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Everyone has a story. Chiropodist Joan Williams began her career looking at teeth but yearning for the bright lights of the stage. But for the past five years this funny, caring woman has switched her attention to full time foot care. Interview by Nicola Baird. Photos by Kimi Gill
Joan Williams is in her chiropody room at Age UK Islingtonās Drovers centre, sitting at the foot of the big chair used by her patients. Islington Faces is lucky to meet her during a short gap between appointments. Although home is south of the river, she knows Islington ā and Islingtoniansā feet – well.Ā Right now, she works at three different Islington locations ā Dermacia Pharmacy on the corner of Upper Street and Canonbury Lane and offers discounted chiropody services at two clinics for more elderly patients at St Lukeās Community Centre, close to Old Street, and at Age UK Islingtonās activity centre, Drovers.
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Joan grew up in Jamaica where she started work as a dental nurse, but yearned to be an actor. While she was doing a part-time acting course she landed the lead role in the show Hurricane Baby, written by Hall Anthony Ellis, that was touring London in 1989. Ā āThe show was at St Matthews in Brixton. I was amazed to see a theatre inside a church, and having to change in the crypt,ā says Joan laughing at the memory. That trip gave her time to discover that there was plenty of dental nurse work around in London ā she was even offered a job while rehearsing.
In 1991 she came back to the UK,to star in another touring Jamaican play, Mamma-Man, by theatre writer Paul Beale. The shows took theatres at Catford Broadway Theatre, Hackney (the Hackney Empire), Birmingham (Alexandra Theatre) and Manchester.
That second taste of British life convinced Joan to move to London. āIn 1995 I started working at a private dental practice at Kingsway,ā she says explaining that it was a posh practice. āIād heard about Juanita (Harriett) when I was there, anotherdental nurse who had worked at the practice but I didnāt think anything of it- until she walked in for an appointment. Of all the people in the world it was the girl I first worked with at the Crossroad Dental Centre in Jamaica. The staff at the Crossroad Dental Centre were known by their surnames. In London the staff all called her by her first name which was Juanita ā it was such a surreal moment. We were so happy to see each other, but it did teach a life lesson, you have to be honest because if you donāt it will catch up with you,ā says Joan with a laugh.
Joan first began working as a dental nurse in 1977, but 17 years ago she decided to retrain as a chiropodist, qualifying at the SMEA Institute in Maidenhead and then eventually in 2013 making the switch to full time chiropody. āItās been foot and mouth for me all my life,ā she says, āI always tell the patients that and it makes them laugh.ā Since that career change Joanās not only run her own clinics but encouraged four other dental nurses to make the switch to foot health because, āyouāre always āthe girlā as a dental nurse, youāll never grow up.ā https://www.smaeinstitute.co.uk
Once qualified as a Chiropodist (in the US they called Doctor of podiatry), Joan began working in Angel. āI went as a temp to Scholls (the Scholl Centre, 40 Upper Street) and then stayed for some years until the lease was up. A patient told me about a pharmacy, Dermacia on Upper Street that had rooms downstairs – I knew about it for two years and didnāt go. Then I opened a clinic with an ex colleague at Scholls, Ahmed Abudul on Bromley Road. That clinic didnāt work out so I went to the pharmacist at Dermacia, Mr Fung and he said āyes, use the roomā, and now heās gone and Iām still there! When Ahmed went to work in Abu Dhabi he asked me to take over his clinics for elderly people at Drovers on North Road and St Lukeās near Old Street which I enjoy.ā
Places Joan Williams likes in Islington
- āI love getting of the tube at Highbury & Islington and walking through the gardens by Union Chapel parallel to Upper Street. Itās so relaxing and my main walk. But twice Iāve walked the whole way up and found the gate shut, which is stressful as then Iām late for work.ā
- āI always take my lunch to work as I like my homecooked food but Iāll have a nice coffee and cake. I like buying rye bread at Euphorium, 202 Upper Street, across the road from Dermacia Ā pharmacy.
- āThe best fish and chips Iāve eaten at a pub were at the Hope and Anchor, 207 Upper Street. They have really beautiful chips.ā
- āIslington is quite a relaxing place overall and I like the houses. Many of my clients were strong campaigners who moved to Barnsbury and helped stop the council from demolishing the Georgian and Victorian houses back in the 1970s. One of my patients told me that heād tried to get his boss to buy a house on sale for Ā£1,200 in the 1940s. When he saw it, the boss thought that was a waste of money, so didnāt buy it. Now its value is Ā£7million.ā
No foot no horse is a well-known equestrian saying. But for Joan, whose working life has been dominated by teeth and feet, itās clear that good care of these two vital parts of your body helps wellbeing. Her advice for a good life doesnāt just involve flossing or foot massages though.
āThe key to long-living is being friendly and talking to anybody! Thatās how I live,ā says Joan explaining how often people help her out ā the dog walker who minded her bag while she ran back to pick up an item sheād left at home or the cycle shop owner who took in her dressthe day the dry cleaner opened late, andbooked it in for a cleanā¦ āI feel wherever you live it should be your community, and you should give back.ā
Itās clear this is a life-lesson she learnt from her generous mum who still helps the neighbourhood with small gifts of cash so nearby families can pay to send their children to school by bus, or basic shopping supplies such as vegetable oil, sugar, salt and even combs.
āEven though I donāt live in Jamaica I still give back,ā says Joan talking about the Ackee Tree Group (named after Jamaicaās national fruit, most famous when paired with salt fish) are friends who live abroad but still give money to community projects where they grew up.
Here in London she is also a big supporter of homeless people. She has volunteered with Islingtonās Shelter from the Storm and also for Crisis at Christmas ā the period over Christmas and New Year when rough sleepers are invited in for food, a dry place to sleep and pampering.
āCrisis at Christmas is about eight days,ā she says. āI was there on the last day to help with foot care when a homeless man, whoād already had his feet washed and was waiting to see me, said, āthis is my favourite part, someone doing my feet. There are so many unpredictable things about being homeless. You donāt know when youāll get your next meal, your next shower, find the next toilet or talk to someone, and most of all you donāt know when someone is going to touch you kindly. I actually cried,ā remembers Joan who is hoping to volunteer this year too (2018). āI celebrate Christmas as a giving period of time,ā which is why her son, now 26 is used to going to his cousins on Christmas Day while mum is out helping people.
āMy friends say I should write a book,ā says Joan reflecting on the good decision making ā and luck. āPeople tell me things when they visit for their feet. Some people live in London but never visit the different parts of it. For example, Iāve had patients who live in Islington and have never been to Brixton, or Old Streetā¦ and to think I came from a small town in Jamaica and my work takes me all over London.ā
If you want to get your feet seen by Joan Williams of BlueGreen WellBeing, email firstname.lastname@example.org make initial contact/book. Clinics are held at:
- Dermacia, 260 Upper Street, N1 on Sundays https://www.dermaciapharmacy.co.uk
- Age UK Islington’s Drovers, North Road, N7 9EY on Mondays (for 55+) 10am-4pm. Book an appointment via 0207 281 6018.Ā
- St Lukeās Community Centre on Wednesdays (for 55+). Book an appointment at St Lukeās reception on 020 7549 8181Ā
- Home visits can also be arranged.
Over to you
If youād like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird dot green at gmail dot com. If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at theĀ A-Z Ā index, orĀ search by intervieweeās roles orĀ Meet IslingtoniansĀ to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola