Almost 300 nominations were received this year for the Norfolk and Waveney Star Awards for which we were honoured to Judge two categories.
Community Hero of the Year, sponsored by Hopestead
The parent of a young child has been praised for her dedication to make her community a more inclusive place to live in.
Melanie Lord, 31, of Lowestoft, has a son on the spectrum and she strives to show others how to be more inclusive of others.
She has achieved this by raising money to help support local charities and organisations, and – during the pandemic – she created free printable social stories to help individuals with additional needs to understand the changes surrounding the impact of Covid-19.
She also donates gifts each year at Christmas to local charities and organisations.
On being crowned a community hero, she said: “It feels amazing.
“It’s not just a win for me but for the special needs community too, to have their voice heard and know what is needed in our society to make it feel inclusion.
“I said that I don’t want my son to change for the world, but I want him to change it, and I think together we are doing that.”
The judges were impressed with her vision to implement changes.
They said: “Melanie recognised the limited resources available for those with additional needs at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Seeing the impact that the pandemic was having on her son, who is on the autism spectrum, Melanie developed visual aids and social stories to explain changes to everyday life, such as visiting a GP surgery or having a coronavirus test.
“The content of these was so valuable that they are now being used by GP surgeries, schools and hospitals and Melanie has continued to provide free resources for anyone that needs them.
“Melanie’s passion for fundraising, campaigning and raising awareness for those with additional needs really demonstrates the value of a hero.
“She has shown immense passion for the importance of inclusion in our communities, continued dedication to help those with additional needs and was described as the ‘true testament of community spirit’.
“Melanie’s commitment to campaign for others and the lifeline she has provided to other parents of children with additional needs during the pandemic demonstrates a true community hero.”
Judges’ Special Award, sponsored by Hopestead
The judges were so impressed with this year’s finalists that they decided to award not one, but two winners of the Judges’ Special Award, sponsored by Hopestead.
The finalists are taken from the runners-up of other categories, but whom the judges felt deserved special recognition.
Bob and Angie Cossey, were named finalists in the Charity Hero of the Year award category for their work as co-founders of the charity Stepping Stones, which helps adults with learning disabilities.
The judges said: “After 30 years, it’s clear they’ve made a huge difference to so many people’s lives in Norfolk and Waveney.
“Stepping Stones is obviously close to their heart and they’ve been praised for their energy, enthusiasm and experience in helping those with learning disabilities.
“Earlier this year they announced they would be stepping down from the charity and enjoying their retirement – we’re sure they will be missed greatly, but this feels like the perfect time for some special recognition. Well done Bob and Angie.”
The couple added: “We feel surprised and quietly pleased, and are very grateful for all that nominated us.
“A lot of people have been involved and helped to get it to where it is now. Stepping Stones began in 1989 – Angie managed it for 25 years until 2013 – and we have really worked to set charity on path it is now.
“Once we have retired, we know it will continue to develop.”
Jacob Gravestock, was listed as a Young Person of the Year finalist for his efforts raising money for the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital’s Cancer Care Centre, after staff there helped to look after his granddad.
The judges said: “It was such a joy to read Jacob’s nomination. What a determined, dedicated and thoughtful member of our community.
“At only seven years old, Jacob walked, scooted and cycled 188 miles in 70 days to raise over £2,000 for the N&N Cancer Care Centre – an incredible achievement, especially when he’d only learned to ride his bike on two wheels a couple of weeks beforehand.
“Jacob has a big heart and is always thinking of others. He bought gifts and raised spirits during Covid-19 and sacrificed his Christmas presents to help those in need.”
Read more about the awards here.