A courageous little girl who captured the hearts of a nation with her fight against leukaemia and a have-a-go hero who saved the life of a dentist in a racially motivated attack were among those honoured at the 2016 Your Champions gala ceremony.
This was the 29th year that Trinity Mirror - publishers of The Chester Chronicle, Ellesmere Port Pioneer and the Crewe and Nantwich Chronicles - have teamed up with the ScottishPower Foundation to stage the event which highlights the efforts of the unsung heroes and heroines of our communities.
Winners in five categories - Young Person, Team, Volunteer, Sporting and Person - from the areas of Chester, Ellesmere Port, South Cheshire, Flintshire, Runcorn and Widnes, Wirral and Wrexham were all invited to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Chester on Friday to see who would be declared the overall champions on the night.
For the first time ever, a special Appeal of the Year award was created to mark the incredible story of Chester six-year-old Erin Cross who has spent most of her young life battling leukaemia.
This has been an astonishing year for the Cross family from Upton which began with them being told Erin would need a revolutionary therapy only available in America if her life was to be saved, but which would require them to raise more than £100,000 in a short space of time to be able to pay for the treatment.
With the support of The Chester Chronicle, an online appeal to raise the cash managed to smash through the target in just 24 hours, eventually reaching more than £140,000, an achievement which led to mum Sarah being invited to appear on ITV’s This Morning show with Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby.
The appeal enabled the family to take Erin to America where the treatment was eventually declared a total success. The therapy put the youngster in remission which meant she was able to return to the UK and begin preparations for a bone marrow transplant which is due to take place in Manchester later this month.
Sarah was at the Crowne Plaza on Friday night with husband Antony and they received their award from British Olympic hero Roger Black MBE who was the guest of honour at this year’s awards.
The final award of the night was the Champion of Champions which is presented to the one nomination from across all categories and all areas which impressed Trinity Mirror and ScottishPower judges the most.
This year that honour went to Peter Fuller from Flintshire, a heroic ex-soldier from Mold who stopped a neo-nazi fanatic killing an Asian dentist.
Mr Fuller, 44 , risked his life to save Dr Sarandev Bhambra during the horrific machete and hammer attack in Mold Tesco supermarket in January 2015.
He received praise from Judge Rhys Rowlands during the case which saw Zack Davies being jailed for life for attempted murder.
Since then, North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Winston Roddick presented Mr Fuller with a certificate featuring Judge Rowlands’ words of praise; he also received national coverage for his bravery when he was honoured during the Pride of Britain awards; and he has spent a lot of time this year touring schools to spread an anti-racism message to young people.
The evening began with introductions from Carl Wood, regional managing director for Trinity Mirror North West and North Wales, and Stephen Stewart, director SP Manweb, ScottishPower who introduced Roger Black as the guest of honour.
Mr Black spoke of his successful career as a British athlete which saw him win an Olympic silver medal in the 400 metres in 1996 although he said his greatest achievement was being part of the GB 4 x 400 metres relay team which won gold at the 1991 World Championships against what was regarded at the time as an unbeatable American team.
The overall category winners were as follows:
CHAMPION YOUNG PERSONS OF THE YEAR - Kate Rugg and Jess Leathwaite from Chester
Two friends who raised thousands of pounds for brain tumour research were the Young Persons of the Year.
Boughton’s Kate Rugg, 11, and Jess Leathwaite, eight, organised an Easter family fair in Waverton in April.
After setting an initial target of £1,000, the girls smashed through that goal to raise more than £4,000.
Kate was inspired to help The Brain Tumour Charity after losing her beloved grandfather Eddie last year.
She enlisted friend and neighbour Jess before the pair put two months of hard work into organising the event.
Kate said: “I wanted a way to celebrate the life of Grandad, as well as help to raise funds for The Brain Tumour Charity.
“Every year 5,000 people lose their lives to a brain tumour and yet less than 2% of cancer research funding in the UK is spent on this area.
“Any money raised from our event will go towards research on brain tumours and getting information out there so more people know what symptoms to look out for.”
The event included a variety of stalls, competitions, crafts, an auction and a family quiz. There was even go-karting and a bouncy castle.
Such was Kate and Jess’s hard work they managed to whip up plenty of local support.
Kate added: “I just can’t stop grinning. We really enjoyed it and we’re already planning our next event.
“We’d like to have a business doing event management when we’re older. I didn’t think we’d raise that much, I just can’t believe it.”
A number of Cheshire companies donated generously to the cause.
Kate’s mum Sarah said: “It was emotional seeing the final sum raised on that spreadsheet. Kate’s grandad (my dad) would be so proud.
“I don’t think it would have been this successful if he hadn’t been the driver behind it. Kate and Jess should be immensely proud.”
CHAMPION TEAM OF THE YEAR - Share Shop of Chester
Charity shop volunteers doing fantastic work to help the homeless as well as refugees won the Team of the Year title.
Staff at the Share store in Northgate Street donate their own time to support a fantastic cause.
The SHARE acronym stands for Supporting Homeless Assisting Refugees Everywhere.
While the cause was co-founded by Louise Edwards, Monica Hogg and Adam Dandy in Flint in October 2015, their first shop opened in Chester in January.
Adam said: “We set up the charity initially to help refugees in Syria but it soon became clear that there was also a need to help the homeless in Chester.
“The charity has made a massive difference to people locally.
“It’s shocking how many homeless people there are in Chester and to have a shop where they can come and get clothing and a hot drink is great.”
Louise said the support they had received from the community had been ‘unbelievable’.
The Share Shop relies on volunteers to help staff the store and provide aid to those in need.
Some are able to a few days a week, some just a few hours, but all of it is valuable.
Initially the store offered food and clothing to those living on the streets as well as the chance for the public to donate essentials for them.
It also supplied ‘suspended coffees’, where customers can pay for an extra drink as a gift for someone in need who comes in later.
But the team did not stop there.
The Kindness Wall soon evolved, which is left outside the shop’s front door each night.
People are invited to hang up clothes or bags of sweets on the wall – complete with a message for the recipient – for those living rough or who find themselves in dire financial straits to help themselves to.
Share also organised an Easter egg appeal, which collected more than 600 donations, and creatively sold bricks towards buying a derelict house which they could transform to a home for those sleeping on the streets.
Now the shop seems almost a mainstay of Northgate Street, offering support to those who need it most. It could not be done without this team of volunteers.
CHAMPION VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR - Olwen Roose Jones of Wirral
Some 20 years ago Olwen Roose Jones of Wallasey and her late husband Ron tragically lost their grandson. This life changing event for the family was the catalyst for Olwen and Ron to align their lives with what we now know as Claire House.
From the very beginning Olwen and Ron worked tirelessly to raise money for Claire House using their extensive network of friends and contacts to generate much needed funds. At one point they volunteered themselves into the role of trustees. No event was too small, no amount of money too little, all of which has contributed towards a total to date, and still growing in excess of £58,000 raised for Claire House.
Since Olwen lost her beloved husband Ron, she has continued to work as a valued member of the Claire House volunteer team.
Olwen is a constant within the Claire House voluntary community, providing much needed advice, support and hour upon hour of her time in support of the cause.
To this day Olwen continues to be the epitome of what volunteering is about, working with her local community, either as a lone ‘Star’ or as a member of a team. She continues to raise funds, spread the word about Claire House and act as an ambassador for Claire House.
SPORTING CHAMPION OF THE YEAR - Mark Allen of Runcorn and Widnes
A Widnes table tennis ace who received a double lung transplant is the Sporting Champion of the Year.
Mark Allen, who only has 23% lung capacity, beat the odds to become double European champion in table tennis – again.
His victory brought his European Transplant Games gold tally to six, in addition to adding silver and bronze medals to his British titles.
The 44-year-old, originally from Lichfield, who lives in Widnes, took gold in both the singles and doubles in this year’s Vantaa 2016 European Heart And Lung Transplant Championships in Vantaa in Finland.
Mark was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis – which caused mucus to develop in his lungs – when he was nine months old.
Already challenged with limited lung capacity, he later fell ill with pneumonia while working as an English teacher in Korea in 2005.
Hospital doctors then caused damage to his trachea by leaving him ventilated too long, he said.
This also had serious consequences for his lungs, which deteriorated rapidly, leaving him in a life-or-death situation needing a double lung transplant.
That same year Mark received his double lung transplant at The Freeman Hospital in Newcastle but suffered rejection in 2006 leaving him with just between 20 and 25% overall lung capacity.
Mark said: “The medals were a bonus, but it was great seeing people from different countries all with something in common, some of whom I have known for years, and raise awareness Europe-wide about the benefits of transplantation.
“Sport has always been an important part of my lifestyle and I keep as active as my lungs will allow. Winning medals at the European Games just goes to show people that you don’t have to let your health problems get in the way of living life to the full.
“I’m a walking demonstration of just how important and amazing organ donation is.
“I love the transplant competitions as it brings people together.
“The main aim is to raise awareness of how being on the donor register can make the world of difference.”
Former journalist Mark plays at Halton Table Tennis Club, a Table Tennis Ability Club for players with disabilities.
He is coached there by club chairman Karen Tonge MBE.
He proudly carried the Paralympic Torch through London on the opening day of London 2012.
CHAMPION PERSON OF THE YEAR - Roz Tranfield of Wirral
Former beauty queen and TV hostess Roz Tranfield was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2014 and began treatment on New Year’s Eve in 2014 and marked the occasion by dyeing her hair bright pink with her partner, Patrick, but that was just the tip of the (very pink) iceberg!
At the same time as running her beauty salon in Wallasey, Roz has since organised a number of fantastic fundraising events, including two major fashion shows, which starred models who are living with cancer, whether they’ve finished treatment at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, or their treatment is still ongoing.
Roz hasn’t just been turning her hand to fundraising: she’s also created an informal network of support for breast cancer patients, having become friends with other women being treated at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre.
Roz said: “When people have been diagnosed with breast cancer, they can fall apart. I felt I could be an ambassador and support people with breast cancer to give them the confidence to move forward.”
To date, Roz has raised almost £70,000 for The Clatterbridge Cancer Charity towards breast cancer research and is determined to hit her fundraising target of £100,000.
Roz said: “Me, my brother and partner have all had cancer, so I want to do my bit and reach my target of £100,000.”
Recently she was crowned Merseyside Woman of the Year 2016. To support Roz, visit: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Roz-Tranfield