GALLERY: Express & Star Heroes Awards honour community champions
Inspirational heroes who make a difference to our communities have been recognised at the Express & Star Heroes Awards.
Hundreds of nominations were received from readers as part of the ceremony which aimed to find people who made a day-to-day difference.
A panel of judges then narrowed down the entrants until a winner was chosen, with the eight – and their family and friends – gathering at Marston's in Wolverhampton for the ceremony.
A ninth award was chosen by the Express & Star team and editor Martin Wright, who acted as the host for the evening.
Meet the award winners
First up was Jenny Sharp who received the Beyond The Call of Duty Award, sponsored by HomeServe, for her work with children with special educational needs.
The 43-year-old, who lives in Rubery, runs a special unit called Little Rhymes – helping children of reception age who have social and communication difficulties.
Without this help, the children could be forced to stay at home and become further isolated from people.
It was set-up after Ms Sharp, who runs Rhymes Nursery, became concerned about a shortage of special needs provision for school-aged children in the borough – and decided to act.
She said: "It was a surprise, definitely a shock to win.
"I treat them all like my children and it's lovely to be recognised, but that's just part of it all – I do it to watch the children grow up, and meeting their needs, it's really nice.
"It's all been lovely."
Anna Davies won the Community Champion Award, sponsored by HomeServe, for her contribution to life in Pattingham.
The 42-year-old, who lives in the South Staffordshire village, is involved in number of projects to fundraise and provide opportunities for young people.
She is a member of the St Chad's Parents, Teachers and Friends Association – helping to plan events – and leads the village hill committee.
As part of her work with St Chad's Church, Ms Davies runs the holiday club to make sure children learn and enjoy themselves in a safe environment.
She said: "It means a lot to be recognised, but I don't do it for that.
"It's really nice and I do it because I love it. I love doing events for people and raising money.
"And it's the satisfaction you get – it's heart-warming seeing people come together, you're like 'wow'."
The Carer of the Year Award, sponsored by McDonald's, was given to Chris Murray, who has dedicated his life to looking after his nearest and dearest.
The 50-year-old starting as a carer when he was five, looking after his mother, and now he looks after partner Nicola and son Dylan.
The 15-year-old, who is autistic, has dyspraxia and the eating disorder Pica – with Nicola having arthritis, chronic pain syndrome and depression.
And the carer, who lives in Wednesbury, looks after them both – helping to get them out of bed, get cleaned and fed before rushing off to do the school run.
Mr Murray, who is originally from Dudley, said: "I didn't even know I was nominated – I was nominated by Nicola – and then there's a phone call and I was actually shocked.
"There's no recognition needed but I'm very proud to have this award.
"I've been looking after my mother since I was five, so 45 years now I've been a carer for people – which is quite a long time.
"And it's absolutely rewarding."
Gavin Jones was handed the Power of Sport Award, sponsored by McDonald's, in recognition for his role as inclusions lead for the Wolves Disability Team.
The 43-year-old, who is visually impaired, helps adults and youngsters who aren't able to join mainstream teams play football.
And his Wolves team has been taken on as a full part of the club – with Mr Jones working to help the members take part in the Birmingham Ability Counts League, with the under 12s, under 16s, and adults competing.
The award winner, from Wednesfield, said: "I'm proud because it was totally unexpected – I had no idea.
"It's all about giving children who would not normally go out and play football, because it's not a safe environment, a chance to play in a friendly environment.
"It's what I do as a job but to give something back, to see the families and the young people, it's incredible.
"And it's not just me who has done this, the other coaches – Mark Bromley and Carl Ackasovs – have been great in particular."
The Volunteer of the Year Award, sponsored by the Mander Centre, was claimed by Mavis Yeomans for her work in supporting people with dementia – and their carers – for more than 25 years.
The 80-year-old runs the fortnightly Dementia Carers Supporting Group and has been a volunteer at Wolverhampton Alz Cafe since it began.
She set up the support group eight years ago after seeing how much carers need, with the volunteer organising a host of trips for people.
It has seen people with dementia, and their carers, visit Trentham Gardens and the Severn Valley Railway – helping to ease pressure on the support workers and help people with the condition make friends.
She said: "It's an honour, a real honour, to get something in recognition for something I've done for years.
"It's all worthwhile when you see people smile and people enjoying themselves.
"Dementia is a very cruel illness and the carers are very hard-working people, so any help or support we can give to them we will."
Kyle Harper won the Young Star Award, sponsored by the Mander Centre, in recognition of his work to set up a youth club in Dudley for people with disabilities.
The 16-year-old organised a charity ball and a Tesco bag pack, raising £1,000 to set up at the Himley Road Methodist Church.
The youth club takes place every Tuesday night and sees a number of activities held, including arts, crafts, sports and cooking.
He said: "It's nice to see the reactions on the faces of the young children, and seeing how their confidence grows.
"Obviously it's a good thing we all do and it's very vital, especially for the parents for them to have some respite.
"I had no idea about being nominated for the award and I'm extremely happy to win."
His mother, Victoria Harper, added: "I'm very very proud of him – he has worked so hard for this and now he's been recognised for it.
"The youth club is going from strength to strength, just like the confidence in the children."
Andrea Bexton received the Hero of the NHS Award, sponsored by Paycare – formerly known as PatientsAid, for her work at New Cross Hospital.
The 39-year-old works in the neonatal ward with premature and sick babies – and helps ease the fears of the worried parents.
She was inspired to join the NHS after her premature son Tristan was born, who weighed 2lbs, after going through two miscarriages.
The nurse, who trained for six years, later gave birth to a girl – and also had complications.
Mrs Bexton, from Underhill in Wolverhampton, said: "I first found out after a night shift and I thought I was dreaming, to be honest. I was completely shocked.
"I wanted to give something back and I've been through quite a lot – but I've got my dream job now.
"It's nice to see the babies go home with their parents.
"And it's wonderful to get this award, it's really nice.
"All the hard work has paid off."
The Ambassador of the Year Award, sponsored by Paycare, was handed out to Louis Johnson in recognition of him raising £25,000.
The 13-year-old, from Tettenhall, raised the money – including £9,000 for Birmingham Children's Hospital – to support a range of good causes.
Several charities have benefitted, including the Midlands Air Ambulance, the Steve Bull Foundation, Teenage Cancer Trust, Cry Wolves and Mary Stevens Hospice.
The youngster said he was "shocked and proud" to win the award, saying it was an "added bonus" for raising the funds.
His mother Teresa added: "It's not just about raising money, it's the behind-the-scenes work you don't see – trying to get as much support as possible – and sponsorship.
"It's the second week of 2020 and he's got this award and he's become the ambassador for Birmingham Children's Hospital – I'm very proud."
And cycling legend Hugh Porter MBE claimed the Special Recognition Award, sponsored by whg, after it was hand-picked by the Express & Star.
The sporting star won four world titles, as well as Commonwealth Games gold in 1966, during his cycling career.
And, since retiring, he was appointed an MBE and built a successful career as the voice of cycling in Britain thorough his commentating.
The former St Peter's Collegiate School student received the Freedom of the City in recognition of his work – and his services to charity.
His work has seen more than £100,000 raised for Compton Care, where he is a patron, to help them support people with complex and incurable illnesses.
Mr Porter said: "I thought my days of receiving awards were long gone, but this award is very special – and it's the first one, too.
"I think the fact I've been recognised is incredible. It's truly fantastic.
"Normally Anita and I get invited to award ceremonies to give out the awards and about a week ago, I said 'oh, I don't think they want us this year' – and so it's amazing I've won this award."
Unique star-shaped awards, made by the British Ironwork Centre, were handed out to the winners by the sponsors – along with a certificate and champagne.
The event was sponsored by whg, HomeServe, McDonald's, the Mander Centre, Paycare, Marston's and British Ironwork Centre.
Wolverhampton Councillor Beverley Momenabadi was among the guests at the event and tweeted: "The awards celebrated the shining stars from across the Black Country.
"From heroes who go beyond the call of duty to incredible community champions. I was truly humbled to celebrate their achievements with them."
Gary Fulford, from main sponsors whg, said: "It's been a really inspirational evening and it's been wonderful to hear people's stories.
"For us, these awards are real awards for real people who are making a huge difference."
Ralph Findlay, chief executive of Marston's, added: "We understand the work people do and I think it's absolutely fantastic to recognise what they do with an award like the Express & Star does.
"We were delighted to get involved and I think it's been a great evening with lots of stories which have been inspirational."
The ceremony for the Express & Star Heroes Awards 2019, which replaced the Great Big Thank You Awards, was held on Thursday.