YESTERDAY I was asked to present awards at the ninth Pride Of Swindon Awards, alongside the mayor, the Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire and the leader of the council.
For me one of the most enjoyable parts of my role is being able to visit many of the voluntary groups to see first-hand not only the great work they are doing but what a real difference they are making, yet all too often they go unseen and without thanks.
Therefore the Pride of Swindon Awards are a real opportunity to pass on our collective thanks.
The original idea of an awards scheme came as a result of a conversation between former mayor Steve Wakefield, Tony Martin, of Zurich Community Trust, Shirley Ludford, of Swindon 105.5 and the then editor of the Swindon Advertiser, Dave King.
They rightly noticed that there were many people in our community doing some amazing things to benefit others, and thought that they should be recognised in some way.
The awards have gone from strength to strength. As we entered the Great Hall the nominees were greeted by a professional stage set up and the fantastic Open Door Choir - a wonderful local organisation for adults with learning disabilities - with their patron Sheila Harrod, of Kentwood Choir, beaming with pride.
I did suggest the X-Factor beckons for this group and their members were keen that I should contact Simon Cowell on their behalf.
It was like Swindon’s very own BAFTAs though, thankfully, Shirley Ludford didn’t announce the wrong winner.
We had a real mix of individual volunteers and groups being nominated, including representatives from: Let’s Hear Swindon, Penhill Street Reps, Swindon International Women’s Day, Swindon Down Syndrome Group, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, Haydon Artists, Penhill Guides, Swindon Soft Ball, SMAG - Swindon Museum And Art Gallery Volunteer Team, Harbour Project, Swindon Carers Centre, TWIGS, Prime Theatre, Save Swindon’s Libraries, the Witness Service and many, many more.
The backgrounds for each of the nominations were impressive, but none more so than Oscar Moulding, the youngest nominee aged just nine who has muscular dystrophy.
Despite his own challenges he was determined to send a special gift to his disabled friend Sophija in Bosnia to help her become more mobile.
Oscar wanted to raise £800 so he could ship the £9,500 motorised wheelchair he had outgrown to his friend.
He has been friends with Sophija for many years and understands her difficulties with a manual wheelchair, which is why he was so determined to help her be more independent and able to play with her younger brother.
He not only raised the £800, but he raised more than £2,000 which allowed for further adaptations to the chair.
This really summed up what a difference someone can make and the audience showed what a very worthy nominee he was.
Speaking to people at the event I was struck by how proud they were to have been nominated.
We are all grateful for everything they do and we hope through events like this they can help be the inspiration for others to make such a positive contribution to our local community.
We can all be very proud of our unsung heroes and a huge congratulations to all the nominees and winners. The Mayor Eric Shaw was absolutely spot on when he said: “Swindon does a lot of things very well - and this event is one of the best.”