Emotional tributes and heartfelt gratitude characterised the first ever Mid Sussex Times Community Awards on Sunday (September 22).
15 individuals or groups were rewarded for their impact on community life at the awards ceremony in Clair Hall, Haywards Heath.
A large audience of sponsors, winners, and their families heard inspiring stories of a lifesaving doctor, committed charity workers, helpful neighbours and many more.
The awards were presented by newsreader and television personality Fred Dinenage, who spoke to each winner in attendance on the night and entertained the audience with some witty banter.
He said: “I love doing Community Awards because they are about real people who make a real contribution to the community.
“The story of the doctor was amazing - they are all heroes.”
Arguably the most popular winner on the night was Dr Philip Hart of Newtons Surgery in Haywards Heath, who was cheered as he walked to the stage to collect the Health Hero award.
Carol Simmonds, who nominated him, explained how he saved her life by helping uncover an aneurysm.
She said: “They had to shut off my kidneys for a while - but here I am, two years later.”
Asked if he had saved her life, she replied: “Yes, most definitely.”
A clearly emotional Dr Hart said: “I am very privileged to have a job where I can make a difference to people’s lives.”
The winner of the prestigious Special Recognition Award was Katarina Wilmore, chairman and founder of Sussex Autism Support, a group supporting about 80 families with autistic children.
She said: “I hope everyone will be pleased and I feel very humbled to receive it - thank you.”
Katarina was nominated by Cllr Sujan Wickremaratchi who was instrumental in helping her set up the group.
Sujan told the amusing story of how the pair met - he was canvassing for votes and approached Katarina, and was ‘taken aback’ when she questioned him about funding for autistic children.
He said: “She has done a marvellous job and I give her all my support.”
Tony Reynolds took home the True Inspiration award, and won the hearts of the audience when he dedicated it to his wife of 53 years, Gwen.
Tony’s work in a number of volunteer roles, despite his poor physical health, earned him the recognition.
He said: “My wife makes me do some of those things because she is an inspiration to me.”
Michael O’Brien picked up the 999 Award and told of the drama of saving his father Tony’s life when he suffered a heart attack.
Reflecting on the award, Michael said: “I’m pleased because he’s still about.”
The evening’s most entertaining winner was Amy Truran, who won in the Sporting Achievement category for her success in bowls.
Amy criticised Fred’s bowling technique, corrected him as he listed her achievements and wondered where she recognised the host from, much to his amusement.
Barbara Alderson was a popular winner of Best Volunteer, having been nominated several times.
Barbara, who has raised more than £200,000 for St Catherine’s Hospice, swept Fred off his feet with a celebratory kiss.
The host failed to hide his delight when he was later joined on stage by the Mid Sussex Marlins Ladies Water Polo Team, winners of Sports Team of the Year, who regularly punch above their weight in competing with the likes of Manchester and Blackpool.
John Goss took home the award for Best Neighbour - he has helped care for friend and neighbour Ben Chapman.
John said: “He had two strokes and could hardly walk, but he is back on his feet now.”
Former firefighter George Dunn earned the Local Hero gong, after helping neighbours clear snow from their driveways.
The audience was entertained when Peter Mansfield, winner of Best Community Person, performed ‘Oh, Dem Golden Slippers’ with the Mid Sussex Brass Band.
The Yews were named as Charity of the Year and the Animal Magic prize went to Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land.
Burgess Hill Green Circle Network were awarded Friends of the Environment, Mary Klingberg won Outstanding Bravery and Mark Davies the Health Worker Award.