Honouring Our Local Heroes

Speaker’s House was our destination today to honour our incredible TSB Community Partner Award finalists.

The event was held with the kind permission of The Rt Hon John Bercow MP and was hosted by Carol Vorderman. Alongside all of our fabulous nominees were a host of MP’s and celebrities who joined forces to congratulate our finalists on their extraordinary contribution to community life. The TSB Community Partner Award celebrates groups and individuals who have worked together, in partnership, for the good of their local community, improving the lives of people around them. That could mean anything from supporting young people to thrive, to bringing communities together to create something special. Today’s guests included Katie Piper, Ben Shephard, Kate Garraway, Fiona Phillips, Denise Welch, James Cracknell and Nitin Ganatra alongside Jeremy Corbyn, Ed Milliband and the Rt Hon Sajid Javid to name but a few. Addressing the room Mr Javid said “This is about recognising people away from the day to day headlines who are quietly just getting on with things and making our community stronger and our country greater”. He added ”They are ordinary people doing extraordinary things, they are truly the best of Britain, the Pride of Britain”. Carol added “Pride of Britain winners are the unsung heroes that make Britain a great place. It’s a privilege to be joined by some fantastic community champions from all over Britain.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told us “The Mirror's Pride of Britain Awards are absolutely brilliant. They reward people who’ve made great sacrifices to help others. They might have completed acts of heroism like pulling someone from a burning car, or it might be someone fighting in their community, for a decent park or youth facilities. Above all, they give people confidence and strength. I get emotional watching the awards, on TV or in person.”

From 88 year old green fingered Great Great Granny Dena to four week old baby Kaiden, this was a room full of inspiring people.

Each finalist was presented with a certificate to honour their achievements by our Daily Mirror Editor and founder of the Pride of Britain Peter Willis, Paul Pester - Chief Executive Officer of TSB Bank and our Pride of Britain host Carol Vorderman.

The overall winner will be announced in two weeks time and will join us at our ceremony in London which is widely regarded as the hottest ticket of the year.

Our finalists are incredible – here is just a taster of what they have achieved.

Claire Day

Claire founded Street Life Sarnies (SLS), a project that supports homeless people and she has been so successful that it grown from 10 to over 3,000 members. Each week Claire sends an online message with details of the items most needed by homeless projects in the area, including food, toiletries, clothing and sleeping bags. Local residents pledge what items they can donate and arrange a pick-up or collection time. Claire then sorts the items and passes them to different homeless projects in Newport, Chepstow, Cwmbran and Cardiff.

She says “Every day my door knocks, morning and evening. I just can’t believe how much love and how much kindness there is out there. All you ever hear is the bad stuff but you cannot be depressed because every day something really lovely happens.”

Dena Murphy

88 year old Dena feeds more than 50 pensioners once a week with fruit and vegetables she grows with friends on a community allotment in New Moston. Her efforts have also inspired a new generation of gardeners – in Moss Side.

Dena spends around £100 on seeds a year – for an annual yield of fruit and vegetables worth up to £1,500. The produce is used in weekly three-course meals for more than 50 members of a pensioners’ lunch club. Dena and her friends store the rest for months to come. The whole Northfield Road community is now entirely self-sufficient on fruit and veg. Dena, who spends three hours a day gardening told us "Word just spread throughout the community and it is amazing how many people have started to grow their own.” She added "Now we grow enough to fill our freezers and keep us going for a whole year. The secret is to nurture seedlings like a child. Give them care, attention and empathy like you would a child. But don’t take any nonsense – and there won’t be anything you can’t grow.”

Les Nicholl

Les Nicoll has been part of the Essex Fire Service for 50 years, and now works as a community builder, promoting support and safety for vulnerable people within Essex and forging links with other local services. He is particularly proud of the work he does in Jaywick, one of the most deprived towns in the country, where he is known as “the big fireman”, Les told us “Sadly, most residents in Jaywick don’t engage readily with public services, and yet their homes and lifestyle can present a massive fire and life risk.”

He has made it his mission to knock on every door in the town to give home fire safety visits and fit smoke alarms. He told us “At one time, this resulted in me being able to supply and fit over 300 homes with free smoke alarms.”

But his work has extended beyond just fire safety and includes setting up local food banks to support the homeless, organising speed-dating networks for organisations to share contacts and running a monthly ‘walk and talk’ event for isolated people with mental health issues.

He also created a “winter warmers” drive for donations of warm clothes for people living below the poverty line, and set up a pop-up shop in a local fire station to distribute the clothes to more than 250 people. All these initiatives have been created with minimal funding, but have required time and innovation.

Other agencies call on Les, who always wears his firefighter’s uniform at work, for help because, as he himself explains, the great thing about being part of the fire service is that people will trust you and let you in. “I get great peace of mind from keeping people safe and I guarantee getting involved in your community will make you feel good too.”

Helen Baccus

An ex-RAF medic, Helen Backus became commissioning manager for young people at Buckinghamshire county council five years ago. At that time, 90% of young people with disabilities or additional needs who wanted to access post-16 education had to move outside the county, far away from their homes.

Thanks to the Bucks’ Life Skills Centre’s Helen pioneered, that figure has been cut to 10%, helping more than 200 young people since 2012. “Uprooting a young person with autism and shipping them out miles away can be a gut-wrenching experience and a lot of them were the failing and going into crisis and needing a lot more support once they came back home,” she explains.

Helen put together a business case for offering specialist college units in the county, got local colleges onboard and convinced a cash-strapped council to build them using limited reserves. The first - Aylesbury Life Skills College, was funded by the department of education, Aylesbury College and Buckinghamshire county council in 2012 and a second unit in Flackwell Heath was also opened.

She tells us “I love hearing what the students are doing now, these are children who had been written off - for example, one was told he’d never be able to independently travel, now he can read timetables and travels all over the country on local transport.”

HenPower

HenPower was set up by the charity Equal Arts in 2011 with the aim of using hen-keeping to tackle social isolation, reduce depression and improve people’s wellbeing.

Equal Arts’ director, Douglas Hunter, tells us how the project began. “We had been working in a care home when a resident with dementia was talking about his girls. It turned out ‘the girls’ were his hens. He missed the routine of caring for them.”

The manager then asked Douglas if he could bring some hens into the home and, after finding no opposition from health and safety organisations, Equal Arts invested £300 in six hens and a second-hand hen house. By the time the hen house needed replacing, four months later, the staff were so convinced of its value they paid for a new one out of their own pockets. Equal Arts was subsequently given £160,000 from the Big Lottery Fund to test the project in further sites across north-east England.

The trial was a phenomenal success and HenPower is now well established and thriving. Volunteers are known as “hensioners” and an important aspect of HenPower is building inter-community relations. Hensioners often go out on ‘roadshows’ where they share their experiences and knowledge in schools, care settings and summer fairs.

Hensioner Alan Richards, who was awarded a Point of Light Award for his work with the group, said “I love going into schools to meet the bairns. I’ve made friends with people aged four to 94 through doing the hen road shows. I’ve learnt so much myself about keeping hens, stuff that I didn’t have a clue about before and now we can go back into schools and homes to share our experiences and to encourage others. To be honest, you’re never too old to learn.”

Now in more than 40 care homes, HenPower creatively hengages older people in arts activities and hen-keeping to promote health and wellbeing and reduce loneliness. It also cultivates creativity in care settings at a time in life when most people are slowing down, and not stepping into wellies or making masterpieces. In the North East alone there are currently 700 pensioners looking after hens in 20 care homes.

The hensioners have even designed their own bespoke coops, chosen rare breeds to buy and bid for birds at auction. HenPower also engages elderly residents in weekly activities such as creative writing, arts, crafts, music and movement, and photography. Staff in care homes have reported a reduction in the use of antipsychotic medication when the hens are present in the pensioners’ lives.

Hensioner Ossie Cresswell says "Next to blindness loneliness is the worst thing you can have, it is a big affliction. It can destroy a lot of people. I know because I have been through it. At 87, hens are the biggest thing in our lives."

With loneliness said to be as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day HenPower helps vulnerable older people gain a sense of purpose and being part of something worthwhile. They were the proud recipient of the TSB Community Partner Award for the North East this year.

Chris Gilchrist

Chris taught himself to breakdance at the age of just 15 and now 15 years later he has set up his own workshops to help to keep kids off the streets. He now runs the multi-award winning Beat-Breakers, Rhythm City where children can get the best training and education in street dance styles such as, Breakin, Poppin, Lockin, House, Krump and Hip-Hop.

Chris aims to help aspiring dancers train to the best of their abilities and give young people opportunities to compete across the UK and perform on stage across the south west and more, whilst educating them in the history and foundations of Street Dance Styles.

Midland Langar Seva Society

Randhir Singh Heer and Parmjit Singh Bahia started the Midland Langar Seva Society, which offers an open kitchen to "all and everyone" in need of food every night of the week. They were the proud recipients of the Pride of Birmingham TSB Community Award this year.

Rooted in 500-year-old Sikh traditions of offering open kitchens at temples for anyone of any background, the charity's teams of volunteers distribute hot food, treats and clothes to the community in Walsall, as well as Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry and Leicester. A team of volunteers serve around 5,000 meals a week to the needy in 15 towns and cities. They rely on local people donating food, and also support school breakfast clubs.

Randhir said: "Although the open kitchens provided by the Midland Langar Seva Society have their roots in Sikh tradition, we support all and everyone in need of food.

“Helping people most in need is something that spans every culture and every tradition."

Debbie Conibere

Debbie has worked tirelessly for the past three years leading a group attempting to raise £50,000 for the renovation of the 1st Weybridge Scout Headquarters in Springfield Lane, Weybridge. Through various fund-raising efforts and lots of volunteer hours, they achieved their target and undertook the work with the support of other local groups and businesses. In September 2013, they were able to reopen the refurbished building and, what is more, the building is also available for use by other local community groups in the Weybridge area. It was Debbie’s hard work, tenacity and determination that was a key driver and she is regarded as “a credit to the group”. In her 40s, Debbie is a parent with three boys, who attend the beavers, cubs and scouts, as well as running her own businesses.

Fraser Johnston

20 year old student Fraser set up a scheme called Cycling Without Age in his hometown of Falkirk to take out elderly people from care homes on his trishaw bike. He now uses his spare time in the saddle, taking care home residents out for trips through the countryside on his trike, which has a seat for two fastened to the front.   He told us “I really wanted to find a way to get the elderly out and about. I’d seen the work Cycling Without Age had done in Denmark and thought that it would be a perfect way to reach out to pensioners over here. I started by taking a couple of women to the Falkirk Kelpies as they had never seen them – despite living only a few miles away. They loved it so much they wanted to go again. They saw things outside which helped jog memories from their past.” Fraser and his team of 30 volunteers have taken out over 150 care home residents, all aged over 85.   After a video of Fraser taking some elderly people for a cycle went viral and gained over 15 million views, he started a Crowdfunding page which has now raised £43,492 for the scheme.

Christine Boyd

Christine fought tirelessly as part of Bathampton Meadows Alliance against a proposal to base a new park and ride service at the site. It was a two year battle to save the meadows, in which the alliance, led by Christine, tried to predict the steps the council would need to enact the proposals and always keep one step ahead. And in July 2017 the group finally got the landmark decision they had fought for – the park and ride proposals were scrapped when Highways England refused to approve the scheme.

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The Mirror's Pride of Britain Awards in partnership with TSB celebrate the achievements of truly remarkable people who make our world a better place.

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