James King, who runs home extension firm Oliver James Garden Rooms, won the seventh annual Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs in the UK.
James, 47, is registered blind and also has dyslexia. He saw off tough competition to win, having made it to the final three in 2012 and narrowly missing out on the top spot.
James and his team design and build garden room extensions, which have tiled roofs, so 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 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 had to change direction. It was during this difficult time that the idea to set up a company making ‘garden rooms’ came to him.
James began trading in 2011 and now has a workforce of seven with a turnover of almost £300,000. He currently works with homeowners across Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Hertfordshire, but winning the award 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 practises 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’ 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 this award goes some way to highlighting their achievements.’