Tales of outstanding bravery, heartfelt compassion and community spirit were among those told at the first ever West Sussex County Times Youth Awards.
Held at the Capitol theatre in Horsham on Tuesday evening (June 24), 16 awards ranging from Sports Team to Volunteer and from Dance to Entrepreneur were handed out to young people who live, work or attend school in the Horsham district.
Following in the footsteps of the County Times’ ever-popular and always successful Community Awards, the Youth Awards was held for the first time to honour the sometimes overlooked and often unknown accomplishments of the district’s outstanding young people.
While some stories brought tears to eyes and lumps to throats, there was also an abundance of entertainment and laughter throughout the evening.
‘I just want to live life to the full’, was the message from a teenager who has made an incredible recovery after a year-long chemotherapy treatment and having one of his legs amputated.
Cheers erupted around the room when the Weald’s head teacher Peter Woodman presented the Courage award - the last of the evening - to school pupil Sam Hedger.
Speaking minutes after the awards, Sam’s mum Linda revealed most of his family were in tears.
She said: “I was emotional anyway, but when Sam was called up I felt like my heart would burst.”
Humble Sam, who spent a year in hospital, said: “I am choking up. Thanks to all the staff at The Weald School for supporting me.”
Diabetes sufferer Sasha Ford was praised for her positive outlook on life as she was named a true Inspiration.
Andy Skinner of Millais, who nominated Sasha for the award, explained how she is always smiling, and has been a role model for a younger girl also suffering from the condition.
Sasha said: “I am so happy that people have recognised what I am doing to make a difference. I think it is amazing to raise awareness.”
The emotion in the room was palpable when Casey Stone, the leader of Brooklands dance studio, wept with joy on stage.
The studio was awarded the Dance award and Casey said: “They are my dancers, my girls, my boys, my family.”
She then announced the studio could soon have a permanent home, to shrieks of delight from dancers.
Horsham Hawks under-11 basketball team were recognised for winning 15 straight matches during an incredible year.
After the ceremony, coach Dave Clayton explained he had kept the nomination a secret from his players - but told them to raise their spirits after they suffered a rare defeat in a cup final.
“Everyone I spoke to were in agreement they certainly would not swap this evening’s experience for the county cup,” Dave said after Hawks won the Team Sport award.
Inspirational Beckie Garrick took home the Volunteer prize for her work with disabled children at The Springboard Project.
Beckie, who admitted she was shocked to win, said: “It is all about what you get at the end when you leave. If you make a child happy, they will tell you.”
A future showman was unearthed when talented harmonica player Joshua Cooper teased the audience with a ‘maybe’ when asked if he would perform.
After winning the Music gong, Joshua said: “I have one to one lessons with the company leader Richard Taylor and I would not be where I am now without him. When you play the harmonica it is all about the blues.”
Joshua showcased his skills during a spectacular Forest School performance later in the evening.
Charming athlete Jordan Levey stole the hearts of the audience when he explained he runs for his mum - who was also an athlete until picking up an injury.
Jordan won Individual Sport after breaking a number of athletics records at the Forest School.
When asked by reporter Simon Robb if he was aiming to compete at an Olympics, the sprinter said: “With enough training I think so.”
Another sporting star, Ciaran Preston, won the Coach/Referee award for helping younger pupils at the Weald.
Ciaran, who picked up a nasty facial injury in a rugby match, said: “It was quite hard to deal with at first. I have come back to referee young people and that is the best way to come back.”
Picking up the prize for Entrepreneur, Lu Frankland joked: “It is better than working for someone else!”
Lu runs a successful small company, Prompt Creative Consultancy, working in technology including website development.
Winning an award was no new experience for Jordon Powell, but the young chef could not hide his pride after winning Personal Achievement.
The Forest School pupil was named RIBI Young Chef of the Year in 2013 and was a finalist this year.
Youth Awards judge and general manager of the Capitol, Nick Mowat, explained the impression that artist Conor Weedon - winner of the Creative Arts prize - had made on him.
Nick said: “I saw an article in the County Times - I ‘Facebooked’ Conor and asked him whether he would like to do an exhibition in our gallery here. He has accepted our challenge. I do not think I have seen anybody who can draw like Conor - he is extraordinary.”
Talented Conor was almost speechless but told the audience he was ‘happy’ to be recognised.
Julia Inglis-Taylor’s charity work - ‘toilet twinning’ - was celebrated as she picked up the Fundraiser award.
Looking flushed, Julia explained the project helps to build new, clean toilets in the developing world.
The committed fundraiser also hosted a toilet party for her birthday, which included a birthday cake shaped like a - you guessed it - toilet!
Dominic Evans was our charismatic first winner of the evening as he won the Community Sport prize.
The volunteer with local basketball and wheelchair basketball teams said: “I feel really privileged to get this.”
Film-maker James West won the Media gong for his work in filming and editing a number of short films - including a trailer for a zombie film.
James said: “We went up Denne Hill which is nearby to film a zombie film. I was lucky that nobody came by that day!”
The Weald’s Greenpower Team - a group of students of all ages who designed an eco-friendly car - took home the Green Award.
And Hope Hawkins was named as the Youth Awards’ Young Carer winner.
The awards were opened by County Times editor-in-chief Gary Shipton, who then handed over the reins to reporters Simon Robb, Harley Tamplin, Joshua Powling and Jasmin Martin.
During the evening, four schools and colleges showcased some of their talented pupils with exceptional performances.
The Collyer’s big band impressively kicked off proceedings, dancers from the Weald School wowed the crowd, brave Millais singers showed off their incredible voices and a samba band and gymnasts from the Forest School threatened to steal the show.
Closing the ceremony, Gary Shipton said: “You have done yourselves and your schools and your colleges great credit.
“I am enormously proud of all the winners and I have been moved by some of the stories I have heard this evening. These awards belong to you.”
For months, readers of the County Times have been nominating deserving young people for the inaugural awards.
The Youth Awards judges - Jasmin Martin, Suzanne Travers of Places for People Leisue, Maria Stack of the ARK Horsham, Katie Bennett of the Y-Centre in Horsham and Nick Mowat, general manager of the Capitol - had the difficult task of selecting winners from the hundreds of nominations.
Thank you to everyone who nominated a young person or group for an award, and many congratulations to our 16 winners.