He will probably hate me for saying this, but in many ways Tim Coles is the epitome of David Cameron’s vague notion of a Big Society, writes Chris Owen
At just 22 he’s crammed more community work into his young life than those three times older will ever achieve.
Mature beyond his years, he freely admits he’s not motivated by money but just wants to be a ‘useful member of society’.
He says: ‘I’m not one for sitting around doing nothing. If I have spare time, I want to be putting something back.’
He is an inspirational young man, not your average 22-year-old.
While we talk in the converted attic of his home in Victoria Road South, Southsea, we are disconcertedly joined by Bob – a dummy which takes a daily beating from Tim as he practices his martial arts.
‘I did judo when I was a kid and then moved on to kung fu. I suppose I just wanted to be a ninja,’ he laughs.
We’re also surrounded by skipping ropes, weights, kick and boxing pads and a workout bench.
Tim is a fitness fanatic who has just set himself up in business as a personal trainer.
You might find him putting his clients through their paces on Southsea Common or Castle Field. Never in a gym.
But the idea only came to him after bitter disappointment when his dream of becoming a regular police officer in Portsmouth was shattered because of the spending cuts and the freeze on recruitment.
However, he only decided on a career in the force after doing various jobs in the community.
Tim moved to Portsmouth from Petersfield when he was 12, but continued his schooling at The Petersfield School. When he left at 16 he went to Havant College for A-levels in politics, law, English language and psychology.
‘I found that academic study was not for me and unnecessary for my dream of joining Hampshire police at 18, so I left college after my first year.
‘You can’t apply for the police until you are eighteen-and-a-half so I had all this time on my hands.
‘I’d always worked when I was at school. I delivered The News for two years until I was 16, then got a job in the fruit and veg department at Waitrose in Southsea to support me through college.’
So, at the age of 17, Tim became a volunteer carer looking after Anthony, a six-year-old autistic boy in Southsea.
He adds: ‘I thought I can’t sit around doing nothing for the next year and I wanted to integrate myself in the community more and expose myself to different lifestyles.
‘I love sport and working with children who are really energetic appealed and I thought it would be fun.
‘I used to do two or three hours a week and I learned that to get into their world you have to get down to their level and try to see things the way an autistic child does.
‘Anthony loved wrestling and would climb over me constantly. It wasn’t challenging at all because I was still a big kid then.’
By now he was working at Waitrose, devoting time to Anthony, and then found the time to do more voluntary work at Southsea’s Barnardo’s store.
‘They don’t get many young people volunteering, let alone young men. I did a lot of the lifting and sorting through all the donations.’
So, with three jobs on the go he was eventually old enough to apply to Hampshire Police. They turned him down because of his age but offered him the chance of becoming a special constable in Southsea.
‘I went on weekend training courses at Netley and was the youngest in my group, but most of the training was on the job, based at Southsea police station.
‘It was a hugely exciting and scary experience stepping into this completely new world. I was exposed to a side of Portsmouth I’d not seen before, but the guys I worked with were great and I really felt part of the team.
‘I was only 19 and going into a house where there had been a domestic incident and dealing with people who were twice my age was very daunting at first.
‘But it gave me confidence. Ninety per cent of that job is to look like you know what you’re doing, while 10 per cent knows what you’re doing.’
But in 2010 in became clear that with massive cuts in the police budget he would never become a regular, so he asked Waitrose, where he had still been working part-time, for a full-time job.
He got one, switched from fruit and veg to a team leader in customer services and found his niche – dealing with people. customers and staff, dealing with their problems and particularly helping train his colleagues.
‘I loved it, but it was obvious I wasn’t going to get that far in retail management because I have no interest in money or sales,’ he says.
So that’s when he considered becoming a personal trainer. ‘It combines my interest in fitness and health with running my own business.’
He completed a course last year and now you’ll find him most weekdays on the common or Castle Field exhausting his clients – and at Waitrose at weekends.