jana dowling | the 888 collective

The 888 Collective is a social enterprise that supports people with mental health issues on their journey back into the workplace through a range of courses and events, and was set up by founder Jana Dowling after her own experiences with mental health issues and work. We caught up with her to see what’s next for The 888 Collective…

Where do you live in London and what do you like about the area?

I live in Canonbury quite close to Newington Green. I love it there. It feels like a hidden little hub, not quite North not quite East. It still has a community buzz, we’ve an amazing fresh fruit and veg shop that people come from all over to shop in (109 Newington Green Rd) and even though it’s super busy they’ve kept the prices normal. I’m also a massive fan of Clissold Park, usually when I have to write or need space to think to pull ideas together I take myself off there, have a wander about and pop myself on the green hill in front of the skate park. I usually end up watching the skaters doing their tricks and wishing that I was that cool rather than getting any work done but it’s peaceful. My local The Cellars is run by two awesome guys and they serve incredible cocktails, which are always a little dangerous on an evening. There’s also a lot of lesbians in the area and as I’m one, I like that.

What inspired you to set up The 888 Collective?

Through my own personal experience. A year and a half ago I started to feel really down and I couldn’t shake it so I took myself off to the doctor. I was prescribed antidepressants and started taking them. The side effects hit me really hard, apart from the inability to focus, read anything or finish sentences, I was lucky enough to experience needing to yawn every two minutes. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been sat on the tube in rush hour and looked across to find someone trying to keep a yawn in? It’s not pretty, I was pulling that face every two minutes all day and it was pretty tricky to hide. I couldn’t deal with it or get my job done, so i just stopped taking them. Shortly after that I suffered a severe depressive episode where for five weeks I was under 24 hour watch as a high risk suicide patient. I took on my recovery like a job, tracking everything, and after a few months I knew I needed to step back into work. I was paralysed again, I didn’t know what I could do, who would hire me, i was worried about getting ill again.

This was when my great friend Kirsty Hulse swooped in and created a job for me as her P.A at ManyMinds Digital, her SEO Agency. For the first six weeks I was the worst P.A in the world, I didn’t book a meeting into her calendar properly. But she shrugged off my mistakes as if they were nothing, kept telling me to try again, treated me as an equal and as someone who was capable. Her belief in me rubbed off and before I knew it I was producing and directing online videos for her clients. Getting back to work was a vital part of my recovery and I know how lucky I am to have the support and help I did in place. I want to make sure as many other people who are in the same situation have the same opportunities I had, so I set up The 888 Collective to do exactly that.

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Tell us about the workshops you run at WeWork which help people with mental health issues get back into work.

We run self development and mental health management courses for those with mental health issues looking to get into the work environment, and also for those who are in work looking to better manage their mental health. It’s great being able to delive these courses in WeWork, it’s not only a friendly and creative space, it’s bustling, busy and filled with exciting new companies. For those who are looking to get back to work they get to experience what it’s like to be in the work place while on our courses, which really helps alleviate anxiety and concerns about what to expect when they get back to work. We also run 88L8’s evens where we take over a bakery in Dalston and give shifts to those who have been on our course. It’s awesome fun, great food and most of the time it’s the staff’s first shift back in work.

You’ve had a stint as a stand-up comedian as well as experience working in live TV, do you think you would go back to either?

I’ll definitely go back to stand-up as soon as I get time to write. I absolutely loved it. I took my last set up to Edinburgh and had an awesome time. There’s nothing quite like being able to make people laugh. My last set was all about the mistakes I’ve made in my life. Being married, divorced and then coming out all by the wonderful age of 30 left me with one option, to laugh at myself, and sharing it with others feels natural to me. Now a year and a half on from a severe depressive episode, I’m on the edge of launching a national company, and I know there is at least another 20 minutes of ridiculous mistakes to share.

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Describe your perfect day in London.

So my perfect day in London would be waking up early (and by early I mean before 12pm) on Sunday and heading to Columbia Road Flower Market with my girlfriend – before you sick up in your mouth a little, it’s not for the horrendous experience of pushing through the manic market to by a bunch of reasonably priced flowers for her. It’s something far better. There’s a hidden place on Ezra Street tucked at the back of a car park (it’s not the place on the street, you have to go into this little market past the first few stalls, it’s right at the back) that serves the best breakfast baps I’ve ever eaten, it’s cash only and they’re cheap. There’s no proper seating unless you count the kerb on the street, which we do. Perching there shoving massive breakfast baps into our faces, trying not to get ketchup everywhere (which is impossible), is my favourite thing to do in London. After that, heading home or to the park and reading and/or writing as I don’t get much time to do that in the week and I love a good book. I’m reading Option B by Sheryl Sandberg at the moment – I have a massive girl crush on her. Then it’s ordering Deliveroo to bring us Pad See Ew (or flat noodles) from Rosa’s Thai Cafe, turning my phone off, climbing into bed and putting a movie/series on.