Trevor Palmer has spent decades working with people with disabilities in Wales. He talks to reporter NICHOLAS THOMAS about his work, his globe-trotting adventures and his recent award in the Queen’s birthday honours

I WAS born in 1954 in Epsom, Surrey and educated in local schools.

I left home when I was 16, when I had a great opportunity to go to Switzerland and study at the École Supérieure de Commerce Neuchâtel in 1971.

After that, I spent a few years travelling around Europe, then in 1975 I went to the Cordwainers Technical College in London (which is now part of the London College of Fashion) where I studied leather goods and bag design and manufacture, after which I spent four years working for the family luggage business before setting myself up as a freelance ladies’ handbag design and manufacturing consultant.

I was fortunate that I could afford to undertake overseas voluntary assignments for the British Executive Service Overseas (BESO).

Between 1981 and 1997 I undertook nine BESO assignments in Trinidad, Thailand, Turkey, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Mongolia and India.

In 1987 I moved to South Wales and in 1994 I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Being and independent person, I found it very difficult being treated as a sufferer and victim by authorities who got involved with my welfare.

I contacted BESO to see if they could find me an assignment in a country where people didn’t know about multiple sclerosis so that I could regain my worth.

They offered me an assignment in Mongolia advising an ex-Soviet tannery.

Walking was difficult at that time and I needed to do something in order to get me back to reality and refocus my life and to test my capabilities.

Whilst I was in Mongolia, I met an old contact who was setting up a project in Ethiopia where my services were required, and a few months later I was in Addis Ababa.

Unfortunately on my second day there I was involved in a terrorist incident in the Ghion Hotel, and ended up in the clinic of the British Embassy.

That was in 1996 and I still have tinnitus, which is just continuous.

Having survived a bomb blast that officially killed four people, I felt it neccessary to complete my commitments. Although my mobility was declining, I undertook three further BESO assignments in India.

Travelling overseas was becoming difficult for me and around that time the internet was breaking out big time, and I set up one of the first E-commerce businesses in Wales – first selling my own range of leather goods and fashion accessories, then pet accessories, selling leads and boots for dogs, which I manufactured here in Newport.

I became a full time wheelchair user and designed specialist wheelchair gloves and other accessories which I marketed and sold all over the world.

I got involved in disability issues for obvious reasons and involved myself in Newport Access Group and later became the director of Disability Wales.

In 2004 I was contracted by Judith Isherwood, the first Wales Millennium Centre Chief Executive, who had come over from Sydney, to establish and run their centre’s Disability Advisory Group while it was being built and fitted out.

I sold my business in 2011 and started concentrating on the things I enjoyed.

Now I trade under the name GL Services, which trades in a variety of areas and employs disabled people.

In 2013 I was invited to become a member of the regional citizens’ panel for social services, and then later the national panel.

When the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 came into force, I became a member of the National Social Care Partnership Board.

Since 2004 I’ve been involved in ResponsABLE assistance, which supports disabled people in disaster situations around the world.

We have a project in Kenya at the moment, linking up with local disabled peoples organisations to distribute mobility equipment which we get donated.

I’m also a trustee of See Around Britain, an online site and app to show people the accessibility of venues around the UK which was launched launched at the Millennium Centre in 2016.

Accessibility issues, equality issues and fairness are all things I’m passionate about.

One of the principal themes of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 is to give people (yes, you and me) a stronger voice and increased control of their lives.

Co-production is the key and once local authorities can fully understand and apply/comply to their obligations, more independence for many people to manage their lives will evolve.

I live in Newport with my wife.

Our daughter now lives with our grandson in Bristol, and our son, who was born here in 1987, lives in Newport with his partner and our granddaughter.

I live a simple existence, and I’m very fortunate to have a supportive family and a good PA who helps me take part in my many activities.

Last week I was honoured to receive the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s birthday honours.

I really hope it will open up doors for me to be more pro-active and help create awareness of disability issues and show the capability of disabled people.

A lot of my activities are taken up by guest speaking at events and representing disabled people at various groups, as well as running my business.

I think it’s fantastic that disabled people are being recognised. Here in Wales there are some remarkable people.

I’m not alone in being an active disabled person who strives to improve accessibility and independence for all disabled people.

Perhaps I am fortunate.

In my spare time I also do a lot of writing.

I’ve got four novels and about 16 stories on the go at the moment. I love writing and in the late afternoons I’m often in front of the computer, bashing away at the keys writing some weird and wonderful stuff.

Most of it is fiction but I have written some stories about my adventures which have been published.

Writing is so therapeutic.

I love to work and integrate with people.

In this world there are lots of people who tell you how to do things but not enough people who actually do things.

Remember, it is the easiest thing in the world to just do what has been done before, for me it’s the challenge and excitement of being creative to improve the lives of others which keeps me motivated and alive.

It keeps me smiling.