Interview: Don Bryden is founder and CEO of BEST - Be A Better You, a Swindon charity helping young people

By Barrie Hudson - 17 November 2023

  •   Don Bryden, right, with BEST Operations Manager Craig Hiscock, who has been with  the organisation since the beginning

    Don Bryden, right, with BEST Operations Manager Craig Hiscock, who has been with the organisation since the beginning

Don Bryden, a successful businessman in the recruitment sector, created BEST - Be A Better You at the beginning of 2020.

The charity's mission is a simple one, using mentoring and sport to help young people facing emotional, social and mental health difficilties to avoid taking harmful paths.

So far, the number of people it has helped has run into four figures, and BEST was recently visited by an admiring Prince William, who takes a special interest in the welfare of the young.

He spoke to Don, the team and many young people.

Don speaks about the charity's work with a vehemence and passion born of horrifying experience, as his own daughter, Jess, suffered criminal exploitation.

He said: "From the age of 10 or 11 things started changing in her. 

"She was bullied for a long time. Eventually she started standing up for herself. All three girls that had beaten her up, stamping on her food, stealing her food, phoning her day and night, threatening her - she was a wreck.

"But she eventually stood up to all three of them and physically knocked their lights out. But because of her getting her fists involved and battering these girls, the first thing each and every one of their families did - they hadn't worried about their daughters beating my daughter - was go to the police.

"It was probably the worst thing that could have happened, not because the police did nothing but because Jessica was recognised by the wrong crowd.

"The wrong crowd, two years plus older than her, started taking her in.

"We went through hell with her, had to move out of the country."

Don and his wife, Sarah, were determined not to let the exploitation continue, and with the ties of that exploitation broken, Jess turned her life around.

The young woman took to boxing, and today is one of the country's most successful in her weight division. A bright sporting future beckons, and Jess works with some of the young people now helped by the charity her father was inspired to found in the light of the family's experiences.

"She's gone from running around with knives, doing more drugs than we'd imagine, being an enforcer, beating up kids after being beaten up herself, to taking that aggression and putting it in the ring, and doing her sport for her country.

"That's a winner as far as I'm concerned."

Don himself, who is originally from Port Elizabeth in South Africa and comes from a family with strong British connections, had problems in his own earlier life.

"As a young kid, I got myself into real trouble at the age of 14. Although I was doing sports - I was riding, showjumping - something drew me to gang life.

"We used to meet up at a local bowling alley. Things started deteriorating; the knife culture came. I started getting into trouble at school, and it just escalated from that into something similar to what the kids have today.

"At the ripe old age of just turned 18 I got my prescription papers. I was called up to the South African Defence Force. I found myself in a situation where we were packing all our bags, getting all the stuff we needed to take.

"I was on this train. It was like a small prison cell. All the shutters had to be up because we were classed as government property - we weren't Mum's and Dad's property anymore. 

"We spent two full days and into the third night, travelling on this train from Port Elizabeth to a place called Phalaborwa.

"I remember the train arriving in the early hours of the morning, and I've never heard such shouting and yelling, smacks around the back of the head and backsides being kicked from the minute we got off that train."

In spite of the hellishness of the training, Don went on to join a respected cavalry unit, although he candidly admits that his military service left him with trauma which lingers to this day.

At the beginning of the century he came to Britain with his young family.

"I arrived in England with £380, a wife and two kids."

There were early troubles including a fight in London which left him with a badly broken leg.

"We managed to save enough money to rent our first house. I remember having to live for three months on a couch we found by the side of the road."

Don found work in recruitment in Swindon, thoroughly learning about the sector and gaining useful insights into psychology, and eventually set up on his own.

BEST is going from strength to strength, and recently moved into its largest premises yet, where the facilities include a large space with a boxing ring and opportunities for other sports training.

His advice to parents whose own children are in peril?

"The only thing I can say is that initially you've got to be tough. You've got to be hard and make some rulings.

"I was not prepared to lose my child - no matter what the cost." 

Information about the charity, its work and how people can help can be found at

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