On the night of 27 March, some of the best-loved local celebrities got together to celebrate the amazing achievements of the North East’s unsung heroes at a glamorous ceremony presented by actress Kym Marsh.
The TSB Pride of North East Awards, in partnership with Trinity Mirror, champion people who have gone to extraordinary lengths to transform their communities, and recognise the brave acts of those who have risked their own safety to help others.
Among the winners were mother and daughter duo Lynne Davis, 52, and Cheryl McDonald, 31, who still can’t believe their Community Corner charity shops bagged them the TSB Community Partner Award.
“We’re so nervous but so excited,” said Cheryl as she arrived at the Assembly Rooms in Newcastle. “It just feels overwhelming to be a winner. This isn’t something that we’d ever even dreamed would happen. We’re very proud.”
The pair dedicate their days to helping others in the community in need of something they cannot afford by selling donated items in their two Community Corner shops.
The £130,000 they have raised over the past four years has helped to pay for everything from welcome packs full of toiletries for women at the local refuge and wheelchairs for young disabled children, to the funeral of a young man who tragically took his own life.
“We try to help everyone,” explained Lynne. “It’s not just the big things. One lady didn’t have £24 for a bus pass to visit her daughter in hospital, which was very sad, so we bought her that.”
“We just want people to know that if they’re struggling, if they’re going through a bad time, then they have got people to turn to that won’t say no,” added Cheryl. “I think that’s really important.”
Another selfless local who picked up an award on the night was Lynn McManus, 57. The mum of ten (including five adopted children) set up the Tim Lamb Children’s Centre in North Tyneside in 2012, after raising £400,000 with her charity Pathways4all.
The centre provides a safe, fun space where children with disabilities can enjoy themselves, with activities including soft play, sensory rooms, and arts and crafts. It also provides respite sessions for their families.
“This was such an incredible surprise,” said Lynn, who was presented a Special Recognition award by Denise Welch and gold medal Paralympian, Stephen Miller MBE. “What I do, I do because it’s my choice. It’s what I’ve chosen to do. With the adoption and things like that, I feel incredibly privileged to be allowed part of their lives. And the centre just happened, it was never a plan.”
In a deeply moving story of hope in the face of adversity, another Special Recognition award was handed to the parents of two teenage sweethearts killed in the Manchester Arena terror attack.
Chloe Rutherford, 17, and Liam Curry, 19, were among the 22 who lost their lives when a suicide bomber detonated a device after an Ariana Grande concert in May last year.
But rather than let grief consume them, parents Lisa and Mark Rutherford and Caroline Curry set up the Together Forever Trust to offer talented youngsters the chance to explore their passions in music and sport.
Chloe was a talented singer and pianist, while cricket fan Liam studied sport and exercise science at Northumbria University. Together their parents set up the trust to provide young people with the kind of opportunities that Chloe and Liam had had taken from them.
“It’s an amazing feeling and a very proud moment for us and we know our kids would be proud too,” said Caroline, after they were presented with the award by Steps’ singer Faye Tozer and cricketer Steve Harmison.
“Our aim is to help kids go on and achieve things beyond their wildest dreams,” said Lisa. “If we could help someone make it as a musician or an athlete then this will all be worth it.”
She added: “Our community is so full of love and support and that’s where the energy behind the trust comes from.”
Another shining example of channeling personal pain to help other people is Child of Courage winner, Emily Owen, 11.
Emily was just nine when an aerosol exploded in her face, leaving her both physically and emotionally scarred.
Having regained her confidence, Emily is now inspiring other youngsters. She is a campaigner for the charity Changing Faces, which helps young people suffering from life-changing facial injuries, and has her own YouTube channel aimed at other girls like her.
“I was shocked when I found out I was getting an award,” Emily laughed. “I thought it was a prank. Because it was a bad thing that happened to me, I didn’t think I would be able to make something good come out of it that inspires other people.”
Emily has an important message for anyone going through something similar.
“Believe in yourself,” she says. “I’ve got a quote – ‘She believed she could, so she did’ – and I think that should be a big part of everyone’s goal in life. Be positive. It doesn’t matter what you’re like on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. And just be yourself.”
Denise Welch, who was also part of the judging panel, explains why this event is particularly special: “When you talk to the people nominated, they always say the work they do is more important than awards, but I think it’s just wonderful to celebrate these amazing people. It makes me so proud to be a Geordie.
“I go to the Pride of Britain, and everyone knows what a wonderful ceremony that is, so to have our own special Pride awards here is just absolutely amazing. I’m just very proud of the people of this region.”
“Tonight is incredibly important,” agrees Vicky Pattison. “Being a very proud Geordie, I think it’s imperative we support these people – so brave, so influential, so inspirational, and quite often unsung. They’re heroes, and tonight they get the respect they deserve.”