Just superb - the Wearside and County Durham heroes who have won awards for being truly outstanding

Heroes all. That’s the outstanding people who won trophies at the first Best of Wearside Awards to be held since Covid-19.

Friday, 10th September 2021, 9:27 am
Updated Friday, 10th September 2021, 2:14 pm

It was a moving ceremony which the Sunderland Echo had waited 18 months to bring to you. Lockdown restrictions meant the ceremony was on hold and the shortlisted contenders were on tenterhooks.

But when it finally went ahead at the Stadium of Light, it was an emotionally charged evening filled with inspirational stories

Every one of the Wearside champions was rewarded for their incredible work before the pandemic struck.

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The Lifetime Achievement award was awarded to the late Len Gibson and was received by his grandson James Gibson from Emily Taylor of awards sponsors BGL.

There was a standing ovation when the audience heard the story of Len Gibson, the Second World War veteran who spent four years at a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

In later life, he was a music teacher and then the deputy head of a school. Sadly, he died aged 101 just months before the awards night but his astonishing achievements meant he won the posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award.

The legacy of Sunderland musician Dave Harper, who recently died in hospital aged 43, was also remembered. Dave was one of the founders of Frankie & the Heartstrings, a passionate champion of music and culture in Sunderland, and one of the driving forces behind Pop Recs. He won the Ambassador Award.

Another trophy winner was Jim Machin, the Roker man who along with his wife June raised £600,000 for the British Heart Foundation in memory of his two sons Ian and Anthony who both died of congenital heart disease.

A huge cheer as Mia Paris is announced as the winner of the Young Voice category.

Jim,was the winner of the Judges Choice trophy.

On the sporting front, two of Wearside’s finest were chosen for their achievements at the Women’s Football World Cup in 2019. They were England heroes Steph Houghton and Jill Scott who helped lead the Lionesses to fourth in the tournament. They were our Special Recognition winners.

The winners just kept on coming and one of the most moving was Charlie Graver.

Brave Charlie, from Chester-le-Street, was only four when he had broken cheek bones, a broken nose, and lost skin from from his nose and forehead after an accident in 2015.

Judges Choice award winner Jim Machin with Nicola Meldrum of the Sunderland Echo at the Best of Wearside Awards.

But just four years later, he tackled a charity run and raised nearly EIGHT times his original target. Charlie is now 9 and he won the Fundraiser of the Year crown.

Champion Charlie’s amazing night did not end there either. He was one of three winners of the Child of Achievement award along with Aaron Rochester and Quinn Lux Lownie.

Aaron may have autism and a learning disability but he has been hailed as a ‘remarkable child who exceeds everyone’s expectation’.

Quinn is less than 10 years old but has already raised more than £20,000 for charity.

There was a standing ovation for the winners of the Child of Courage Award.

The audience stood as one to applaud the winners of the Child of Courage category. They were;

l Harrison Clark who arrived in the world at just 26 weeks in 2017 and spent five and a half months at Sunderland Royal Hospital.

He had to have operations including heart surgery, laser eye surgery and hernia repair surgery.

l Aaron Vincent was diagnosed with an enlarged heart and his family was told he needed a transplant. For six months, Aaron waited for a heart to become available and finally had his transplant in 2010.

It's been a constant round of hospital appointments since then, but his nomination said he ‘always has a smile on his face’.

l Lana Nixon who has had aggressive intravenous chemotherapy, the fitting of a peg, a reservoir created to drain fluid from Lana’s brain, and a stem cell transplant as she fights a brain tumour.

Some of the winners in the Sunderland Echo Best of Wearside Awards.

l Joe Archer who is fighting cancer with a smile on his face. Quite remarkable for someone who, when he was nominated in early 2020 was only three years old.

l Kayleigh Llewellyn who had a life-saving heart transplant in November 2019 and finally came home in January 2020 after a truly incredible journey and 102 days in hospital.

l Theo Schofield was only 12 weeks old when he contracted meningitis in 2015. Worse was to follow when he went into kidney failure and then was diagnosed with cancer of both kidneys.

He faced a year of dialysis before he was given a kidney from his dad Nikkie.

l Jaden Hall who had to have numerous operations in his young life and missed months of education. But this determined young man made sure the teachers came to him - while he was in hospital!

The night of amazing stories did not end there.

Other winners included;

l The Forage Community Project which won the Green Award.

l Ashton Macnamara was Student of the Year.

l The Melanoma Me Foundation won the Community Group section and the Pennywell Youth Project was highly commended.

l Michelle Wemyss was the Community Champion.

l Aaron Bird won the Sporting Achievement category.

l Debra Spraggon was Volunteer of the Year.

And special mention should go to the finalists in the first ever Young Voice category.

Four singers amazed the audience as they performed live and they were Faye Fantarrow, Kate Ryan, Victoria Rooks, and Mia Paris, with Mia becoming the first ever winner of the category.

Thanks go to all of the awards sponsors who made the event happen and they were headline sponsor, the BGL Group and partner sponsors Gentoo, Marelli, Audi Wearside, Artventurers, Sunderland Association Football Club, North East Autism Society and the NHS Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group.

We will have more stories and interviews with our winners in a supplement in coming soon in the Sunderland Echo. Watch out for that next week.

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More than £20,000 raised in memory of Frankie and the Heartstrings drummer Dave ...

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Scenes from an emotional night at the Best of Wearside Awards.
A tribute to the late Dave Harper who was posthumously awarded the Ambassador for Sunderland Award. Pictured giving the tribute was Frankie Francis from the group Frankie & The Heartstrings in which Dave was the drummer.