THE spotlight was fixed on some of the town's most deserving unsung heroes this week when the Pride of Swindon Awards marked its tenth anniversary.

Charity fundraisers who have raised thousands for good causes, exemplary neighbours who have made their communities a better place to live, and sporting heroes who have inspired the next generation of athletes were among those who received recognition from the town during a glittering awards ceremony staged at Steam on Thursday.

Thirty-six years of providing free legal advice to some of the most vulnerable members of Swindon's society as one of the founding members of the Wiltshire Law Centre saw Richard Hazell named as the first recipient of this year's awards. "Someone of Richard`s abilities, knowledge and brilliance could have chosen a more lucrative path in private practice but he has chosen to stay in the Voluntary & Community Sector to help those in most need," his nominator said.

Jo Sharpe's decade of service to promoting diversity and inclusion while at the helm of Swindon and Wiltshire Pride saw former chairman Jo Sharpe honoured with an award, while her volunteer work with LGBT youth group Out of the Can also saw her win high praise.

Joining the winner's podium - where his own son and grandson have previously been praised - was veteran musician John Holmes, who was joined on stage with previous winner and grandson Morgan Sharpe who celebrated his grandfather's success by performing an impromptu song to rapturous applause.

Korean war veteran Ernie Quince's tireless poppy selling also saw him presented with an award. For many years he has been a mainstay of the Legion's poppy sellers, and a popular sight on Regent Street where he helped sell £9,500-worth of poppies from a table outside M&S. His nominator said: "He never missed a commemoration service for his fallen comrades, or others who have served our country. Ernie is a very modest man and doesn't feel that he deserves recognition, but giving up does not occur to him."

Choreographer and "chief hat-maker" for Penhill Swan Majorettes William Gulliver also found himself among the winners on Thursday for his years of service to the Penhill community, including helping to establish the Penhill Youth Community Council, as well as being a member of the Tenants Association for Sheltered Housing. His nominator said: "Bill's infectious enthusiasm shows no signs of slowing down."

Tracey Bijok's 13 years of as a foster carer for children with learning disabilities earned her an award. Her nominator said: "Tracey has helped countless families with her work, and she does so out of the kindness of her heart and pure determination to provide these children with a better quality of life and to see them and their families happy."

Cooking up hot Indian food for those people most in need saw Pradeep Bhardwaj's Free Kitchen named as the biggest in the South West after dishing out 1,142 meals in December 2016, as well as earning him a Pride of Swindon Award. The judges heard how he has been at forefront of fundraising in the town, including £5,000 in the wake of the Nepal Earthquake, £2,077 for Rotary International Jaipur Limb, £2,000 for Prospect Hospice, and £54,200 for a bereaved family following a crash.

Thamesdown Hydrotherapy Pool's Mike Baxter was also recognised for 30 years of service to the pool as he steps down this year. His nominator said: "Mike has unselfishly given over 30 years of his spare time to help guide the development of the pool. His contribution has been immense and we shall miss him!"

The awards are also organised to recognise teams and organisations that have gone above and beyond to better the community.

The Christ Church Building Committee was named as a winner for their work to transform the Old Town church and provide community outreach services, while The Royal British Legion Information and Caseworker Volunteers were also recognised for helping an estimated 10,000 people at their Pop In shop on Regent Street.

Swindon Seniors Forum were also named as winners for their work with the elderly communities within the town, as well as Swindon night Shelter for the lifeline they have provided to people living on the streets in the town. Domestic abuse charity Hometruths also received an award after the judge's heard an impassioned nomination from a woman who had benefitted from their services.

Presenting some of the certificates, South Swindon MP Robert Buckland said: "Let it never be said that Swindon doesn't care. We do, and it is down to the myriad of volunteers that make this community such a special place to be."

The ceremony also celebrated those who had been highly commended.

Community activist and campaigner for change Kate Linnegar was named on the highly commend list for her years of volunteering work with the Swindon People's Assembly, as was "prolific" fundraiser Andrew Clifton.

Paramedic Emma Wilson's drive to overcome adversity and desire to help others also saw her highly commended, while Penhill street rep Diana Pithers was also recognised for her work in her own neighbourhood.

Also making the list was Donna Huff for her work as a shared lives carer and the impact her generosity has had on vulnerable members of the community, while Caroline Davies-Khan's tireless work with the Savernake Street Social Hall also saw her recognised.

A lifetime of work with the Scout movement earned Kelvin King a highly commended certificate, as well as recognition for Rachel Tucker for establishing Swindon Helping Hands.

Lewis Bird's work using sport to engage with those experiencing mental health issues earned him a glowing nomination, and Stratton Advice Point's Lesley Hemingway was also highly commended for her years of service to the community, as was Michael Affleck's 30 years of volunteering to drive the parish disabled bus. Swindon City of Sanctuary was also highly commended in the teams category, as was Hop, Skip & Jump, Scrappers boxing gym, and Stratton Advice Point.

There was also one very special award in honour of a very notable absence from this year's awards.

Sitting on the stage throughout the prize giving was a model of Super Mario - or Little Tony as he is known in the Zurich Community Trust office. He was brought along to the awards to pay tribute to former judge Tony Martin who was involved with the awards from their inception until his death in the autumn of last year aged 61.

Paying tribute to Tony, head of the Zurich Community Trust Pam Webb, said: "Tony was very small in stature, but huge in heart. He had the ability to light up any room he entered.

"Today is all about recognising people who have done extra ordinary things and i know Tony would be extremely proud of all of the finalists today.

"I know he is up there feeling very proud of you all, and Swindon is rightly very proud of him. He is a very worthy recipient of a posthumous Pride of Swindon Award."