A Brixton woman’s remarkable story of redemption is being told by a UK watch brand in a new collection that celebrates inspirational female journeys.
Nequela Whittaker, once a gang member and drug dealer, is now a successful youth worker who provides help and support to young people at risk of turning to a criminal lifestyle.
‘The Nequela’ is a watch from the new Inspiration range from Hagley West Watches, alongside four other models taking their names from other female role models.
Nequela said: “Somebody like me in the textbook world shouldn’t or wouldn’t make it to the places that I’ve got to.
“I’m just trying to change my life, but with that I’m seeing how much of an impact it’s having on other people.”
An artistically gifted child, Nequela found herself leading a double life when she discovered she was a lesbian, having to guard her sexuality from her less accepting family.
She was also bullied at school, and turned to selling and using drugs in her early teens to seek acceptance in gang culture.
Nequela said, “At home, I portrayed this sweet, innocent angelic girl because that’s what my mum wanted to see.”
She started selling cannabis at 13, and this soon developed into her selling crack cocaine and heroin.
Nequela added, “I said to myself: “I want to be the biggest drug dealer in South London.”
After she was arrested and sentenced to four years in a Scottish prison at just 17 years old, Nequela decided to turn her life around.
Nequela said, “I said to myself in this time [in prison]: “I’m gonna work on myself and become the changer in my community when I come back out, and that’s what I did.”
During her time in prison, Nequela provided support and informal counselling to her fellow female inmates battling addiction problems.
She has since gained a BA Honours degree in Applied Social Science, Community Development and Youth Work.
In 2013, Nequela founded Committed Empowered Originals (CEO), a youth service organisation that helps young people make better life decisions.
CEO is Nequela’s chosen charity for the Inspiration range, with 5% of all sales of ‘The Nequela’ watch going towards it.
The Inspiration range contains four other models, such as ‘The Nicola’ (inspired by professional boxer Nicola Barke) and ‘The Tulsi’ (named after Lewisham-based plane crash survivor Tulsi Vagjiani).
Tim Hayden, founder of Hagley Watches in 2016, overcame adversity himself when he beat drug addiction 15 years ago.
Mr Hayden said: “The launch of Inspiration is the next major step in our growth, as these watches really demonstrate our values.
“We think you should ‘love your journey’ through life and this belief forms a big part of the Hagley West brand.
“These five incredible women really do embody the idea that life is a journey and show us all that with belief and passion, you can overcome anything.”
To learn more about the new collection, visit the Hagley West website here.