Countess of Wessex, Emeli Sande and Kevin Phillips among star-studded line up at Foundion of Light 20th anniversary celebration

Some of the North East’s biggest names, along with royalty, attended the Beacon of Light for a gala awards diner which raised over £90,000 for the Foundation of Light.

Monday, 11th October 2021, 11:21 am

On Friday, October 8, HRH The Countess of Wessex GCVO, Sir Bob Murray CBE and some of the biggest names from across the region turned out to show their support of the Foundation of Light, as the charity celebrates its 20th anniversary

The night was hosted by Sky Sports presenter and Sunderland AFC director David Jones, and featured a musical performance by awarding-winning Sunderland-born singer Emeli Sandé.

Over 500 guests were in attendance and celebrated the inspiration stories of 16 Foundation participants who overcame adversity to live happier and healthier lives.

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The Countess of Wessex (right), Patron of the Foundation of Light charity, is greeted by Emeli Sande (left), as she arrives at the charity's Gala Awards Dinner at the foundation's home, the Beacon of Light. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA.

She said: “We have heard some truly inspiring and moving stories, where people’s lives have been transformed by the Foundation.

“I say Foundation, but what I really mean is by kind, caring and loving people, because this is what the Foundation of Light is built on.

“Sunderland and the surrounding areas are so very lucky to have this Foundation and tonight we celebrate every life touched, every brick built and every example of hope created by those who work within it.

Scott Thirwell (centre) won the Murray Family Mental Health Hero Award.

“Two decades of history, and of investment of people of this region, is something to be so very proud of.”

One of the heart-warning stories of Friday evening came from 16-year-old Josita Thirumalia, who was presented with the Aspire Social Action Award.

The teenager has spent the last 18 months playing an active role in her community after overcoming severe anxiety as a result of lockdown.

Josita has worked with other young people to build a sensory garden for local care home residents, supported foodbank collections and is now mentoring new members on the programme.

Sunderland legend Kevin Phillips was in attendance at the event.

She said: “I am really honoured to have received this award and it is fantastic to be invited to the Gala Awards Dinner. I really struggled with my anxiety, especially over lockdown, and the Foundation have really helped me with that.

“The Foundation team gave me an opportunity and the confidence to get out of the house and meet people. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to understand how to go out and help the community as an individual and independently.”

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For the winner of the Murray Family Mental Health Hero, Scott Thirwell, seeking support from the Foundation of Light was a life-saving decison.

Around 500 guests attended the gala dinner on Friday, October 8.

He commented: “This is a really great moment and as a Sunderland fan I am really pleased to be here tonight. All the award winners have amazing stories.

“I’ve had mental health problems since I was 17 and really struggled; a couple of times I have attempted to take my own life.

“Thanks to my family, who have been rocks and really supportive, I have been able to speak and open up. The Foundation have really helped with that too.

“Through their mental health programmes, I have been able to promote positive mental health and the support that’s out there.

"I’ve grown massively as a person. Without the Foundation of Light, I would be existing not living.”

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The event was held at the Beacon of Light.

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