Mentor for disadvantaged job seekers and enterpreneurs is in Queen’s Honours list

The head of a firm which helps disadvantaged people forge a career has been awarded an MBE.

Colin Crooks, 57, CEO of Tree Shepherd, a South London based social enterprise, has been recognised by the Queen for services to disadvantaged communities after 29 years of helping more than 2,500 people across London.

The entrepreneur, who has most recently been in the headlines for supporting local traders facing relocation from the Elephant and Castle shopping centre, has brought hundreds of jobs to London’s poorer areas, helped hundreds more start their own businesses and is currently working with traders facing the harsh realities of redevelopment across South London.

Colin has lived near Loughborough Junction for 25 years and has always been passionate about creating opportunities for the most disadvantaged – employing dozens of unemployed people to recycle paper in Coldharbour Lane, starting Cybercycle, which recruited young people from the notorious Angell Town Estate to repair computers, and then setting up Green-Works, which reused and recycled 47,000 tonnes of discarded office and school furniture, creating nearly 1000 jobs for local people. The social enterprise completely furnished temporary classrooms for Haberdashers’ Aske’s in New Cross one week after a disastrous fire gutted it.

Over the last six years Colin has worked with London’s communities on a new challenge – helping people start their own businesses and deal with the brutal reality of redevelopment. Tree Shepherd started in 2012, initially based in the Brix, helping over 700 people start small businesses, and creating a trading network leading to 900 jobs. In the last two years Colin’s attention has also turned to supporting traders facing relocation due to redevelopment in controversial sites in Peckham, Canada Water, Elephant and Castle and Bermondsey.

He said: “The MBE came as a huge shock, but I am thrilled for what this represents for social entrepreneurs. Even the most deprived communities are bristling with untapped talent, and for many the traditional job market is just not an option – be that because of a skills gap, caring responsibilities, or even a basic lack of confidence. It’s essential we support these people and are excited by the possibilities they present. London is changing its landscape – it’s a beautiful place with untold potential, but as the diggers move in and communities face upheaval, the distress of local traders is very real. I strongly believe there is a way we can make redevelopment work for everyone and I am excited for what 2019 has to offer.”

One of those Colin has helped is Nida Usmani, 49 from Streatham who was made redundant four years ago. Three months later, her sister Saher was also let go. The pair decided to take the plunge and start their own home-cooked Indian food business, Lucknow2London. But with no business background and little start-up capital, things quickly seemed insurmountable.

Nida said: “In the beginning it just felt like every hurdle was in our way – we had no clue, and we’re not what you might think of as ‘traditional businesspeople’. A chance meeting with Tree Shepherd changed our lives. Colin has the most incredible way of making you feel anything is possible. I am dyslexic and struggled at school. I am now a professional businesswoman and we have catered 50 events across South London this year alone – including Brixton food market, Halal Food Festival and numerous pop-up events. We were even on the BBC, and next year are doing our first wedding. We don’t have words to express how grateful we are for all the help and support given to us by Tree Shepherd. I can’t think of anyone more deserving than Colin to receive the MBE.”

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