After months of preparation the winners of the first Crawley Community Awards were presented with their awards at a gala at the Hawth theatre on Saturday night (March 19).
Picked from more than 300 nominations, people of all ages and backgrounds took away honours during an emotional and inspiring night compered by Hawth pantomime director Paul Hendy.
The first award to be given out was in the Environment category. David Moon picked up this award for his work in protection and conservation in the Ifield Brook Meadows. Nominated by Richard Symonds, he has been an inspiration and encouragement to the member of the Ifield Society for the past 15 years taking up the baton of the late James Havers. As a result of the pair’s work, the Meadows are now designated a Local Green Space.
Next was the hotly contested category of Volunteer Group, presented by West Sussex County Council chairman Pat Arculus. The award went to the Othellos Buddies.
This group of young people support the Ariel Company Theatre Othellos made up of people with special needs with a passion for theatre. Each buddy gives their time to the Othellos to enable them to take part in performances.
Kim Pollard who put them forward said: “Ariel is an incredible organisation and I cannot tell you how humbling it is to see the Othellos perform on stage. They get incredible assistance from their buddies, who are often not much older than the Othellos.”
Ray Collins was given the award for Volunteer for his work with SERV Sussex, which transports blood and other urgent medical items for the NHS. He also supports the Royal British Legion and will soon be walking from the London Eye to the Brighton Eye in support of Help Our Wounded Royal Marines.
The Springboard Project, based in Langley Green, won the Charity category for its work supporting families with children with a range of disabilities. One of the many nomination came from Linda Griggs, who described it as ‘truly unique’.
She said: “Above all it is one of the few places locally where families of children with special needs can meet together. They are a wonderful organisation and truly inclusive of all families in the area.”
Following a performance of scenes from the musical Hairspray given by students of St Wilfrid’s Catholic School.
The winner was founder of Worth Way Runners, Chris Lee. Running has transformed Chris’ life, health and fitness in the past five years and wanted to inspire others to do the same. He has recently qualified as a run leader and believes he can coax a 5km run out of anyone.
The group meets twice a week to run in a supportive, fun environment.
Nominating him Cathy Padua, said: “What makes Chris a really great coach is his complete selflessness. He gives up a huge amount of his personal time to run the group, posts encouraging messages on our Facebook group encouraging us and recognising when team members achieve a personal best.”
Next were the winners of the Sports Team category, the Downsman Bowls Club who were presented with the award by Kelly Derham of sponsor Crawley Town FC.
They were nominated by Peter Selby, who was particularly inspired by the blind and disabled bowlers and the way in which they overcome their disabilities to enjoy their sport. The club has been known to beat able-bodied teams at the sport and many of them made were up on stage to receive the award.
Making a fitting end to this year’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations, Crawley’s Celtic and Irish Cultural Society took away the award for Culture. As organisers of the Crawley Irish Festival, now in its 21st year, the society gets people involved in Crawley’s multicultural community.
After the ceremony chairman John Nolan said: “Crawley’s people make the town what it is - all groups working together to welcome people from across the globe.
“We attract interest from people from across the region. They look forward to what we do and the welcome they get. Being part of this tonight and being on stage confirmed that and we will continue doing our best to pass on that legacy.”
When Fiona Whyte, of Fi Steps dance group, heard she had been nominated for the Performing Arts category, she postponed her holiday. And it was not in vain.
Students past and present as well as their parents had put her forward for the award.
Clodah Sharp said: “I have been part of Fi Steps for 15 years. It’s been the most amazing 15 years of my life and given me the opportunity to perform in the West End and on cruises, in Disneyland and a lot more.”
Mrs Knowles said “Fi Steps provides opportunities for children to follow their dreams, make memories and dance on stages that they would not normally have access to. The children learn team work and confidence – skills they can use for the whole of their lives.
“This is all down to Fiona Whyte and her teaching team. They make children and their parents feel as though they are part of something very special.”
One of Crawley’s treasures, Maria Hains, took away the Fundraiser award for tirelessly raising hundreds of thousands of pounds for the Friends of Crawley Hospital and Manor Green School. She also helped establish the hospital’s Olive Tree Cancer Support Centre, which gives support and counselling to patients and their families.
Presented with her award from Crawley Observer’s Karen Dunn, the mother of three was in tears as she came to the stage.
She said: “I really want to thank the Crawley Observer for this. I will carry on for a few more years.”
The charity Home Start picked up the award for Community Group. They work across Crawley, Horsham and Mid-Sussex supporting struggling families.
Last year alone they supported 355 vulnerable children and their services are constantly in demand. Fundraising manager Jacqui Thomas thank their dedicated volunteers for making the work possible.
Education award winner Nigel Turner, subject leader for Physical Education at St Wilfrid’s School in Southgate received high praise from students and colleagues for his popular after school sports coaching sessions. Colleague Joshua Smith told how was ‘respected by students of all ages’ while one of his students had a personal message in his nomination.
They said: “He has time for everyone and treats us all with respect. He doesn’t even realise how much he has influenced my time at St Wilfrid’s and I think that winning this award would help him to see just how amazing he really is.”
Passionate St Catherine’s Hospice fundraiser Barbara Alderson was ‘shocked’ to win the award for Achievement. Nominated by the hospice, she began supporting St Catherine’s selling raffle tickets to her colleagues at Unilever in Crawley. In 2007 she turned her garage into a blue bag donation point collecting items for the 15 hospice shops and last year alone the goods she collected raised over £16,000.
She said: “I’ve been doing it for 16 years and it’s got me through my husband having husband. It’s got me through a lot of things. It gives me something to get up for in the morning.”
Gabi Field from St Catherine’s said: “She’s completely dedicated to raising both money and awareness of St Catherine’s work wherever she goes. Her ability to connect with people and her endless determination means than many more people locally are aware of and appreciate our Hospice’s work.”
Mayor of Crawley Chris Cheshire had the pleasure of presenting 80-year-old lollipop man Phil Hayes with the Local Hero Award. He is loved by the pupils of Our Lady Queen of Heaven Primary School in Langley Green. He was nominated by a Year 5 pupil there.
As he picked up the award, he paid tribute to the Crawley Gateway Club, where he volunteers. “I’m very, very lucky. I would like to thank them for being who they are: my friends. You are an inspiration.”
The last three awards went to people who spending their time championing causes and giving hope and inspiration to those living with life-changing conditions.
Inspiration Award winner Julia Klemkerk, is diagnosed by an incurable cancer called NET, having previously beaten breast cancer. She works hard to raise awareness of this little-known condition and her group supports four patients with this condition in Crawley alone.
She said: “It’s not as rare as people think and it’s not necessarily a life sentence. You are not alone.”
The Support Group award went to Autism Support Crawley, a volunteer-led organisation which supports about 550 families with loved ones on the autistic spectrum. The group was described as a ‘lifeline’ for many.
Crawley MP Henry Smith, presented the last award to handcyclist and fundraiser Rob Groves, who he had also nominated for the honour.
Paralysed from the waist down, Rob has set up a national handcycling movement encouraging disabled people to not be bound by the mental and physical barriers facing them.
He has completed challenges included a 24-hour endurance race which qualified him to race across America in 2017. The only reason he will not be handcycling the coast of England is because his doctor has forbidden it.
His efforts have attracted interest from ITV’s Surprise, Surprise and Sunrise Medical have donated handcycles to his cause for others to use national chain Halford’s maintain.
All the nominees and winners were supported at the Hawth by their friends and family. It made for an emotional night during which people of all ages, abilities, colour and cultures were celebrated.