Tears of joy from a veteran lollipop lady, emotional tributes from the former homeless, and witty banter from a French teacher were just some of the highlights at this year’s Community Awards.
Hundreds of people swarmed to The Capitol Theatre on on Tuesday November 20, 2012, to celebrate Horsham’s unsung heroes at the fourth annual ceremony.
Organised in association with Horsham District Council, the awards honour those who give so much to the local community, making such a difference to other people’s lives., but often going unrecognised.
The County Times readership has spent the last couple of months nominating deserving residents, groups and organisations that they believe should win one of the prestigious awards.
Opening the night of celebration to a roar of applause, editor in chief Gary Shipton, said: “The secret of a great community is true social networking, and tonight’s awards celebrate you first and foremost for just showing up because today’s time, your time, is a very precious commodity and great communities find it, and cherish it, and share it.”
The celebratory ceremony then burst into life as news editor and event producer Theo Cronin started the Awards, taking the audience on an emotional and heartwarming journey for the next 90 minutes, extolling the incredible and heartwarming stories of the various winners.
The Ark charity saved my life
“If it wasn’t for this place, I would have committed suicide a long time ago.”
These were the powerful words of praise from a gambling addict who was delighted to see The Ark win Charity of the Year.
Director Lisa Burrell also took home the West Sussex County Times Achievement Award for her sterling work setting up the charity based at the United Reformed Church Springfield Road, Horsham, which supports people to move forward from addictions, homelessness, repeat offending and poverty.
After hearing pre-recorded tributes from many of those she has helped, the surprised charity worker, who even took someone off the streets and into her own home for five months, said: “I’m just speechless. We don’t know what it’s like for someone to be in that kind of situation so it’s lovely to hear reflections and feedback from what people think. I’m just so speechless, which isn’t normally the case.”
During the evening, many of those called to the stage to specially themed music to accept awards were shocked to have been nominated.
Horsham Jogger’s chair Tony Johnson, who won the Good Sport Award for his work campaigning against the closure of the Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre, said: “I feel like a bit of a fraud, it’s such a strange feeling, thank you,” adding: “It’s so nice to see all the good things that go on in the Horsham community.”
41 years public service
‘Epic’, ‘smashing’ and ‘out of this world’ is how school children described one Billingshurst ‘lollipop lady’ who has kept kids safe for more than 40 years.
Sylvia Welch took home the Public Service Award for helping 600 pupils a day and three generations cross the road.
Tears of joy ran as Sylvia said: “I’ve been doing it for 41 years and loved every minute of it,
“I’ve never ever regretted doing it, and I miss them all dreadfully, but I’m very honoured to be here this evening.”
The roads may have changed throughout her time and the lollipop lady had to contend with a dramatic increase in traffic, but kids were keen to point out ‘she always has a smile on her face’, adding she would always have a sign reading ‘welcome back’ after school holidays.
Others recognised on a night of celebration included Holbrook Animal Rescue Centre for the Care for Animals Award; the Community Midwife Team which took home the Healthworkers Award; and the Community Neurological Rehabilitation Team which works out of Horsham Hospital who heard an emotional tribute from Nigel Caldwell his wife Elizabeth who nominated them for the ‘super-dooper’ assistance they have given to Liz following a severe stroke in July.
Sue Noye, of Age UK Horsham District took home the Best Fundraiser award for raising £25,000 for the local charity based at Livinia House, Dukes Square, Horsham.
Teacher never short of a joke
Pupils from Tanbridge House School nominated their French teacher Mark Osmond for the Oustanding Teacher Award.
Described as ‘really funny’, ‘very interesting’ and ‘a bit of a lunatic really’, Mark was recognised for his unforgettable lessons - often littered with jokes, which he sampled on the night.
“How does Bob Marley like his donuts? With jammin’,” he said, to sympathetic applause.
“To receive something like this is really overwhelming, and to be at Tanbridge - it’s a privilege to work alongside the students of this community.”
Hilary Humphrey, of the Horsham Community Responders, was shocked to take home the 999 Award after being lulled to the event under false pretences.
The emergency first aid volunteer has attended nearly 80 incidents across the district this year, as well as being a stalwart of organisation, training and support for the local Community Responders.
Speaking of the Community Awards she expressed the importance of such events: “I think it’s very important for the local community because I don’t think we realise who’s doing what.
“We all lives pressurised, busy lives these days - heads down trying to get from one day to the next - and I was amazed to hear from of the stories tonight.
Emotional tale of baby’s death
Emma Johnston from Billingshurst was praised as this year’s Local Hero, recognising her bravery and inspiring character.
The Award followed her battle with depression and traumatic stress when she lost her little boy Morgan having given birth to him prematurely.
Emma became a true inspiration for her sister Claire who nominated her, after she completed a gruelling 40km hike - raising £2,600 for Action Medical Research; lobbied MPs about the importance of premature care; and volunteered for organisations like BLISS and TAMBA, helping others to overcome tragic deaths.
The Volunteer of the Year accolade went to Bik-Kay Talbot who has helped raise thousands of pounds for Billingshurst Primary School, in her capacity as co-chair of the school’s community association.
And in a night where Billingshurst people and organisations dominated the prizes, Roy Grantham from the village won Best Neighbour.
Friends paid tribute to his selflessness, with one neighbour John Barrett, whom Roy has supported following a battle with lung cancer, saying in a pre-recored tribute: “Thank you for everything that you do. I can’t think of anyone who deserves this award more than you.
“There are many definitions of a true neighbour, and you are the true definition of a neighbour.”
Others recognised were Brendon Sewill, chair of the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign, who won Friend of the Environment after 60 years campaigning to protect the Gatwick area from over-development; the Parkinsons UK Horsham Committee which took home the Best Volunteer Group; and perhaps the Community Awards’ most popular nomination ever - David Bennet, who was awarded the Special Recognition Award for his inspiring role at the helm of the West Sussex County Youth Orchestra, and as area manager for the West Sussex Music Service.
The best Community Awards yet
Speaking after the ceremony, the Community Awards presenter and producer Theo Cronin said this year’s were the best yet.
“I feel very honoured and humbled to present these Awards,” said Theo, “and for having the opportunity to meet and interview so many deserving people that if it weren’t for the nominations of the County Times readership risk going unrecognised for the incredible deeds they do.
“What makes these Awards particularly special is that the winners receive their prizes in front of an audience made up of all those who nominated them, as well as their friends and family, who all receive complimentary invitations.
“I would like to personally thank all those who made nominations this year - for without them there would be no Community Awards.
“And I would also like to express my gratitude to Patricia Slatter, the event organiser, who ensures it is a flawless production every year, making my job easy.
“The Community Awards will return in Autumn 2013 - who do you believe deserves to be there?”
Nominations open summer 2013.
If you were there, what did you think of this year’s Awards? Leave a comment below or write to firstname.lastname@example.org