We were inundated with entries for this year’s awards scheme and now announce the individuals and groups who have impressed the most in the categories of Champion Person, Young Person, Team, Volunteer and Sporting Champion in the Ellesmere Port area.
On Friday, November 14, all of these winners have been invited to attend the Your Champions gala awards ceremony at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Chester when the overall winners in each of the categories will be announced. Guest of honour is England goalkeeping legend Peter Shilton.
These overall champions will be chosen from the local winners in Chester, Flintshire, South Cheshire, Ellesmere Port, Runcorn & Widnes, Wirral and Wrexham.
Volunteer of the Year - Sally Reader
An inspirational grandmother who dedicated her life to helping children in Gambia was honoured by the Queen and has been nominated in the Pioneer’s Your Champions.
Over the past 20 years Sally Reader, Hadlow Road, Willaston , has raised more than £124,000 towards improving schools and the lives of thousands of children across the country.
The grandmother-of-five was recognised for her remarkable achievements after being awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in the New Year Honours list.
Sally, 72, set up the Friends of Gambian Schools (Frogs) after falling in love with the country during an unplanned holiday with her husband Malcolm, 71, back in 1992.
Remarkably, her love affair with Gambia began by chance after Malcolm fell off the roof and broke his leg, forcing them to cancel their Caribbean trip and rethink their plans.
She headed backwards and forwards to help refurbish a school in a two year project which ended with her founding the charity with help from supporters and friends.
Twenty four containers of books, pencils and educational equipment were sent to schools across Gambia.
After seven years of sending equipment to children in the country, Sally and Malcolm moved there so that she could continue her work closer to the children she was helping.
“It is hard to imagine how many children we have affected by the work we have done,” said Sally who is treated like the Queen by schools and children she visits across the country.
The couple closed the charity and moved to Willaston due to personal reasons in December 2012 but Sally still keeps in touch the schools and gets letters from the children.
Team of the Year - Action Transport Theatre
Ellesmere Port’s professional theatre company has been declared the Ellesmere Port Team of the Year in this year’s Your Champions awards for its work in reaching over 22,000 young people every year as participants and audiences in the town and elsewhere in Cheshire.
Action Transport Theatre also reaches a further 11,000 regionally and nationally through touring.
The theatre’s nomination follows celebrations on gaining an offer of more than a third of a million pounds over the next three years in Arts Council Funding.
The grants are targeted at organisations that best reach the Arts Council’s aims of making great art and culture for everyone.
The theatre, which has been a national portfolio organisation since 2012, successfully re-applied to remain a member of the group.
Based in Whitby Hall it will now receive £120,696 a year for the next three years to deliver a pioneering programme of work for, by and with young people.
Chief executive and artistic director Nina Hajiyianni said: “We are grateful to Arts Council England for their continued support and recognition of Action Transport Theatre as a leader in young people’s theatre.
“We work locally in Ellesmere Port to deliver exceptional quality theatre for local audiences and offer opportunities for young people to engage with new writing and theatre making on their doorstep. Over the last three years we have delivered an ambitious programme. We look forward to the next three years.”
Young Champion - Lexie Till
“I just wanted to help him” said a brave 10-year-old when she made a life changing donation of bone marrow to her poorly three year old brother leading to a nomination for Your Champions.
Toddler Drew Till of Whitby, Ellesmere Port , has a rare genetic condition known as Diamond Blackfan Anaemia, a failure of the bone marrow.
The condition causes Drew’s body to produce few or no red blood cells and he has spent much of his life in and out of the Countess of Chester and Alder Hey hospitals for various medication and monthly blood transfusions.
When doctors told Mum Helen, 43 and Dad Andy, 45 that Drew would need a bone marrow transplant in order to live a healthy life they soon discovered that sister Lexie, a pupil at Woodlands Primary, was a perfect match.
She had no hesitation in volunteering to donate her bone marrow and in June was admitted to Manchester Children’s Hospital for five days of chemotherapy.
Ten days later Lexie underwent the surgery where doctors removed about 700ml of liquid bone marrow with Drew receiving it though a transfusion the next day.
Proud Helen told the Pioneer: ”Lexie bounced back from her surgery and was back in school three days later after a weekend at home.
“There were a few setbacks for Drew that were caused by his treatment but he battled through and has progressed really well.” Drew was finally home after being released from hospital 24 days after his transplant.
“He’s doing well, his new bone marrow is starting to make its own blood products which will hopefully lead to a transfusion free life,” said Helen. “But we are so proud of Lexie for stepping in.”
Lexie said: ”Drew means everything to me, he’s really special and I just wanted to help him.”
Person of the Year - Rev Christine Jones
A century after a high street chapel opened its doors, its minister has been nominated for the Pioneer’s Your Champions .
The Rev Christine Jones from Trinity Church in Ellesmere Port retired last month but many believe no one can deny she made a massive difference to many lives in the town.
Under her stewardship Trinity is said to have become ‘so much more than just a church’ and to have extended its embrace to all residents, believers of any faith or none. Former town mayor Pat Merrick first met Christine during her year of office in 2012/13.
“I attended many events and functions that she championed, Fair Trade, the Foodbank, building a real nativity outside, making Trinity a welcoming hub in the middle of the town where people could go for a cup of tea and a chat, or lunch at the splendid cafe,” she says.
“Everything run by volunteers but always with Chris and her husband at the centre of things.”
She added: “It was with trepidation that I accepted her invitation to chair the Arts Committee that brought the Methodist Collection of Modern Art and the first ever Arts Festival to the Port in 2014.
“Christine had achieved this wonderful opportunity for our town singlehandedly and set up the committee but had decided she needed someone other than herself to act as chair.
“I agreed but in all fairness Rev Chris was the driving force. She had a talent for organising and working tirelessly on projects, then pushing other forwards to accept the glory while she clapped enthusiastically in the background.
“Chris will be missed by many. I hope the festival will continue for many years and be a lasting tribute to a very special woman.”
Sporting Champion - Paul Butler
When Paul Butler held aloft his IBF world bantamweight title belt it was a moment his father never doubted that he would see.
Ellesmere Port native Butler, 25, claimed a famous points victory over Stuart Hall at Newcastle’s Metro Arena to see him crowned world champion, also earning himself the title of Ellesmere Port Sporting Champion of the Year in this year’s Your Champions awards.
Butler’s father, Paul Butler Snr, says he never doubted that his son would become Ellesmere Port’s first-ever boxing world champion.
“It was a case of relief more than elation,” said Butler Snr. “Paul executed everything perfectly. We wanted to start well and boss the first six rounds, which he did and he was a thoroughly deserving winner. I never doubted that Paul would become world champion, ever since he first started and I was one proud dad. He did me, his camp, his fans and everyone back home proud.”
Former British and Commonwealth super-flyweight champion Butler, who cut his teeth at the Vauxhall ABC gym in Ellesmere Port, claimed victory on a split decision after he and 34-year-old Hall battled it out in 12 thrilling rounds of boxing.
In only his second fight at 118lbs, the fighter demonstrated his impressive speed and footwork and was given the verdict after two of the three judges scored the fight in his favour, extending his unbeaten professional career to 16-0.
Butler, who was tipped for a world title by his promoter Frank Warren last year, was roared on by a vocal travelling support of almost 500 who had made the journey up via coach to watch the fight.