Keith Grinsted talks to workingwise.co.uk about how he has adapted to huge changes in his life, from redundancies to divorce, and about the organisation he founded to help people who are lonely.
At just 68, Sudbury-based Keith Grinsted has been made redundant seven times. In between that he has had three divorces and two major health scares. Each time he has had to build himself back up again until, in 2016, everything hit him at once. Feeling like there was no point to do anything any more, he picked himself off the floor and launched Goodbye Lonely – an organisation to help others struggling with isolation.
Keith’s story really is testament to the fact that, when you hit rock bottom, there’s only one way up.
“At the moment I work in John Lewis department stores, mainly in Chelmsford, but I travel a bit too. I’d rather be busy and all of it sort of helps to pay for the work I’m doing with my Goodbye Lonely scheme.”
He launched the venture in December last year after lockdown left him battling loneliness.
“I live on my own and have been married three times. I split up with my wife just under five years ago. I was living on my own in a first floor flat during lockdown and it was a really scary time,” he admits. “I had Covid back in February and was really, really ill. It was before Covid became a thing. And because I’m type two diabetic, I was worried. Nobody was wearing masks, and I started having panic attacks. I would go shopping in my local Sainsbury’s and I’d hold my breath every time somebody got near me. I ended up so stressed I was having panic attacks.”
Keith says he stopped shopping, only going out every 12 days. In between he spent time alone, sitting alone in his flat.
“It was mentally draining because I wasn’t getting out or interacting with anyone. I wouldn’t even go out for exercise,” he says. “I would sit in my bedroom window looking out, chatting to people walking by.”
At the same time the company he was working for asked him to do some Wellbeing Wednesday work for its Facebook site. “I started doing lots of other things on the back of this, including setting up a whole thing around loneliness. I’m now planning to build an app and I’ve created a website and am planning a programme for December,” he says.
In 2016, Keith came close to suicide. “I was diagnosed with bad type two diabetes and had a cancer scare. I split with my wife of 20 years. That year I found myself in my sixties living in a flat on my own, sleeping on the floor because I didn’t have any furniture,” he says. “I’ve been made redundant seven times and with that comes being bankrupt.”
But he adds with a smile: “Despite all the rubbish, I have two wonderful daughters.”
Keith was also running an olderpreneur programme which fell by the wayside despite him getting publicity and funding for it. It aimed to help older people set up in business and find a new focus, a new sense of direction, or establish a new business, but it was hard to get people to engage.
Throughout his life, Keith says he has had to adapt to a lot. “I’ve been everything from a milkman to taxi driver to working in a software company.”
The last few years are a case in point. Eight years ago he was made redundant from a job where he was running departmental stores. While preparing to give a presentation he was called in and asked to leave.
“I was told I didn’t have a job anymore. I was asked to leave the meeting there and then so didn’t disrupt anyone. It was truly terrible. I was devastated. I’d just turned 60, and so it hit me harder than the other redundancies because it felt like the end of the world,” he says.
Keith was already facing financial ruin after the impact of the first few redundancies. “I wasn’t prepared to just give up,” he days. Desperate to work, he ended up selling solar panels in a call centre where, despite being the oldest by far – “my supervisor was 23” – he became their top salesman. “I just put the calls in,” he said.
About seven years ago he then joined a local taxi firm. “I loved picking up the old ladies from the supermarkets and chatting to them,” he says.
After that he joined Essex County Council, as a marketing manager. “I’ve always found it quite amusing because my background has been selling and management, yet I’ve had marketing manager roles,” he states. He worked for the council for a couple of years and was again made redundant in 2017 after a restructure.
“At that point, I’d had enough, I’d reached rock bottom. I didn’t want to work for anyone else” he says. “I decided to become a freelance writer. I got a contract to write for an online network about the economy for something that was called the Coding Academy.” This led to him meeting a publisher in New York and an 18-contract e-book deal. From then he went on to write an exam textbook for the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, developed a blog and got other contracts.
Things were going well enough for Keith until 2019 when his business contracts fell by the wayside. “I got behind with my rent and was on the verge of being evicted,” he says.
Through a friend he ended up working as a traffic marshall for a company that was running car parks at events like New Market Racecourse.
He started to write again and is 30,000 words into his book, It’s Okay to be Okay, Again. He’s also now working as a coffee champion at Nespresso which he says he loves. He also stood for election to his local town council.
“Things are turning around. When you hit rock bottom you realise it’s now or never,” he says. “In 2019 I’d say my major achievement was coming off the antidepressants that I’ve been on for 10 years. I know it sounds cheesy, but my theme takes after that Elton John song: I’m still standing.”