A MAN who took the reins of a struggling community centre as a teenager and transformed its fortunes has been recognised with a British Empire Medal (BEM).

Kevin Nicholson was just 18 when he was elected as chairman of the Firthmoor and District Community Association in 2009.

The community centre, in Darlington, was due to close in April of that year due to its poor finances and the collapse of its committee.

However, Mr Nicholson, now 25, unveiled ambitious plans to turn its fortunes round and in the last few years has overseen major investment – such as £28,000 spent on renovating the cafe area this year – and encouraged sustainable enterprises to move into the building.

These include a community dentist, an improved nursery service and a rejuvenated over 60s club.

Mr Nicholson said that he was “overwhelmed and honoured” that his efforts have earned him a place in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List.

He said: “I absolutely love what I do at Firthmoor.

“At the start some people expected us to fail, but we didn’t give in; we fought for the community centre and that is what ‘community’ should always be about – local people working together to run a local building.”

Despite his already impressive achievements, Mr Nicholson says he will stay on at the centre as long as the public continue voting for him as chairman.

He said: “I feel like I am only halfway through the journey, there are still a lot of things I want to do here.

“People say to me ‘Kevin you can’t stay at Firthmoor forever, but I will stay until the job is done - and there are always new challenges to deal with.”