‘Young guys with a vision, with a dream’

London physiotherapists Josh Adebayo and Kemari Hypolite speak about their dreams

Josh Adebayo and Kemari Hypolite
London physiotherapists Josh Adebayo and Kemari Hypolite [image David Harrison]

Launching a new business in the middle of a pandemic might sound to many people like more trouble than it’s worth.

‘It was an opportunity we couldn’t turn down,’ Josh Adebayo says, after he and Kemari Hypolite opened their clinic in East Dulwich, London, in April with an event attended by former footballers Les Ferdinand, Andrew Impey and Chris Ramsey. And it wasn’t just their business skills that were tested – the clinic location was a former mini-cab office, so required a radical re-fit.

‘When I look back at it, a lot of people were saying to me that businesses are closing, why are you opening one up? But actually the pandemic meant we could sit down and plan things out. So it set us up,’ Adebayo, aged 27, adds.

‘It took a lot of work to put the place together. Loads of ups and downs. Kemari and myself don’t know much about carpentry but we completely renovated the place.’

Driving them on through those long hours was what the project meant to them.

‘I remember there was a point where we were doing up the place – we painted that place for ages – and we said we wanted it to be there when we were in our 40s and 50s, so our kids would drive past and say, “That’s dad’s clinic”,’ Adebayo says.

‘That’s something for them to aspire to do so they are aware they have got opportunities to succeed.’ It’s a theme that runs throughout the interview and also helped the pair pick a name for their clinic.

‘Imperium is a Latin word that means to empower – and to seek power – and that’s what we want to do,’ Adebayo explains. 

We want to empower people because for me, as a physiotherapist, if I’m not empowering people then what am I doing?

For Hypolite, personal experience played a role in shaping his approach. ‘A big thing for me is the education part,’ the 28-year-old says. ‘I took a year out of my studies on medical grounds and was in and out of hospital a lot. 

‘There’s nothing worse than being pulled around, nothing being explained to you, not telling you what they are looking for.’

A vision, a dream

It is clear that they see their own roles as central to the mission to empower communities, including supporting other local businesses, such as Keicmore, from whom they source their products.

Adebayo says: ‘It was daunting and it still is, but with the vision Kemari and myself have, we don’t see any obstacles that we don’t think we can conquer.

‘I don’t like using the phrase “young Black guys” – we are just young guys – but sometimes people from the outside might think, these young Black guys are doing well for themselves, getting themselves set up. But I think we just see ourselves. We are young guys with a vision, with a dream.’

A key element of that vision is about setting an example for others to follow when starting out in the profession. It’s a gap they felt when studying and entering the profession.

While they have benefited recently from business mentoring from David Evans from consultancy OKO, they previously found guidance from within the profession harder to find.

‘We are doing this for our local community but also going through the ranks, there probably wasn’t a lot of people like us who were mentors for us, in the field,’ Adebayo says.

‘We hope we can be those mentors and young people coming through can look up to us, no matter what colour they are. 

‘I want them to look at us and think, “If these guys can do it, we can do it!” It’s all about giving other people opportunities as well.’

Word is already getting out on that front, Hypolite explains.

‘I can’t even tell you the numbers of emails and messages on Instagram we’ve had already from people asking for work experience,’ he says.

‘It’s crazy and we’d love to be able to do that for people.

‘A teacher contacted us and said, ‘‘We have a bunch of students who want to get into physio, can I bring them down?’’

‘Once we work out how to tap into it and do it in an efficient and proper way, it could be the start of something amazing.’

A long road

Their passion to help others reflects their own circuitous routes into the profession. 

After a short stint working as an electrician, Hypolite was on a football scholarship when a team-mate’s ACL rehab caught his attention.

‘I remember asking him so many questions about the surgery and I was just fascinated by it,’ Hypolite reveals.

This fascination led him to become interested in physiotherapy as a career but lacking the required A-levels, he pursued sports therapy instead. 

Spells as a therapy assistant and working on the staff at Watford FC followed before he gained a place on the physiotherapy master’s course at St George’s.

Even then, that year out for medical reasons further delayed his entry to the profession.

He is now a rotational physiotherapist at King’s College Hospital during the day, working at Imperium in the evenings and weekends.

‘It’s been a long journey,’ he says. ‘A long road.’

Adebayo’s interest in physiotherapy also stemmed from a personal experience, when a close friend suffered a serious head injury that required significant neuro rehab.

As with Hypolite, he started out on a sports therapy course before transferring to study physiotherapy and ended up on the same course at St George’s.

After graduation he got a job at Queen’s Park Rangers FC (where he met those famous footballer guests from the clinic’s opening night) and before long, had been made head of the academy physiotherapy team, a job he still holds in addition to his responsibilities at the clinic.

‘I was 25 at the time I got that job,’ he reflects. 

‘It was a massive role to take but for me it wasn’t about age, it was about can I do the job?’

Improving representation

They see their own journeys as offering a path forward for others to follow as the profession seeks to become more representative of the communities it services.

Crucial to improving that representation are visible role models and promoting the different paths to entry.

‘If you see people who look like you or have come from a similar background, then you think it’s a lot more achievable,’ Hypolite says.

‘I would assume quite a few people’s perspective is you have to be completely well-educated, have the correct upbringing, it’s not necessarily open to you if you come from a working class background.

‘If people can see you don’t have to have the most straightforward journey – we certainly didn’t – and can see that despite hiccups then they can get to here, then it makes it a profession that feels much more attainable.

‘It’s about showing people the reality of the journey.’

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