The annual Pride in Northamptonshire awards took place last week, and the Telegraph’s Ian Burbidge was on hand to report from the festivities.
The heroes of Northamptonshire were recognised for their achievements last week – but the night belonged to an inspirational family whose heartbreaking story has touched so many lives.
The Pride in Northamptonshire Awards were held on Friday, September 29, and nominees both young and old, and in some cases, animals, walked away with honours after being recognised for the efforts over the past year.
But after being nominated more than 100 times and in nearly every single category, organisers created a special award for Niamh’s Next Step, and it was presented to the five-year-old’s emotional parents Chris and Sam Curry, who set themselves the target of raising £450,000 for specialist treatment for their daughter’s cancer. She died in May.
Niamh’s parents were given a standing ovation by the packed room as they were presented with the Interlink Kettering Award, while the charity also won fundraiser of the year, and family friend Charlotte Nash, who lent her support to the cause, was recognised with the Friendly Neighbour gong.
Speaking at the end of the evening Mr Curry, 40, of Troon Crescent, Wellingborough, said: “This is truly humbling.
“I thought the evening was all over to be honest, we didn’t expect this at all and that reaction.
“You don’t expect your little girl to have such an effect on people.
“We have been overwhelmed by the support of the whole of the county and I’d like to say thank you to everyone.”
About 50 of the guests at the event were fundraisers for the charity or friends of the family, and Mr Curry also revealed that Niamh’s Next Step has some big-name patrons on board who have thrown their support behind the campaign, including Westlife singer Shane Filan and Saints rugby player Ben Foden.
Mr Curry added: “It’s nights like these where everyone is so incredible that makes us so determined to carry on raising awareness of Niamh’s illness, neuroblastoma, and we want to continue fundraising in her memory.”
All funds from a raffle held at the evening were donated to Niamh’s Next Step.
Family friend Charlotte Nash, 41, of Troon Crescent, said: “It’s been really emotional.
“The generosity of people for Niamh has been amazing.”
The evening took place in Wicksteed Park’s Pavilion. Now in its ninth year, the Pride in Northamptonshire Awards are organised by the Telegraph and our sister paper, the Chronicle and Echo, in conjunction with the leisure park.
Nitin Ganatra, best known as popular postman Masood in BBC soap EastEnders, added some celebrity sparkle to the event, handing out awards to the winners and runners-up, and entertaining the crowds which gathered at the park to listen to inspirational stories from the past year.
He said: “I think tonight proved that in Northamptonshire, there is a great deal to be proud of.
“They have made your part of Northamptonshire extra special.
“There are many outstanding people in the county and many outstanding achievements.”
Olive Thompson, 85, of Northampton, has been a volunteer at the town’s Cynthia Spencer hospice for more than two decades.
Despite her age she has still being going to the hospice as a volunteer, and she was given the award for Excellence in Public Service as the first award of the evening.
She said: “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Milly Wastie, 27, of Yelvertoft, scooped the Young Achievers Award after starting a road safety campaign which was backed by MPs after she lost her friend in a road crash.
She said: “It’s quite overwhelming to win – it has really endorsed all my hard work and efforts.”
Charlotte Roblin, 23, of Northampton, who was diagnosed with a brain haemorrhage two years ago, was given the Courage Award after helping children with learning difficulties as a volunteer at the Corby Cube. She said: “I’m really shocked.”
Every dog has its day
Humans were not the only ones to get recognised at the event – our four-legged friends showed they have what it takes to make the county proud after scooping awards.
After conquering Britain’s Got Talent this year, Ashleigh Butler and Pudsey were given the Raising the Profile of Northamptonshire award after putting the county on the map during their exploits on the show.
Ashleigh, 17, of Wellingborough, said: “I want to say a massive thank you for all the support I’ve received in Northamptonshire.
“I’m so proud to be here and it’s amazing to win this award at such a lovely evening.
“It brings back memories of being at Wicksteed a couple of years ago when we entered their talent contest and did well.
“I owe a lot of gratitude to Northamptonshire.”
Pudsey was not the only canine to go away with an award – Danny the reading dog and owner Tony Nevett won for their Bark and Read scheme.
Mr Nevett, 53, of Fulmar Lane, Wellingborough, and his three-year-old greyhound were honoured with an award after helping children to fulfil their potential after the duo’s work in county schools.
They visit classrooms and listen to young children read with the aim of helping to build the child’s confidence in reading aloud.
Mr Nevett said: “It’s fantastic for Danny as he has helped so many kids.
“It goes to show the potential of animals.”
Several awards were handed out to inspirational individuals in the county.
Doreen Hunter, 55, of Corby, won the Care in the Community Award for her work at Corby Women’s Refuge, helping females rebuild their lives after suffering domestic violence.
She said: “I’m shocked. This award is an inspiration to all the women who I work with for standing up and saying enough is enough.”
Janet Walker, 45, of Earls Barton, is the founder of NCTLC Trust, a charity which helps children who are diagnosed with tumours, leukaemia or cancer.
The trust was set up in 2008 and has helped more than 56 families, and was given the Hard Work and Determination Award.
She said: “There are so many worthy people here, it has come as a total shock. It shows we are being recognised for the work we do and I’d like to thank everyone who has supported us.”
James Vokes, 49, of Burton Latimer, has been a volunteer at mental health charity Rushden Mind for more than a decade, working tirelessly to raise funds for the service, and acquired a new building after the old one burned down.
He was given the Unsung Hero award.
Now chairman, he said: “This isn’t an award for me – it’s an award for the whole team.
Sara Earl, who has spruced up Gretton by making it a greener place through a series of waste initiatives, was rewarded for her efforts by landing the Transforming the Environment accolade.