A FATHER-OF-TWO who turned his back on a life of crime and has gone on to help scores of disadvantaged people in his beloved Caernarfon has received a special award from a policing czar.
Kenny Khan, 56, has spent time behind bars during a colourful past but decided to change his ways and has now become a pillar of society through his voluntary work on the Ysgubor Goch estate in the Peblig ward – which is one of the most deprived in the area.
His passion for helping those who struggle to make ends meet, are unemployed or who may have fallen into problems with drink and drugs has led to him being named Community Champion at North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones’s Community Awards event at the Celtic Royal Hotel, in Caernarfon.
Mr Khan, who in the last year has also become a town councillor for Plaid Cymru in order to help his community further, is the man behind the Cegin Cofi project which started seven years ago and has been the subject of two S4C television series.
He secured funding to create a mobile food van providing affordable meals for people living on his estate, while also giving young people the chance to learn cookery skills and complete training qualifications to help them into work, rather than turning to a life of crime.
Arfon Jones said: “Kenny Khan has learned a lot from life and has massive credibility. The last time I met him he said he didn’t know why I wanted a picture of him because North Wales Police had plenty already.
“But his Cegin Coffi project just goes from strength to strength and he is a prime example of someone who has lived experience and is well placed to help others and I would urge the people of Caernarfon to acknowledge the good work he has done by supporting Caffi Cegin.”
Kenny Khan replied: “The last award I had from North Wales Police was for four years.”
His work in the community has culminated in the recent opening of Caffi Cegin Cofi, now that the food van is no longer in operation, offering people homemade curries, fresh pizzas, paninis and breakfast items.
He has also secured a partnership with the UK-wide Foodshare Project which sees him redistribute food from Tesco in Caernarfon that is close to its use by date to those in desperate need in the community.
Although Kenny was honoured to receive his award, he was quick to praise his team of volunteers who have helped make his project a reality.
He said: “I’m grateful for getting a pat on the back but it’s not about that for me. I love my hometown – I wouldn’t be anywhere else.
“I work with an amazing group of people – I couldn’t name them all because I’d be here all day.
“Yes the cafe was my idea but it would be nothing without the team. Even the best ideas can’t be implemented by one person – it needs a team.
“They’re passionate and caring and the credit needs to go to them.”
Born in Oswestry, Kenny, who is part Afghan, spent his early years in Caernarfon and Wrexham before moving to Birmingham where he was in and out of care before returning to North Wales to live with his father.
He explained: “When I was about 11 I kept running away to get back to Wales. I didn’t like Birmingham.
“I ran away many times. I started offending at the age of 12. I was living with my dad and his partner and it was a disruptive, dysfunctional household.
“I spent time in prison for violence against other men and dishonesty – it was basically a life of crime.
“You get dealt with a set of cards and I went down the wrong path.”
Kenny, who has a daughter Branwen, 25, and a son Gethin, 24, decided when he was in his 30s during his last prison stint that he needed to take his life in a different direction.
He explained: “I wouldn’t be anywhere without my kids, they mean everything but I wouldn’t say it was the catalyst for change. I was just fed up with that life.
“I thought what’s the point? At the end of the day you’ve got no friends and no one trusts you.”
Although Kenny had always dreamed of becoming a Royal Marine, his other ambition was to get involved in performing arts and he went on to do a theatre degree at Dartington College of Arts in Devon.
After a spell performing in a reggae band, he returned to his hometown to start up a business related to his other passion – food.
This ultimately led him on the path towards his voluntary work and the creation of the Cegin Cofi project.
Kenny said: “My old man taught me to cook. He was a brilliant cook. When I came home I opened a restaurant which I had for about two years.
“It came to an end when I became a single parent with equal custody so I began chef-ing around the country, working at mansions and functions.
“When I became a single parent I had to do a lot of paperwork. In order to do it I went to Ty Peblig community house to do lots of photocopying.
“I’d been going so much that one day they asked me if I could put a picture frame up.
“A few weeks down the road and I’m a mentor for the young people. Things just built up. I was helping them fill in forms and stuff like that.
“I attracted the young people because they knew I’d been in trouble. They had more confidence in me because of my past, not because I’m anything special.
“It went from strength to strength and then I came up with the idea of having the food van.
“I think the TV appeal was down to the freshness of it and the fact it was no holds barred. It was real. I was lucky really, I was just in the right place at the right time.”
Kenny is delighted to have opened up the new cafe and is already seeing the positive impact it has had on those from a troubled background.
He explained: “When you’ve been in a bit of bother you tend to recognise if someone is disguising a troubled past.
“We had a group recently who came to the cafe who had problems with alcohol and drugs. They had a fantastic time because no one was being judgemental.
“Who am I to be judgemental anyway? In fact, who has the right to be judgemental?”
Kenny added: “I don’t want people to see the cafe as a soup kitchen. It’s a fully equipped eating establishment open to everyone and provides affordable, healthy meals.
“You can get a good meal, have a good laugh and we can support people if they need it.
“We’ve got homeless people as volunteers and give young people a chance. Anything that builds their confidence we’ll support them with.
“We want to empower people. It doesn’t matter if you’re skint, had a drink or drug problem, or you’re rich and never had a problem. It’s a place that’s open to all.”
Although Kenny is keen for young people on his estate to steer clear of the path he once took, he does not proactively tell them that and instead prefers to share his experiences in the hope that it will act as a deterrent.
He said: “It’s not for me to tell people not to do something. I just share my negative experiences.
“I get a lot of people coming up to me boasting and trying to impress me with naughty tales.
“I say I don’t want to know. I tell them even one minute in a police cell or jail is a complete waste of time – it’s the dustbin of society and no one wants to know you.
“You can’t get those years back. I don’t lecture I just explain there is a price to pay.”