Sunderland AFC's charity holds first awards night in new multi-million pound home
The city's Foundation of Light held its first annual awards ceremony in a new multi-million pound home.
The Beacon of Light was officially opened by Sophie, The Countess of Wessex, this week.
HRH has been a long supporter of the Foundation of Light and was delighted to be able to tour their new premises and perform the official opening ceremony.
After years of planning, £20million pounds of fundraising and 18 months of building work, the addition to the city’s skyline opened its doors last summer.
The state-of-the-art Beacon of Light, which is the first of its kind in the country, not only houses the Foundation of Light charity, it is also a sports, health, education and events space for all to use.
The foundation holds annual awards ceremonies to celebrate the success of the people who work with the charity, but this year was the first time they were able to do it in their new premises.
There were 16 award-winners in total from all walks of life, picking up prizes for a huge range of achievements.
Among them was 26-year-old Andrew Duddin, who was delighted to pick up a Best Goal Scorer Award.
Andrew, who lives in Washington with his parents, Chris, 55, and Pamela, 54, has a number of conditions and special needs following a very premature birth.
Chris said his son was so ill as a newborn he was given the last rites and christened at the same time, but to see him now it amazing.
He said the Foundation of Light has been one of the best things in Andrew's life and has helped him develop so much.
Chris said: "He first started coming to the foundation sessions when he was about 13. You could't do anything before to get him to interact with other people, but since coming here his confidence has grown so much, he has a group of friends he likes to interact with.
"He was so thrilled to have won an award."
For Sunderland man, Duane Lumsdon, the Foundation of Light became his lifeline after a very tough few years.
The 40-year-old credits volunteering at the charity as a massive turning point - so much so he scooped the Positive Future Award.
Duane, who lives on the Ford Estate, said a few years ago he gave up work to be a full time carer to his terminally ill father.
But, when his dad died in October 2016, Duane found himself spiral into a pit of anxiety and depression.
He said: "I just hit rock bottom, I was so ill that I couldn't even leave the house on my own, it was horrendous."
Duane's aunt heard the Foundation of Light was looking for volunteers and encouraged him to sign up.
He said: "I was so anxious about it and I don't know how I made it along to the session, I kept questioning myself, thinking I wouldn't be able to do it.
"But, I was surprised by the wonderful welcome I got. Everyone at the charity went out of their way to welcome me and be friendly and supportive. It was through them that I started to feel better and got a new found confidence."
Duane has now found a new job in a call centre and his partner, Allyson Twycross, 49, said she can't thank the Foundation of Light enough.
She said: "He is a totally different person to the one that first came here - I feel like I have my partner back."
Another of the winners, Ryan Lister, 19, was stunned when he was told he was being presented with the Apprentice of Year Award.
Ryan started on a business administration apprenticeship with the foundation and started to learn more about the foundation and the huge impact it has on people's lives.
So, when not working, Ryan was spending a lot of his time at the foundation doing voluntary work with other people.
He said: "I couldn't believe it when they said I had won an award - I thought we were going to tell someone in my team they had won, but they said it was me."
Ryan has a long travel from his home in Tanfield every day, but added: "It is a trek, but I just love what the foundation does. It is worth the travel if you love something that much."
People travel from all over the North East to be part of the foundation and to use the new Beacon of Light.
These include eight-year-old Harry Jones, who comes to Sunderland at least twice a week with his mum, Sarah, 36, from their home in Consett.
The mum-of-three said she was thrilled when Harry, who is autistic, won the Positive Attitude Award.
She said since coming to the foundation sessions, where he takes part in lots of crafts and fun activities, Harry has blossomed.
Sarah said: "It is brilliant to have something like this. Somewhere you know he is safe and where he is genuinely very happy."