A CHAMPION of the disabled and vulnerable has been awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the New Year Honours.
Ken Radford, 59, founded horticultural scheme People and Gardens, which supports people with physical and emotional disabilities, 15 years ago. The social enterprise promotes independence and opportunities for adults with conditions ranging from Down's syndrome to autism, and is based at the Eden Project's Watering Lane Nursery, near St Austell.
A Londoner who relocated to the South West, he told the Cornish Guardian he was "a little bit amazed" when he received the letter detailing the award recognising his services to people with learning disabilities.
About 45 people currently work on the scheme, sowing, growing, harvesting and packing vegetable bags throughout the year for more than 60 customers.
Mr Radford, who lives with wife Lorraine in Polgooth, was nominated by supporters of the scheme among staff at the Eden Project including co-founder Sir Tim Smit, who himself has received a knighthood.
People and Gardens plans to hold a party in February to celebrate Mr Radford's award.
Lorraine, also 59, said he dedicated practically every waking hour to the scheme, including evening meetings, and left everything else at the drop of a hat to ensure People and Gardens was working to the highest standard.
She said: "His dedication to P&G is for all to see. He's a lovely, kind man with such a good heart who so deserves this award. I'm very proud of him.
"It couldn't have gone to a better person, really."
Mr Radford insisted though he had sown the seed, others had made it grow, and as such he was sharing his award with everyone who had contributed to the scheme.
"This award has to be for everybody," he said.
"It reflects the hard work that everyone involved with People and Gardens puts in – the staff, the volunteers, the Eden Project."
He joked it had been a huge problem keeping the news quiet because of his "big gob" and Lorraine had told him the BEM stood for the Big 'Ead Medal.
"It certainly won't be wrapped up and put in my cupboard, that's for sure," he said. "I shall wear it round my neck for a couple of days and then it becomes part of the project."
However, there was definitely a serious side to the recognition, he said.
"We've never just wanted to be a care agency; we wanted to use commerce to give people the opportunity to develop, but also to show responsibility to themselves and to others, and that has been a challenge."
The award "rubber-stamped" the ethos of the scheme, he said: "I don't think everybody realises that if you want to give people equality then responsibility comes with that."
The award showed the scheme's importance and benefits were recognised, Mr Radford said.
For those on the project it had provided greater independence, the chance to contribute to society, a wage for some and a stepping stone into employment.
"It hasn't been a job; it hasn't been about earning a living; it's been about having a point to prove to myself that actually, if you're kind to each other, the world is a better place to live."