Waltham Forest Echo

Waltham Forest Echo

Meet the Waltham Forest Citizen of the Year

From cooking at The Hilton to fundraising for a foodbank, Nat DiMaggio gave up the high life to give back to his local community When Nat DiMaggio was made [...]

By Waltham Forest Echo 08 September 2016

From cooking at The Hilton to fundraising for a foodbank, Nat DiMaggio gave up the high life to give back to his local community

Nat DiMaggio (centre left) receives his Citizen of the Year award from Waltham Forest mayor Peter Herrington (centre right). Credit: Waltham Forest Council

When Nat DiMaggio was made redundant from his job selling islands to bankers during the height of the 2008 financial crash, he knew exactly what he wanted to do next.

The cheerful Walthamstow resident had enjoyed an eclectic career planning glitzy events, cooking for diners at The Hilton, buying shoes for Harrods, and flogging property to multimillionaires in the City, but something didn’t feel quite right.

“I had a lovely home and a lovely partner and I never had a chance to enjoy it,” Nat tells me one morning at The Mill, the community centre in Coppermill Lane which now means so much to him.

“I suddenly realised there was more to life than working 80 hours per week. I decided I wanted to do charity work. I got involved with ‘Seven Days For Stow’ which was a campaign promoted by [Member of Parliament for Walthamstow] Stella Creasy to get people to do something for their community.

“The first thing I did was fundraising for a foodbank called Eat or Heat. I organised these art raffles; it was at a time when Walthamstow started to become a really amazing place for creative people.

“I already had a background in events and I used to sell islands to multimillionaires, so selling a raffle ticket was a little bit easier.”

Nat now dedicates his life to fundraising for local charities, and over the past few years his events have raised an estimated £40,000. This altruism led to him being named ‘Waltham Forest Citizen of the Year’ at the annual Love Your Borough awards in July.

“I don’t like asking people for money without giving them something in return,” says Nat. “The events I put on are about giving people a good time as well as raising money.

“For one raffle I persuaded an artist to donate a piece worth £5,000. Sometimes I ring people to ask for sponsorship and they say ‘yes’ before I’ve even told them what the event is.”

Nat’s skill at putting on a great bash, and persuading people and organisations to support it, has been put to the best use possible. The two local charities that have benefited the most from his work are Eat or Heat and The Mill.

A postcard art sale at The Mill last autumn, for which work by renowned artists such as Grayson Perry was mixed in anonymously with art by local schoolchildren, raised enough money to pay the community centre’s rent for an entire year.

“I had the idea in the back of my head for ages, and then when we decided to do it, we gave ourselves two weeks to organise it.” A similar event is being held this month, launching on 8th September.

But what motivates Nat to do so much for these charities? “I feel it is really unfair that people working full-time can’t afford to feed themselves or their families,” he says of Eat or Heat, the foodbank that was set up in Waltham Forest five years ago.

“There are great areas of wealth in this area, but within a few streets there is poverty. My dad came to this country from Italy after the Second World War with just a suitcase, he didn’t have a penny.

“Growing up we were very self-sufficient, but we had a great community of friends around us. We grew our own fruit and veg. We were happy with nothing in those days but it is harder now, I have friends whose children have degrees but they are working in supermarkets.

“I grew up in a small town with a great community and there was always people who would help you. It makes a difference.”

Regarding The Mill, Nat says: “I have been coming to The Mill since it opened, and I have a great admiration for them because they saved the building from development. It is now open to all, and it is somewhere everyone feels comfortable.

“I just think it is amazing that they saved this building when every little scout hut is being turned into luxury housing.”

Other community projects set to benefit from Nat’s work include Caravans for Calais, which collects items for refugees. “It is helping abandoned children have a safe place for the night,” says Nat, who is currently planning a quiz night for the organisation.

Further ahead, a Valentine’s ball next year could see a popular band from the 1990s make a comeback: “People want to buy tickets already and I’ve not even organised it yet.”

It’s this relentless stream of fundraising that has made Nat such a popular figure in the borough and led, earlier in the summer, to his big win at the Love Your Borough awards, which are organised annually by Waltham Forest Council. Fittingly, The Mill picked up the ‘Arts, Culture and Heritage Award’ on the same night.

Before arriving at Walthamstow Assembly Hall, Nat did not expect to win. “I was up against someone who was 100-years-old, I just figured he’d win it.” But Nat, who says he still has no idea who nominated him, went away the proud recipient of the Citizen of the Year Award.

“I was surprised but delighted,” he says. “There are 300,000 people in the borough, but they picked me. I danced away the rest of the night to the Abba tribute band.”

Nat’s latest fundraiser, the second ‘Greatest Little Art Show’ raffle and postcard exhibition, runs from 9th-30th September at The Mill in Coppermill Lane, Walthamstow E17 7HA. A grand raffle gala day is being held on 1st October to determine the winners. All proceeds go to The Mill. For more information:

Visit themill-coppermill.org