A KEEN sub-aqua diver who helped keep a Chester firm afloat during a massive overhaul project, has won the company’s employee of the year accolade – plus a £1,000 cheque.

IT specialist Neil O’May was named as winner of the annually awarded title at a celebration evening held by The Funding Corporation for its near-200 staff.

Neil was selected from the holders of the past year’s employee of the month contest for his masterminding of the company’s re-fit of its 14,000sq ft premises on Chester Business Park.

The huge £150,000 project, intended to provide for future expansion of the motor finance specialists, involved re-locating every department within the firm’s headquarters.

It meant Neil, a member of the Chester Sub-Aqua Club, had to put his hobby on hold as he became increasingly immersed in co-ordinating the project over months of evenings and weekends.

Work supervised by Neil, 49, from Queensferry, was carried out almost entirely by suppliers and contractors from the region as part of The Funding Corporation’s “buy local” policy.

Everything from the carpets to the new air conditioning system – and even the specially created graphics for the walls – was sourced with Neil’s help from nearby enterprises.

The award was presented by company managing director David Challinor at the Queen Hotel in Chester where staff recently enjoyed a themed evening of French food and entertainment.

The honour is now known as the Leyton Cooper Excellence Award in memory of a popular senior employee at the firm who died tragically last year from a rare heart condition, aged just 35.

According to Mr Challinor, Neil’s efforts and sacrifices helped the company avoid a number of potentially catastrophic pitfalls during the project.

He said: “As a nationally operating concern dealing with thousands of customers and contacts every day, we couldn’t afford to lose a single minute of activity during the overhaul.

“Against this background, Neil ensured that all our computer systems and communication links remained uncompromised by the refurbishment work and the relocation of departments.

“It was a triumph of planning and execution, and came in on time and on budget – thanks to Neil’s inexhaustible enthusiasm, and determination to keep the show on the road,” added Mr Challinor.

Now able to take the plunge again, Neil – who joined the firm seven years ago – has returned to deep-sea diving, and resumed his training in the Korean martial art of tae kwon-do.

Neil has also developed an interest in antique coins and metal detecting, and has joined explorations of the Anglesey beach where 900 silver pennies dating from the 13th century were recently found.

He says that part of his £1,000 cheque will be spent on a state-of-the-art metal detector which, he hopes, will soon provide a return on the investment.