A few months ago I started working on a special event – an awards night to recognize the unsung heroes of Watford and surrounding villages.
The concept was simple enough but the planning and preparation involved was enormous. Luckily I had an incredible team of people on board to help the idea become a reality.
The result was a brilliant event, held last night at the Watford Hilton – in fact it was probably one of the best nights of my life.
Hundreds of people turned out to shine a light on some inspirational people while raising money for two great local charities at the same time – Peace Hospice Care and DRUM, a local disabilities charity.
I will report later on the night itself but here is a list of the winners and their inspiring stories.
Local Hero of the Year: Matthew Loddy from Kings Langley
Matthew is a true inspiration. Last year, at the age of 46, he ran 100 marathons in 100 days to raise funds for the hospice of St Francis and the Teenage Cancer Trust, after losing a close friend to cancer. This effort raised £100,000.
But he didn’t stop there. This year he ran 30 marathons in 30 days to raise funds for the Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT). This challenge culminated with Matthew completing the London Marathon in less than three hours and setting a new personal best time. His average marathon time throughout the challenge was 3 hours 21 minutes. Matthew’s ‘Marathon Month’ raised approx. £80,000 and a huge amount of awareness for the TCT.
Winner of the Above and Beyond category: s Wish (Paul Dove and Tanya Whitney)
Paul lost his only child to knife crime in 2011. He lives with the torture of this every day of his life.
However, he a few months after his son’s murder he decided to do all he could to make sure that every child understands the dangers of carrying a knife, so no-one has to go through the torment that cripples his family every day.
Paul, his fiancée Tanya, and his sister Sally Masson set up a charity in Billy Dove’s name: ‘Billy’s Wish’. They have worked tirelessly to launch an education programme that will soon be taught across Dacorum, and rolled out across Hertfordshire in the next few months. They also work with local youth groups to promote positive activity for our young people. Local schools have been taken by the charity to visit the Ben Kinsella Knife Crime Exhibition in London, a very hard hitting demonstration of the consequences of carrying a knife.
Tanya is full of innovative ideas that will be put into place over the next couple of years.
Winner Child of Courage category: Emily Mott
Emily has shown great bravery since being diagnosed with a rare form of childhood cancer.
She has had to deal with so much over the last few years, not only starting secondary school at Parmiter’s, but also coming to terms with her illness.
Despite the fact that Emily lost her hair, and has been very unwell after many bouts of chemo and radiotherapy, Emily never ceases to have a smile on her face.
For her birthday last year, Emily organised a raffle and made jewellery with all the proceeds going to Cancer Research. She wanted to help others in a similar situation to herself. This portrayed her incredible maturity and kindness.
In her spare time Emily is always making jewellery which she plans to sell with funds going to the same cause as last year, proving that she repeatedly thinks of others because of her thoughtful nature.
Winner Neighbour of the Year: Matthew Chant
30-year-old Matt clears elderly neighbours’ drives, offers to go shopping for them and does odd jobs for those in need.
He often makes extra food for his neighbours, and holds BBQs to bring the community together. When it snows, Matt has already cleared peoples’ driveways before they go out.
He does all this despite working full time as a self-employed engineer and recovering from breaking his back in a fall two years ago.
Matt also supports local charities and even gets up at the crack of dawn to help the church serve breakfast to the homeless.
Winner of the Outstanding Bravery Category: Graeme Whyte
In 1971, at the age of 20, Graeme undertook an extremely dangerous mission on behalf of the African National Congress.
With all of its leaders in prison and unable to communicate with the African people, the ANC badly needed help.
Young white volunteers were recruited to travel to South Africa carrying false-bottomed suitcases loaded with ANC leaflets. Their task was to distribute them and send a message of hope to Mandela and his colleagues in prison, and to all the people suffering under Apartheid.
This was top secret and highly dangerous. The recruits were warned that arrest would mean torture and, then if they survived the interrogation, a prison sentence of 10 years or more.
Success would bring no glory, since the work had to remain a close secret. Their only reward would be knowing they had helped people in need.
Despite the dangers Graeme volunteered, carried out his mission, then simply came home without saying a word, and kept his secret for 40 years. Not till 2012 was a book published, in which the recruits tells their story for the first time.
Graeme currently works as a teacher in Kings Langley.
Winners of the Parent of the Year category: Steve and Sharon Kelly
Steve and Sharon are parents to 21-year-old Spencer, a sporty young man who is in a wheelchair.
Spencer is a massive Watford FC fan but has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. This meant he could not pariticpate in able-bodied sports when he was a child, so Steve looked for a powerchair football team that Spencer could join.
Steve got involved with the Aspire Powerchair Sports Club Charity. The initial team, Aspire, has been followed by two others that he helped to create, Evergreen and Muscle Warriors. The teams are made up of people with different abilities but all are power wheelchair users. There are 30 players in total.
Steve is the chairman for the Aspire Powerchair Sports Club Charity as well as the Evergreen Powerchair team, which Spencer now plays in. He is also a committee member for Evergreen FC.
Sharon is secretary for Evergreen Powerchair FC and they both play a big part in organising fundraising events for the club such as an annual dinner, BBQs and raffles.
Steve is also vice chairman of the national Wheelchair Football Association. He juggles all of his responsibilities with a full-time job. Sharon works part time as a teaching assistant at Leavesden Green School. They have two other children, Brett and Mitchell.
Steve and Sharon have also found time to raise money for Muscular Dystrophy research. Sharon trekked the Great Wall of China in 2010, took part in a skydive in 2011 and will cycle across Vietnam and Cambodia in February 2014. Steve trekked to Peru in 2011. The pair have raised a combined total of over £16,000.
Winner of the Sporting Achievement category: Cheryl Hall
Cheryl has been clay shooting for just over ten years. In that time she has won 26 world titles and over 20 European titles. Her most recent victory was in the World Compak Championships in St Petersburg in August. She is known around the world and yet little known in her home town of Watford.
Cheryl first shot a 20 bore shotgun when she was invited to shoot at a beaters day. Even though she was, in her own words ‘absolutely rubbish’ she enjoyed every minute and embarked on some clay shooting lessons.
After a few months she started to shoot a Beretta 12 bore and then she was ready to shoot the selection shoots for the county for which in the 1st year she won 5 of the 5 she entered. The following year she went on to qualify for the England sporting team which took her to San Antonio for which she was not disgraced. In 2005 she won the Home International Sporting Championship.
In 2006 Cheryl won her first world English Sporting title and that was it – winning was addictive and the benchmark had been set.
Cheryl works full time as an area manager in the lift industry so the her practice time is usually restricted to Sundays. She strives to bring more people in to the sport for which has become her life. Cheryl also is a keen rifle shooter.
Winner of the Young Achiever category: Joshua Cramp
When Josh was just three years old he tragically lost his dad. Before he passed away, Josh would visit his father at The Peace Hospice where he was being looked after. He would choose his favourite DVD and pair of pyjamas and snuggle up in bed with him.
Josh’s dad left him with a special book so he would remember all of these special memories.
When he started school last year and met other children, Josh realised that he was the only one without a dad, which made him sad. He took part in the hospices child bereavement program where he was taught to understand what had happened and how to feel better about things.
Now, at six years old, Josh is flourishing. So much so, that he chose to share his story with other members of the community for The Peace Hospice’s Lights of Love campaign.
Gill Crowson, who works at the hospice said: “Josh is a brave little boy and because of him, The Peace Hospice raised over £55,000 this year.”
Josh attends York Mead School in Croxley Green, which also supported the cause with their Harvest Festival and various other fundraising events.
Josh’s story also featured at WFC’s Christmas Carol Service, speaking over the microphone on the football pitch, as well as the hospices annual golf day and Christmas appeal.
Winner of the Young Sporting Achiever: James JJ Ross
James is a 16-year-old who drives racing cars. According to Peter, he is an “incredible talent” who deserves to be recognised for his achievements.
Despite being bullied at school, James overcame his problems and directed his energy into racing cars. Last year, he won the Swift Junior Rally cross Championship.
This year James has competed in the Fiesta Junior Championship and has won seven of the first eight races this year. He has had a very strong lead in the championship.
James recently competed in his first senior rally cross event at Lydden Hill, Kent.
Driving 500BHP WRC Ford Escort Cosworth, he entered the “Supercar” class against many experienced senior drivers, some from Europe.
He didn’t have the best of luck with a couple of suspension failures, but still finished 12th of the 15 entries.
On a very limited budget, (miniscule compared to his rivals) but with the help of a number of local companies, he has achieved a huge amount of success.