Andy Howarth has endured some dark times but that has inspired the founder of Howarths Law to reach out to the homeless and help them back into society. He spoke to Ismail Mulla.
On the surface Andy Howarth has a warm glow of positivity about him but life for the chairman of Howarths Law hasn’t been without challenges.
Mr Howarth was brought up on Swinnow Estate in Leeds, a fact that he is very proud of. He left school with no qualifications and went to work at the age of 15 for a solicitors’ firm in the city centre before joining the police service in 1972.
Mr Howarth said: “Often people are aghast and say you were brought up on the Swinnow and you became a copper?
“I came from a one-parent family on a council estate. I saw a lot of my friends get into trouble with different areas of the law.”
The chairman of the Cleckheaton-based law firm went on to have a distinguished 30-year career in the police service, which saw him police various beats
He said: “I joined Leeds city police and I was stationed at Dewsbury Road in Holbeck as a PC. Being from a council estate I loved policing that area and I still go back now. Every time I get stressed out I go for a drive around the council estates and it just reminds me where I was and where I’ve come.”
In his time in the police service, Mr Howarth worked his way up to CID before eventually joining special branch in Leeds.
In 2003 he decided that 30 years was enough in the police and took the decision to enter the business world with the launch of Howarths Law.
Before his retirement from the police service, Mr Howarth went back to college to do his A-Levels and did a law degree at Leeds Beckett University part-time, graduating in 2003.
The early days of Howarths Law were a struggle. “I didn’t know the first thing about business,” Mr Howarth said. “I’d been cocooned in the public sector for 30 years so I had no idea about commerce.”
He professes to being “notoriously bad” with money but his wife Helen, who worked at First Direct Bank at the time, decided to come and help with the books.
“It was quite scary because there was no money coming in apart from my police pension,” Mr Howarth said. “We literally just dug in and we went from door to door of businesses selling this concept of HR and employment law.”
That hard work paid off. The business today has around 20 employees, between 600 to 800 clients and a turnover north of £1m. In recent years Mr Howarth has also been able to hand over the reins of the business to his eldest son, Gavin.
Mr Howarth said: “It was 2008 that I offered Gavin the opportunity of leaving one of the big six and coming to work at a small firm in Cleckheaton with his dad.”
He spent the next four or so years mentoring his son as well as one of his other staff members, Tracey Hopkins, who was put through accountancy training.
Mr Howarth realised at that point he had a natural succession of a managing director and finance director and in 2014 began to cut the cord from the day-to-day running of the business.
It enabled Mr Howarth to focus on charity work and he and his wife set up the Howarth Foundation in 2017. The charity enables Howarths to use its employment law and HR expertise to help homeless people find gainful employment and break that revolving circle of finding themselves back on the street.
Homelessness is a cause that has particular resonance for Mr Howarth. Up until the age of 10 Mr Howarth had what he calls the perfect family unit but then his father died in front of him following a heart attack.
His mother moved in with another man and that’s when life became “very dark” for the young Andy Howarth.
“I didn’t enjoy my teenage years and looking back if I had the courage I would have left home,” Mr Howarth says. “Sometimes during the darker times of my teenage years homelessness seemed to be a better option than the situation I was in at that time.”
That’s why Mr Howarth believes that people who do become homeless are “incredibly brave” because often they are fleeing difficult situations.
The chairman of Howarths Law has issued a clarion call for businesses. He wants as many firms to work with the Howarth Foundation to get homeless people into work.
Mr Howarth appreciates that there are risks involved. Many people who do find themselves on the streets have a history of addiction but seeing how employment has changed the lives of those that the foundation has engaged with is priceless.
Organisations like Leeds United Football Club and Ringways Motor Group have benefitted from taking on homeless people with the support of the Howarth Foundation.
Despite this, the former police officer wants more business to come forward and for him, a “naturally impatient” person, the urgency in tackling homelessness has grown.
Mr Howarth was given the devastating news that he has bowel cancer three months ago. “What the cancer has done is placed a little bit of an alarm clock in my mind,” he says.
Mr Howarth added: “Cancer takes you to a very dark and lonely place and I’m a very positive person. It was probably very similar to those teenage years when I didn’t want to go on anymore. In my teenage years there were times when I thought I just want this to end.”
During those dark teenage years he took solace in music. The Beatles and their song Help! in particular saw him through those times. Even today music holds a great significance for Mr Howarth. He has just deferred chemotherapy so that he can go see a Paul McCartney concert “before one of us dies”.
Facing his greatest battle yet, Mr Howarth takes inspiration from those that he has spent time helping in recent years.
He said: “If I’m going to sit at home feeling sorry for myself then no one is going to benefit.
“The people that I am working with have got massive issues of their own, who have gone through donkey’s years of almost purgatory, so cancer to me is no worse, no less than what they’re going through.
“My only wish is that I could get more people engaged in helping those who are ready to be helped.”
Cancer may have put a dark cloud over Andy Howarth’s life but the 65-year-old isn’t showing it. He is as gracious and determined as ever.
Job title: Chairman of Howarths Law and CEO of the Howarth Foundation
Date of birth: 6/3/53
Lives: Cleckheaton (but born in Leeds and a true Loiner).
Favourite holiday destination: Hong Kong
Last book read: Basic Philosophy by Nigel Warburton.
Favourite film: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Favourite song: Something For Nothing by Foo Fighters.
Car driven: Audi Q5 S Line
Most proud of: My family
Education: Hough Side Secondary Modern, Degree LL.B (Hons) Leeds Beckett.