Community heroes from all walks of life were honoured at the Pride of Swindon Awards this week.
The fourteenth Pride of Swindon Awards were held this month, back where they were originally started, at the Legends Lounge at the County Ground after a two-year break due to covid.
Hosting the event was Master of Ceremonies, Shirley Ludford of Swindon 105.5, and Mayor of Swindon Cllr Garry Perkins.
Many esteemed guest presenters were also in attendance and joined the pair to help hand out the awards, including High Sheriff of Wiltshire Lady Lansdowne (Marchioness of Lansdowne), Deputy Police & Crime Commissioner Cllr Russell Holland, South Swindon MP Robert Buckland and Swindon Borough Council Leader, Cllr David Renard.
The awards were split into two categories this year - one for individuals and one for groups/organisations.
Shirley Ludford said: "It’s brilliant that we are back live again as for the past two years, people had been receiving notifications that they had won an award, but did not get the in-person recognition, which is one of the most important parts.
“Now we’re back, people can be seen to be recognised. What’s lovely is that although these people don’t look for recognition, there is a real pride which you can see in their faces as they come to collect their awards.”
Before the awards started to be handed out, attendees were treated to a performance from the Swindon Male Voice Choir - who were finalists in 2020's Pride of Swindon Awards. The group sang 'What a Wonderful World' and 'You'll Never Walk Alone.'
Cllr David Renard said of the awards: "I’m delighted the Pride of Swindon Awards have been reinstated for this year, now that covid is hopefully looking to be behind us.
"I’ve attended this event for many years and it’s a really good celebration of the excellent work that the individuals and organisations do around Swindon. It’s really good to hear about what’s been going on and to meet the people involved.”
The first category of awards to be presented were for the individual community heroes.
One of the people to win a Pride of Swindon Award was 16-year-old Buster Brasier Dinning who attends St Joseph's Catholic College. He was nominated for the bravery and courage he showed to a stranger last summer. Buster was cycling home from school one day and found a man at the A419 bridge, who had abandoned his car on the side of the road and was holding an electrical cable tied into a noose around his neck. He was leaning over the bridge and was clearly about to jump.
Buster threw his bike on the ground and approached the man, holding his hand out to him and trying to get him to sit down. The man sobbed and said he had nothing to live for and that no one cared. Buster dialled 999 and talked to the man for 25 minutes. He said no one else stopped to help him or the man until some workmen arrived just before the police, thinking Buster had been knocked off his bike.
After the police arrived, Buster said he called his father and broke down on the phone, thinking about what might have happened if he had come across the man five minutes later than he did. The police got in touch with the teenager two weeks after the incident to let him know the man was currently in hospital and was getting the help he needed.
Another recipient of an award was Walid Meah, for the vast amount he does for those within his Swindon community. He had originally planned to go to university but at the age of 17, his father suddenly died. As he was the eldest son of eight siblings, he decided he would abadon his dreams to become the family breadwinner. He took charge of his father’s restaurant in Old Town, and during the pandemic provided food to hospital staff and other people in need.
He also helped clinically vulnerable people, by getting their shopping, collecting their medication and providing their food. For 12 years, walid has run a boys football club for Bangladeshi, Indian, Nepalese and English young people. He had organised trips for children aged 8 – 16, with aims of helping them to stay out of trouble or get involved with bad company.
In addition, he is an active member of the Muslim Funeral committee organising burials and helping bereaved families. Walid also helped organise a pop-up clinic for Swindon Borough Council at the Swindon mosque. As well as this, he visits care homes for people with mental health, and learning difficulties.
A further recipient of the individual category was Sam Russell-Pierce. As well as dressing up to clap for carers, Sam took on a series of challenges to raise money for Uplands Enterprise Trust and Swindon Down's Syndrome Group. He chose to do 21 challenges because Down's Syndrome is also known as Trisomy 21 and World Down's Syndrome Day, which he completed his effort in time for, is 21 March.
Sam's challenges included a speedboat trip down the Thames, handling snakes, working on fundraising stalls, a stint on the footplate of a steam locomotive, flying in the cockpit of an aircraft, riding the fastest sit-down zipwire and conducting Brunel Brass as they played a specially-composed piece of music. Over 100,000 people across 26 countries were watching his efforts online. The most recent of his challenges saw the 30-year-old photobomb at multiple football games.
A new honour has also recently been bestowed upon Sam - he will be a Commonwealth baton bearer for the Queen during the South West leg of its tour. Sam said: "I want to run fast for the Queen."
Sam's mum Leslye said: “It’s been amazing. And we have officially finished Sam’s 21 challenges, ending with the photo bombing at football games. We drove 1,491 miles in three days! It was great fun.
“It really means something that we have been able to bring Sam here in person to collect his award. We make him photobooks so he can look back on the year and what he has done. There’s going to be so much in his book for this year!”
The remaining recipients of the individual category awards were:
- David Logan - the proactive chairman of Parkinson's UK's Swindon branch. The award was for all his hard work and dedication to fundraising and spreading awareness for Parkinson's disease.
- Ann Williams - She was given the award for all her hard work and dedication in setting up the covid vaccination centre at Bath Racecourse and taking on the role of Clinical Lead, despite having retired from nursing three days before the call to do so.
- Neil Robinson - the founder of Save Oasis Swindon. His award was for his campaign work, which resulted in the Oasis dome being granted Grade II listing status, and an exhibition detailing the history of the building being put on at Swindon Hub.
- Steve Carr - He travelled from one end of Britain to the other on foot to raise awareness for mental health and homelessness, whilst being in recovery and homeless himself. He is also a qualified mental health first aider and suicide first aider, and delivers talks and training to others.
- Matt Jones - He runs 'Run & Repair' and has serviced and repaired bikes for NHS staff and other frontline workers. He later extended this scheme to Christmas-time and ran it for families who could not afford to buy their children bikes. He repaired 250 bikes last yer.
- Norman Edwards - Mr Edwards is the driving force behind the Care Home Volunteers charity. He founded the charity as a trustee in 2014. Its aim is to recruit, train and support volunteers to befriend and support older residents in care homes across Swindon & Wilts.
- Paul Wainwright - He started working with the Swindon Robins and then set up his own grassroots football club, the Robins FC in 1991. He has coached grassroot teams himself, and mentored coaches. He has been a youth worker for over 20 years and helped provide educational programmes for young people. He is also a proud rotarian and has fundraised for a number of good causes within the community.
- Neda Krishnan - She supports afghan families that are currently staying in Swindon, and has recently become a Trustee of the Harbour Project. She volunteers hours to support refugees, assisting with translation, attending medical appointments, and she has also set up a woman's support group.
- Nuala Szelia - She works for the organisation Wiltshire Tree house. The charity supports children and young people who have been affected by bereavement. She has helped the charity to tackle the 55% increase in requests for help that were seen during the pandemic.
South Swindon MP Robert Buckland helped to present the awards for the group/organisation category.
He said of the afternoon's proceedings: “It’s been lovely to attend the event this year and see such a full room at the County Ground and meet the recipients and nominees of the Pride of Swindon Awards. It’s become a really important fixture in our calendar and its lovely to be back together in this way as we have done many years previously.”
One of the recipients of the group category awards was the Swindon Food Collective. The group helps to feed people in crisis. It is run by 54 volunteers and 4 part time staff members. The group collect donations from supermarkets, deliver food parcels to distribution centres and homeless hostels, and provide food for breakfast clubs for schools.
The team put together hampers for holidays and during the pandemic they were interrupted for just two days while making plans to keep everyone safe. They provided GWH with 'home from hospital bags', containing 48 hrs of food to help patients who were discharged. Their latest figures estimate they are currently feeding around 8,000 people.
Another group to be presented with an award were Swindon SEND Families Voice. The charity organisation supports parents and children with special educational needs and disabilities and was founded in 2018. SSFV are passionate about ensuring local services meet and support family needs. They work with a range of organisations, hosting workshops around sensory play, working with challenging behaviour, puberty, autism, anxiety and preparing for adulthood.
The team support parents, carers, and also families of of children and young people aged up to 25. An estimated 80 people are being supported via phone calls and over 2,000 people are being helped through its facebook support group. They also produce manuals for SEND children for Swindon Borough Council, and the NHS.
During the pandemic, members were instrumental in GWH becoming the first UK hospital to introduce hidden disability sunflower lanyards. An Ofsted representative said after an inspection: "They are worth their weight in gold."
Jacqui Watt, founder of SSFV, said: "I’m just so proud that our organisation has been given this award. I’m absolutely overwhelmed. We set up the group with an aim to support parents with disabled children and its just so amazing to be recognised for this.
"We’ve been going for over four years now and to feel we have managed to support some families is brilliant. We’re all about making parents feel like they have someone to talk to and that they feel listened to. They are at the heart of every conversation involving services in Swindon. Those are our aims and I hope we have achieved this collectively by working in partnership with other organisations in Swindon.”
A further recipient of the group award was Shirley Ludford's own Swindon 105.5. The radio station has been running for 14 years in Swindon and offers training and support for members of the community. It offers 50 student placements every year and provides support for those with autism or low confidence issues. The station won a Queen's Award for Voluntary Service organisation in 2014.
Volunteer Tyler Ody nominated the station for an award, saying: "My work with 105.5 has really helped me develop my confidence. I joined them five years ago as an autistic student. I’m very grateful for the opportunities the radio station has given me, and I now also work with the Swindon Link magazine on the side lines. Shirley, you have really helped me out.”
As Shirley could not present the award or read the testimony herself, she invited 9-year-old Thea and her mother Lucy up to the stage to do it in her place. Thea won a Pride of Swindon award when she was six for cheering people on at the Park Run that year. Recently, Thea has completed a fundraising challenge which saw her swim 1260 lengths of a Highworth swimming pool. She chose this number because this is the distance in miles from her house to the closest Ukrainian border. Each length represented a mile.
Thea said: “I was really upset when I heard about the war in Ukraine. I decided I wanted to help by raising money for the British Red Cross as they provide assistance for the people in Ukraine. I've raised over £170 but would still like to raise more. I will be swimming back from the border over the next few weeks.”
The remaining recipients of the group/organisations category awards were:
- Swindon Alternative Angels - These women go out serving over 60 meals a week to homeless members of the community. This includes hot food, sandwiches and snacks, and sometimes, food the ladies have made themselves. They have also been collecting donations of clothing and toiletries to distribute to those in need.
- The Steam vaccination centre team - A group of people representing all the clinicians, professionals and volunteers who came together to organise and run the Steam vaccination operation were given a Pride of Swindon award.
- The Recovery Tree Team - A group of representatives were given a Pride of Swindon award for all the work that those working at TWIGS community gardens, the Olive Tree Cafe and Pinecones do within the community.
- Prospect Hospice - The Prospect were given an award for all the work they do to support over 2,000 people a year, free of charge. They have been running for 42 years and provide outstanding care for patients needing end-of-life, and their families.
- Jan and David Gingell - The pair have been given an award for all the volunteering they do within the community, such as making food collections and distribution centre drop offs, running playgroups and coffee mornings, fundraising and providing respite for the wife of a man with dementia.
- Wiltshire Tree House - The charity, based at Westlea primary school, were given an award for the work they do for children and families undergoing bereavement. They have 25 volunteers and 4 part-time paid staff members. They offer therapeutic support, are developing online phone services and have a bespoke outreach project in schools for those bereaved from suicide.
As well as the individual and group category, another posthumous award was presented to Brian Shakespeare. He passed away last year and was a resident of David Stoddart Gardens sheltered housing in Swindon. He was a dedicated member of the tenant representatives and a determined campaigner. He set up a campaign against the sale of Swindon council housing to a housing association.
His daughter collected his award remarking: "He was a working class, proper labour man - an underdog."
The last thing on the agenda before the closing speeches was the presentation of the Zurich Community Trust Grant. Volunteer and Partnership Manager from Zurich Community Trust UK, Mark Flay, awarded The Harbour Project with a cheque for £5,000.
The Chair of Trustees, David Rowlands, collected the cheque and said: "I am delighted and honoured by this cheque. I’m also humbled as I am well aware there are a lot of wonderful people from wonderful organisations present here today as well. We have managed to inspire kind people and are pleased to now have got near to our 1000th beneficiary.
"All the people from all the different countries we help have different needs and requirements. We provide advice, support and do not distinguish between any of those that use our service. This cheque will go a huge way. Thank you very much.”
To end the afternoon of community celebration, Adam Wainwright of the Swindon Phoenix Rotary Club asked 9-year-old Thea to join him at the stage area and awarded her £250 from the Club to go towards her swim challenge fundraiser.
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