to develop or if you are thinking about starting a business call 0800 027 0639 or visit: visit

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