The Great Big Thank You Awards: Inspirational unsung heroes honoured at glitzy ceremony
It was a night to celebrate those unsung heroes who work tirelessly to make our communities better, go that extra mile to help others or have succeeded against all odds.
Finalists, celebrities and sponsors all gathered to discover who our readers had chosen to receive one of the Express & Star's Great Big Thank You Awards.
Around 150 people attended the glittering awards ceremony in the WV1 Suite at Molineux to congratulate the finalists, including famous faces such as Slade’s Noddy Holder, Wolves legend Steve Bull and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson - fresh from meeting Emmanuel Macron, the French President, earlier in the day.
The finalists and their friends and family were congratulated on their nominations by Wolverhampton Grand’s Jack and the Beanstalk panto stars Lisa Riley and Gareth Gates who had recorded a special video in their honour.
WATCH footage from the awards here:
Compère for the night was Express & Star editor Keith Harrison who announced the winners and welcomed them onto the stage to accept their well-deserved trophies.
“These are people whose compassion, kind hearts and all round ‘bostin-ness’ means they help others and make the world a better place,” he said.
Meanwhile Black Country comic Doreen Tipton had the audience in stitches as she introduced the event, poking fun at the assorted celebrities and saying: "I'm no stranger to great achievements - over the years I've won my fair share of awards....which is none. But people here deserve a Great Big Thank You."
The first winner on the night was Declan Flanagan who was named Teacher of the Year, sponsored by City of Wolverhampton Council.
Declan, who works at St Anthony’s Catholic Primary School in Wolverhampton, was presented with his trophy by the city’s Deputy Mayor Councillor Phil Page.
Mr Flanagan has been teaching for 25 years and is particularly passionate about inspiring children to enjoy mathematics.
Speaking about winning his award the 50-year-old father of two said: “It’s really lovely. I was a little bemused and a little confused when I was nominated but it’s brilliant to win the award.
“I’ve been teaching for 25 years and to hear I’m doing a good job is what every teacher wants to hear.
“I get up everyday and I’m excited about going to work, about seeing how the children are going to react to what they are learning and coming up with imaginative ideas to inspire them to have confidence in their ability.”
Owen Perks walked away with the Young Star Award, sponsored by Signal 107 and presented by station director Jane Davies ably assisted by rock music legend Noddy.
Twelve-year-old Owen has raised around £3,000 in the past 18 months through a series of charity events.
He had his head shaved in memory of Stephen Sutton, spent six hours sat in a box to experience what it was like to have a disability like his friend with cerebral palsy - and most recently completed a walk from Wolverhampton to Walsall to raise money for Tommy Brown who had his hands and legs amputated as a result of meningitis.
Owen said: “I kind of had a weird feeling in my stomach when they were reading the names out. I was hoping I would win but also thought that some of the others had done amazing things as well.
“It’s really amazing and I want to carry on doing more charity work in the future.”
Volunteer of the Year, sponsored by the Express & Star, went to Pam Jackson, who runs the Busy Bees group at Wood Lane Community Centre in West Bromwich. Her award was handed over by the Express & Star’s circulation director Dean Barber, Hugh Porter and Anita Lonsborough.
Busy Bees aims to bring people together to socialise and prevent loneliness. The group which crochets, knits and sews special creations, boasts dozens of members.
After being presented with her prize the dedicated 70-year-old said it was a ‘brilliant’ feeling to know that people had voted for her.
Speaking about why she founded the group, Pam said: “It gives people the chance to get out, meet people, have a cup of tea and a natter.”
Community Champion sponsored by NatWest, went to Zara Sands from Willenhall.
She was presented with her prize by Alan Roberts, NatWest’s local CEO for Shrewsbury, Wolverhampton and the Black Country - alongside Wolves hero Bully.
Four years ago Zara and her son found themselves in a hostel after she lost her home. But Zara has bounced back from that tough time in her life and is now helping other people who find themselves in challenging circumstances.
She runs community group Helping Hearts, which delivers hot food and clothes to homeless people in and around Wolverhampton.
Zara, 33, said: “I’m so happy because I’ve never won anything. I didn’t think I would get to this stage. I just wanted to help people and it’s amazing.
“Some of the people I’ve helped haven’t had a great start to life and I want to give them the chance they deserve. I want to do my best for those people.”
Fresh Start Award sponsored by whg was won by Sam Billingham. The prize was awarded by whg group chief executive Gary Fulford and MP for Wolverhampton North East, Emma Reynolds.
Sam has made it her mission to help as many other women, and also men, who have managed to get away from abusive partners.
The mother of one founded support group SODA (Survivors of Domestic Abuse) in April 2009.
Since then it has gone from strength to strength with the online community alone having 900 members from across the UK and worldwide.
The 37-year-old from Brierley Hill dedicated her award to her late mother Megan who died two years ago.
“I wasn’t expecting this at all. I was a finalist last year and I saw it as a way of raising awareness and promoting SODA.
“It means so much to have such fantastic support.”
“It’s been difficult to keep going at times but I have done so because of my daughter and my dad.
“I’m not going to give up with SODA,” she added.
Fundraiser of the Year sponsored by HomeServe was given to Tesco delivery driver Jagraj Poselay, from Walsall.
His award was presented by John Greaves, HomeServe’s brand director, and Britain’s Got Talent finalist Jean Martyn.
Jag has helped raise more than £40,000 for good causes through scores of entertainment nights and shows.
The generous 47-year-old has also been mentoring young Owen Perks in the schoolboy’s own fundraising mission. Jag regularly works from 8am to 6pm - but can then be found helping out with fundraising activities until 10pm straight after work.
He said: “I feel amazing. It’s overwhelming really, I wasn’t prepared for this at all.
“Owen is absolutely amazing as well and I’ve been mentoring him for a while. I have won a few awards but this is the first time I’ve won one for fundraising.”
The Learner Award, sponsored by University of Wolverhampton went to star student Prayerna Nanavati who battled through illness while studying for her GCSEs last year.
Prayerna was given the award by Katharine Clough, the university’s director of external relations, and Megan Reece from The Voice.
Despite suffering from relentless abdominal pains, 16-year-old Prayerna achieved a raft of outstanding marks including a level 9 - the highest grade - in English literature.
With 11 GCSEs under her belt she is now studying for A-levels in English, French and Spanish at St Dominics Grammar School in Brewood with dreams of reading English at university and one day becoming a singer/songwriter.
She told the Express & Star that winning the award felt ‘really surreal’ adding: “thank you for voting for me whoever you are.”
Ambassador of the Year sponsored by Wolverhampton Grand Theatre was won by Dicky Dodd, who received his prize from Vicky Price, the Grand’s associate director for development and communications, and Defence Secretary Mr Williamson.
Signal 107 breakfast presenter and content controller Dicky, who was born and bred in Wednesfield, is a proud champion of Wolverhampton - and has played a key role in organising numerous events in the city for years.
After winning the award he said: “I’m bowled over. I didn’t expect to win this really - I thought [Wolverhampton Marathon organiser] Mary Harding would win it. In my eyes she should’ve won it. I’m very pleased and really proud with what I’ve done and will continue to do for the city.
“But the city is nothing without the people. I’m just an ordinary guy doing a really amazing job, a dream job. If we can have more people being proud of our city, championing it and shouting about it to the rest of the world then that would be great.
“I think these awards put Wolverhampton, the Black Country and the West Midlands on the map - not just for the UK but the world.”
During the interval there was a performance by The Voice star Megan who took to the stage to sing two songs including one she dedicated to the finalists, saying: “This event really warms my heart.”
Defence Secretary Mr Williamson, who is the MP for South Staffordshire, paid tribute to the community champions recognised in the awards.
He said: “This was a wonderful celebration of the best of Wolverhampton, Staffordshire and the Black Country - the best of people and the very best they do to really make a difference.
“You can see the real passion they have for the places they have championed. It makes you realise how lucky we are to live in such a special part of the world.”
Noddy told the Express & Star he was delighted to return to his old stomping ground. He said: “I don’t get back to Wolverhampton very often but it’s always good when I do. When you’re brought up in the Midlands it’s in your DNA, it’s in your blood. As soon as you hear the Black Country accent it brings everything back.
“I think we often get overlooked compared to London, Manchester and Liverpool but it’s great to be here to celebrate the Black Country - we need to highlight all the good news from our unsung heroes."
Prolific striker Bully said: “It’s great to celebrate these people who have achieved so much and have done so much good in their communities.
“It’s also nice to tell more people about what they are doing and it will hopefully inspire others to think ‘I can do that’ too.”
Cycling legend Hugh said: “I’m a proud Wulfrunian and a proud Black Country boy and it’s great to see people from around here who have done great things recognised.
“They deserve to be honoured even though they aren’t doing it for that reason.”
Olympic swimming gold medalist Anita added: “It’s lovely to be able to honour the unsung heroes from all different categories. These people work tremendously hard, don’t get paid and get a lot of satisfaction from what they do. It’s great to give them something back.”
Wolverhampton South East MP Pat McFadden said: “I think it’s great that the Express & Star has organised these awards as a way of saying thank you to these community heroes, these people that give so much to their community and make them a better place for everyone.
“Their stories really are inspiring and I’m delighted that their efforts are being recognised in this way.
Britain’s Got Talent’s finalist Jean, who also attended last year’s awards ceremony, said: “I think anything that shows people that what they are doing hasn’t gone unnoticed and is appreciated is a good thing.”
Deputy Mayor Councillor Page added: “There are a lot of fantastic people who really deserve some recognition for what they are doing. We’ve also got some very talented young people and it’s nice that they too are being recognised. For me it shows that Wolverhampton is a fantastic place to live, work and raise a family.”
- For more pictures and news from The Great Big Thank You Awards pick up a copy of Saturday's Express & Star.