Milton Keynes blind entrepreneur makes top three of national business competition

Published in MK Web, December 2013

James King, 47, of Milton Keynes, has fought off stiff competition for the second year in a row to make it into the final three in the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs 2013.

James, who was diagnosed with the eye disorder Retinitis Pigmentosa at the age of 21 and is registered blind, is the founder and owner of Bletchley-based, Oliver James Garden Rooms, which designs, builds and finishes glazed home extensions.

James says, “My own conservatory was too cold in winter and too hot in summer. With a building background prior to my diagnosis, I just knew I could engineer a far better solution to extending a property – so I developed my range of tiled-roof garden rooms.”

James is enjoying his moment in the sun after coming to the notice of EasyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou when he narrowly missed out on top spot last year. Sir Stelios commented, “I have been really impressed not only by the growth of James’ business and the way he is meeting a genuine need in the market, but also by his drive and his positive attitude. That is why he has made it to the shortlist again this year. I look forward to this year’s final taking place in London on 12th December, where I will reveal the overall winner.”

James’ eye condition which limits his field of vision, means that he is officially registered as blind.

He says of his disability: “When people look at Nelson’s column they don’t see a man with one arm and one eye, they remember all the inspirational things he did. Disabled people don’t want to be thought of just in terms of what they can’t do.”

Now in its seventh year, the competition run by the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation and the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, recognises the unique achievements of para-entrepreneurs and offers a £50,000 cash prize to the winner – the largest cash sum of its kind.

James’ firm scored points for providing an end-to-end service that designs, builds and finishes his creations – right from dealing with planning permission and drawing up the designs, through to decoration and even installing cat flaps for beloved pets.

Unlike a traditional conservatory, the rooms are warm in winter and cool in summer. James employs a team of seven who work on the construction side, while he deals with the overall running of the business and has even been asked for home extension advice by Sir Stelios himself for regarding of his many properties.

James says, “One advantage of my inability to carry out certain tasks is the confidence that comes from knowing when to delegate. My employees are all very aware of my eye condition and always go above and beyond to make sure the project is safe, clean and always tidy – if they ever left so much as a hammer lying about on-site, they know I’d trip over it!”

“I hope that I inspire a good team by not allowing a small detail like my eye condition to get in the way of our business and life goals.”

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