Published in Leonard Cheshire Disability, December 2013
Winner of the 2013 Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs announced.
A disabled businessman from Milton Keynes has won the prestigious Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs in the UK 2013.
James King, who runs a home extension firm called Oliver James Garden Rooms, won the award run by easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou and the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability. Now in its seventh year, it recognises the unique achievements of disabled entrepreneurs and offers a £50,000 cash prize to the winner — the largest cash sum of its kind.
James, 47, is registered blind and also has dyslexia. He has seen off tough competition to win this year, having made it to the top three last year and narrowly missing out on the top spot.
James and his team design and build garden room extensions, which have tiled roofs. Unlike a traditional conservatory, the rooms are warm in winter and cool in summer.
But the journey to a growing, healthy business has not been a walk in the park for James. In his early 20s he began his career as a bricklayer in the construction industry. It wasn’t until later that he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary eye condition which affects the retina. James had to give up bricklaying and work around his disability, so he moved into contracting. However, as his vision deteriorated James decided he must change direction. It was during this difficult time that the idea to set up a company making ‘garden rooms’ came to him.
He set up Oliver James Garden Rooms and began trading in 2011. Now with a workforce of seven and a turnover of almost £300,000, James works with homeowners across Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Hertfordshire.
Winning the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs in the UK means he will be able to go ahead with plans to expand his client base to new areas of the country.
James says: ‘I’ve always had my own company and built the business around my disability. The inspiration has come from my vision problem. There are obstacles but you just have to accept them. Everyone has them, whether you’ve got a disability or not.
‘Because of my vision we have to overcome certain situations, but because of this we end up with a better standard. All of the good practices that we’ve put in have pretty much come as a result of my disability. For example, the build team and specialist contractors go above and beyond to make sure each project is safe, clean and tidy — if even a hammer was ever left out on site, they know I’d trip over it.’
Sir Stelios says: ‘I have been really impressed by the growth of James’s business and the way he is meeting a genuine need in the market. That is why he has won this award.
‘I am passionate about encouraging entrepreneurship, and the previous winners of this award offer proof that there are many highly talented disabled entrepreneurs out there.
‘With around 50 per cent of disabled adults out of work it is clear that there still is a long way to go. Removing the barriers disabled people face in business is essential, and I hope that the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs goes some way to highlighting their achievements.”
Clare Pelham, chief executive of Leonard Cheshire Disability, says: ‘I would like to congratulate James on winning this award. We are delighted to work with Sir Stelios on an award that celebrates the remarkable achievements of disabled entrepreneurs. Our finalists are all stars and it just goes to show that there are no limits to what they can achieve.’