Henley Superstars Honoured at Community Champion Awards

The brightest stars of the Henley community were celebrated on Friday night at the Henley Herald Community Champion Awards party, held at the Rugby Club. The event, which was unable to take place last year due to the pandemic, was a chance to recognise those who have contributed to our town throughout the past year. With live music from Lucky To Be Alive, a three course feast by Menza Cafe, fizz from the Fairmile Vineyard, and many a moving tribute to the Henley community, it was an unforgettable evening honouring the wonderful people of our town. The main sponsors of the event were ManningUK, and proceeds went to Lowland Oxfordshire Rescue.

The Henley Herald Community Champion Awards were started by our Editor, Michaela Clarke, in 2018. Both nominees and winners are decided by the public, with nominations opening in September and an online vote taking place in November the year before the awards ceremony. This year saw 34 nominations made across the six awards categories.

The event was compered by Mike Read, alongside Michaela Clarke. Opening the evening, Michaela said, “After the two years we have had, I hope like me you’re ready to let your hair down and celebrate tonight. It is nearly two years to the day that the first lockdown was announced by Boris and what a rollercoaster of a ride we’ve all been on. I want to take moment just to reflect and think about those who lost their lives to Covid-19 and the incredible NHS workers and key workers who put their lives at risk.”

She continued, “The pandemic brought out the strength of our community and our award nominees both this year and last year certainly showed what fantastic people we have in the town, who made such a difference in those difficult times.”

Michaela then invited two of last year’s winners — Gary Boys and David Eggleton — to say a few words. As the party was cancelled in 2021 due to the pandemic (instead, Gary and Dave were presented with their awards on their doorstep), Friday’s bash was a chance for them to finally celebrate their achievement. Reflecting on Henley’s reaction to the pandemic, Gary, last year’s Charity Champion, said, “For the first time I was like, forget me — let’s look after this community, and it was the community that came together that made me go, I’m gonna do something. So I’m going to say to all of you that are here, you are all amazing. This place is one of the most special places I have ever come across in my lifetime. All of you have an impact on people and all of you are heroes.”

Dave Eggleton said, “We’re all ingredients of a cake, or links in a chain, and what we’ve done is made a fantastic cake. We’ve all had parts of that cake because we’re all just as important. It’s just amazing. It’s a nice town to live in. I think everybody that does something inspires other people to do stuff, so keep on doing what you’re doing, because every one of us is inspiring someone else.”

After a delicious meal by the Menza Cafe team, it was time to present the 2021 Community Champion Awards. Each of the six awards were sponsored by a local business, with representatives from each tasked with opening the golden envelope and revealing the winner. The winners received a specially commissioned silver pin badge in the shape of Herald logo, made by Studio 35 jewellers, and a certificate.

The first award to be announced was ‘Charity Champion’, sponsored by Henley Self Storage. Angela Face, from Nomad, scooped the title after being nominated by her daughter. Angela supports families and individuals as well as helping with the food bank parcels, which became particularly important during the pandemic. Her nomination said, ‘I am very lucky because Angela is my Mum! I see what she does at work but also at home. Her work never stops at the end of the day. She is constantly popping out to see or supporting people on the phone. I don’t think Angela knows just how amazing she really is. Angela puts people she works with before herself always and it would be amazing for her to see just how much impact she has had on people’s lives!’

Next up was ‘Heart of Gold Neighbour’ (sponsored by Meadows Farm Studio and Henley Manor Care Home), which went to the six women who formed the Henley Mutual Aid Group: Harriet Barcella, Kellie Hinton, Joanne Mcdonagh Hughes, Nikki Norris, Cheryl Purver and Emma Taylor. Friday evening was the first time that they had all been in the same room together, which made the event all the more moving for the group. Upon receiving the award, Emma Taylor said, “It’s such an honour to be standing here before you in a room of amazing people and to be thanked for a small part of the work that we did. We are part of an amazing community. I think Henley is so special; I’ve been here for 25 years and I can’t imagine ever moving because it’s the most amazing place. We felt that really special sense of Henley while we were doing Henley Mutual Aid, so thank you to everybody.”

As ever, ‘Customer Service Champion’ (sponsored by Brakspear) proved to be a toughly contested category, with seven nominees for the title. The award went to Millie and Talia from Drifters Coffee House, who were the runners up in the category last year. Though they were unable to attend the awards ceremony on Friday evening, we surprised Millie and Talia with their certificate and pin badges on Saturday afternoon, all whilst they kept on top of a full cafe of customers — proving themselves worthy of the title of Customer Service Champions!

This year’s ‘Top Teacher’, sponsored by Southern Plant & Tool Hire, was Denise Williams from Gillotts School. Mrs Williams works in the Learning Support Department at Gillotts, supporting students with with additional needs. Her nomination said that she ‘goes above and beyond for her students to ensure they are happy and reaching their potential, both inside and out of school.’ She said, “I don’t deserve this more than anybody else that I work with at Gillotts because they have been amazing to work with, particularly over the past two years when we have worked throughout the pandemic and everybody has given 110%. That’s also true for all my friends and colleagues that work at all the other schools in Henley. Much as I don’t feel like I deserve this, I know that I deserve it more than Gavin Williamson deserves his knighthood!”

There was a second victory for Gillotts School in the ‘Young Sporting Superstar’ category (sponsored by IBS Office Solutions), which was won by gymnast Daisy Stevens. Daisy has been competing for a number of years in gymnastics, having represented GB Gymnastics at the British and European Championships. Her nomination described her as a ‘great ambassador for the school, [who] has worked hard through her years at Gillotts.’

The final award, sponsored by THP Solicitors, was for the ‘Community Champion’. The honour went to Harriet Barcella for her work with Friends of Badgemore School and the Chiltern Centre, making it her second award for the evening alongside the ‘Heart of Gold Neighbour’ title. Harriet said, “I didn’t expect to win two awards but it’s really lovely. As everyone else has said, this community doesn’t exist because of individuals; it exists because of everyone in this room and all of the amazing things that people do every day. It’s lovely to be nominated and really lovely to win but actually, this community is about every single person that is part of it. I’m really proud to be part of this community, it’s a very special community — how many times can I say community! — to be part of and I feel very lucky to live here and know many of you and be part of this group of people that come together all the time to support one another.”

The party was held in aid of Lowland Oxfordshire Rescue, a team of 70 professional volunteers on call 24/7/365 to assist Thames Valley Police in the search for high risk, vulnerable missing people. Our editor, Michaela Clarke, first became aware of the important work of Lowland when she organised a search party for Beryl Flynn, an elderly lady who went missing after attending Church on a Sunday morning in 2018, and who was safely found after two days in the woods. There were many exciting prizes up for grabs in the fundraising raffle: lawn tickets for Henley Festival 2022; Henley Royal Regatta Stewards’ Enclosure Tickets; afternoon tea at Relais Henley Hotel; a sightseeing Thames Cruise; a Led Lenser Utility Rucksack; and alcohol! Thanks to the generosity of the guests, who bought so many raffle tickets that more had to be given out, and to the businesses who donated prizes.

The Henley Herald Community Champion Awards will open nominations again in September this year, when we look forward to celebrating yet more of Henley’s wonderful residents.

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