My vision

“The job has given me a purpose and a path”

Colour blind paint mixer, Ruksar Ajmal, tells OT  how a paint recycling company gave him a second chance after time in prison

Ruksar Ajmal with paint

I work at Seagulls Reuse in Leeds. We have a contract with the Leeds City Council where we collect all the unwanted paint from households and businesses and sell it.

The paint is half the price and has been saved from going to a landfill. As a paint mixer, a customer will come in with a colour swatch and they will say I want ‘honey-beam yellow’ or ‘scarlet red’ and I will try and replicate that colour.

Seagulls Reuse is a social enterprise, so we give back to the community. That approach extends to the people who work here. I was in prison for a while and before that I had no experience of working life. The staff here encouraged me to make something of myself. The job has given me a purpose and a path. It has given me the life that I live now.

More than paint mixing

It’s not just about me mixing paint for the customer, it is everything in between. It is coming to work and feeling passionate about what I do. I enjoy being around my colleagues and talking with the customers who come in.

At the time I started at Seagulls Reuse 11 years ago, I didn’t know I was colour blind. I didn’t believe it at first. People would tell me that I was putting paint pots back on the wrong shelves; cream paints with grey or green paints with brown. Customers would come back and say the paint is not the right colour, or they would tell me there and then as I was mixing the colour.

People would tell me that I was putting paint pots back on the wrong shelves; cream paints with grey or green paints with brown

Now, if it’s a really tricky colour, I will ask for feedback from the customer or I will ask one of my colleagues. I have gained more confidence in myself in mixing the colour. Whether I get it wrong or right, I am trying. Being shade blind has made me improve myself. In some ways I enjoy the challenge. I’m not one to take the easy option.

The colours that are neither here nor there are difficult – the earthy tones, the hint of brown or red and brown. Blue is my favourite colour and grey. I appreciate all the different shades. I learned a lot from those two colours in terms of where you can take paint colour. With a blue you can make a teal, you can make a duck egg with a combination of blue and black. With those two colours you can make a lot of variants and shades.

Ruksar Ajmal

Seagulls Reuse gave me hope. It has given me faith that there are good people out there with no agendas who want nothing back in return. I pass what I have learned on to others now.

I mentor the new employees and volunteers who come through. Some of them are serving prisoners and ex-prisoners. Everyone has different learning methods. There are no set formulas, it just depends who I am training. The way that I see things is that it is good to lead by example. I’m not telling you what to do, I’m showing you what to do. I’m working alongside you.

  • As told to Selina Powell.