A veteran English teacher left speechless, a hospice carer moved to tears by a patient’s tribute, and a surprise performance from the country’s leading unicycle hockey team were just some of the highlights of this year’s County Times Community Awards.
A capacity crowd packed into the Capitol theatre on Tuesday evening to celebrate some of the district’s most humble and inspirational characters.
Organised in association with Horsham District Council, and supported by community-minded businesses, the fifth annual Community Awards was the best yet according to many of those who enjoyed the show.
The celebratory ceremony took the audience on an emotional but inspiring journey which extolled the heartwarming stories of the various winners.
At times many an eye was pricked with tears as award recipients heard pre-recorded testimony hearing how their deeds have touched the lives of others.
Karen Newman, a care assistant at St. Catherine’s Hospice, nominated by her colleagues for the dedication she gives to patients, was left dumbfounded on stage when she heard from lung cancer sufferer Talat Chaudhry praising her from his hospice bed.
“That was a complete shock - I wasn’t expecting a patient to have said something,” said Karen after the show.
On stage she paid tribute to all her fellow carers at St. Catherine’s and said what a wonderful place it is to work.
The hospice, based in Crawley, but which cares for patients from all over the Horsham district, was praised again at the end of the evening when the New Horizons Appeal Committee won the WSCT Achievement Award for their commitment raising more than £2 million for the organisation.
The Committee’s chair Liz Kitchen said: “We have been supported in the community and that is what this evening is all about.”
One of the most emotional moments came during the presentation of the Charity of the Year prize to the Dame Vera Lynn Trust, which funds the School for Parents at Five Oaks - helping families with young children who have cerebral palsy.
While on stage, representatives of the Trust and School were moved to tears when they heard parents explain just how much the ‘life-changing’ and free support of the School for Parents means to them and their young children.
And they were not alone. Public Service Award winner Pauline Flores-Moore said on stage: “I feel very humbled to be here, compared to the Dame Vera Lynn Trust and St. Catherine’s Hospice. We have been in tears up there.”
Pauline, who set up the Southwater Community First Responders, and is also vice-chair of the Southwater Parish Council, was nominated for the extraordinary dedication she gives to her local community, including 12,200 hours on call over the past five years, and attending nearly 1000 emergencies.
At other times fun and laughter were the overriding sentiments, not least when seven uni-cycling hockey players burst on stage to the Grandstand theme-tune - visit www.wscountytimes to watch a video.
This was a complete shock for their coach, Chris Baker, who won the Good Sport Award for running the Horsham Unicycle Hockey Addicts team for the past 20 years - currently ranked the best in the country.
Whilst aloft their unicycles members said Chris ‘is like a father to us’ and that ‘he makes everything possible’.
The audience also laughed when a member of the Pulborough and District Care Association - winner of the Best Community Organisation - offered to cut my toe nails, with reference to just one of the many services they provide. We were also regaled with a tale of how the Queen received the same invitation - but Her Majesty’s response remains unknown.
The show started with the Outstanding Teacher prize which went to recently retired head of English at the College of Richard Collyer, Martin Nichols.
Undoubtedly the best dressed on the night, the ever flamboyant and usually eloquent individual was left speechless by the outpouring of heartfelt affection and respect from his former colleagues, voiced in a recording.
Martin has inspired countless students at Collyer’s over the years, not least Sam Leeves, who nominated him for encouraging him on his path to becoming a published author.
The Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner made a special guest appearance to commend the winner of the 999 Award, Richard Harris.
Working as a Special Constable with the Horsham Neighbourhood Policing Team, which nominated him, Richard contributed nearly 700 voluntary hours over six months, the equivalent of 85 eight hour shifts.
Mrs Bourne said he was a ‘fantastic example’ and an inspiration to others considering becoming Special Constables for Sussex Police.
In a twist from pervious years the Best Neighbour Award went to husband and wife duo Andrew and Paula Morgan, nominated for their work with Horsham District Neighbourhood Watch.
Its chairman Andrew Moffat was unable to attend the event but in a pre-recorded message praised the pair saying ‘they thoroughly deserved’ the prize for all the work they put in, especially in respect of the Junior Citizenship Scheme and establishing a Junior Neighbourhood Watch.
On stage Paula was visibly shaken by the experience and said afterwards: “It was exciting and an honour - it means an awful lot.”
Another award recipient who felt the full emotional impact of being singled out for the good works they do was Chris Sheail, a volunteer with the British Red Cross in Horsham, who helps people readjust to independent living after protracted stays in hospital.
Put forward by other Red Cross volunteers and their leader Judith Fitter, Chris shook as she heard 89 year old Verna Watson explain how delighted she was that she had won, saying she could think of no-one else who deserved it more.
Ever humble, Chris, our Volunteer of the Year, said: “We work as a team and that is the main thing.”
The Best Volunteer Group accolade was presented to the Mocktail Apprentice Project which more than 900 children participated in this year, learning about alcohol awareness, as taking on marketing and business skills.
Laura Ward who sits on the steering group and is from Forest School, which also won the 2013 event, said: “It has been made possible by a huge team of volunteers all giving up their time.”
A true tale of bravery was told when Peter Downes took to the stage to receive the Local Hero award.
Peter rugby-tackled a watch thief in West Street earlier this year and told the audience what went through his mind as he bundled the unsuspecting criminal into the pavement.
He added: “Hearing about everyone tonight goes to show Horsham is an excellent place to live and an excellent community,” he said, meriting a generous round of applause.
Will Travers, chief executive of the Born Free Foundation, collected the care for Animals award on behalf of the Horsham-based charity and explained: “We work with many local communities around the world, but it is amazing to be part of the Horsham community. This is our home. We are here in Horsham and we would welcome you to come and visit.”
The Friend of the Environment prize went to the Horsham Riverside Walk Project team which bids for grants - winning £37,000 from BIFFA - to revitalise a real hidden gem circumnavigating Horsham for 12 miles through nature reserves and stunning scenery.
Victoria Godfrey, manager of the Cancer Research UK charity shop in East Street, was singled out by Swan Walk Centre Manager Gill Buchanan and her neighbour Lyndon Collen for her fundraising activities, including £100,000 from the annual Donation Station in the shopping centre.
“It is a lovely, lovely award. Thank you. I couldn’t do it without my volunteers. There are over 50 in the Horsham shop and without them we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”
Proprietor of Mayfair Hair, also on East Street, Horsham, Kay Tyler was delighted to recieive the Fundraiser of the Year accolade for her work meeting the QEII School’s needs.
“It was like winning an Oscar,” she said, “very exciting.”
The Awards were attended by representatives of its business sponsors who had the honour of revealing the winners and presenting them with their prizes.
The chairman of Horsham District Council, Philip Circus, presented the public Service Award, and took the opportunity to pay tribute to the County Times for organising the Community Awards and for the role it plays serving the people of the district.
Mr Circus said: “The County Times plays a massive part in the life of this community.
“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Gary Shipton and his team.”
Mr Shipton closed proceedings by thanking all those involved, including event organiser Patricia Slatter, the sponsors, The Capitol theatre, and Horsham District Council. The County Times would also like to thank the theatre’s production team, Dan and James for their professionalism.