A leading light at SAFC’s official charity has scored in the New Year’s Honours list.
Two Wearside women have made the region proud after being recognised in the New Year’s Honour list.
Lesley Spuhler, chief executive of the Foundation of Light, has been awarded an OBE for her services to charities in the North East.
Alongside her, England women’s football captain Steph Houghton has been handed the perfect end to a dream year after being awarded an MBE.
In a career spanning 20 years in the charity sector Lesley has helped a number of charities, most notably the foundation which she has led for the past 13 years.
Commenting on her inclusion in the New Year’s Honour list, chairman of trustees of the foundation, Sir Bob Murray CBE, said: “I have worked closely with Lesley for more than a decade and it is with enormous pride that I have watched her develop the vision for the Foundation of Light from the three-person community arm of Sunderland Football Club into an internationally renowned charitable trust.
“The foundation’s mission is simple; to use the power of football to involve, educate and inspire young people and their families across the region.
“The charity’s enviable reputation and record for delivering pioneering programmes is now not only emulated by other football and sports clubs but by institutions world-wide, which is testament to her drive, ingenuity, determination to make a difference and inspiring leadership.
“She is now spearheading our ambitious plans to build the Beacon of Light in Sunderland, which will fuse together sport, education, the world of work and health and well-being like no other place in the UK.
“Lesley is passionate and relentless in her desire to develop the foundation to ensure it provides a meaningful and lasting legacy for the people of our region.”
Lesley added: “I am thrilled to receive this honour from Her Majesty The Queen as it recognises the valuable work we do in the community and the how charities such as the Foundation of Light can inspire people and really change lives.
“I am immensely grateful to the wonderful team of people at the foundation who are so passionate about what we do and making difference every day.”
The foundation harnesses the power of football to tap into educational and sporting opportunities for young people and their families.
Meanwhile Steph, from South Hetton, led her country to the semi-finals of the World Cup in Canada in the summer.
It was the first time the Lionesses had reached the last four of the competition, and they went a step further by securing a bronze medal with victory over Germany in the third-place play-off.
Steph also continued to excel in defence in 2015 for her club side, Manchester City, as her career continued to go from strength to strength.
Despite her successful year, though, the award of an MBE caught her by surprise.
She said: “I was shocked when I found out about it.
“I was driving to the MetroCentre to shop with my mum when I found out. I got a phone call from the press officer at Man City.
“I nearly crashed the car, because I thought he was joking. It was a bit surreal, and very humbling. I’m delighted all of my hard work has been recognised.
“I had a great year for Manchester City and England, but you don’t expect to be recognised like that.
“It’s a massive honour for me and my family, and also shows how much the women’s game has grown.
“A few others have been recognised in the past as well, and that’s great for us. It’s important that we continue to grow.”
The incredible run of England to the semi-finals of the World Cup will live long in the memory.
Steph – who returns for pre-season training with her club next month – added: “It was a dream to play in the World Cup, and it was a huge honour to captain the team.
“To come away with a bronze medal, and create history, was brilliant.
“When we came back, it seemed that we had inspired a lot of young girls, and that is very rewarding.
“To now get this award tops this year off very nicely for me personally, and is a really exciting way for me to start 2016. I obviously couldn’t have done it, though, without my team-mates, club and country, that support me so well.
“Going to Buckingham Palace to get the MBE will be amazing, as the last time we were there was just after the Olympics.”