The first ever Blackburn Rovers Community Trust Awards exceeded expectations as the first 11 winners of the official club charity’s prized accolades were crowned.
On a night aimed at showcasing the fantastic collective achievements of the people behind the community organisation, there were some big headline winners, with NCS Youth Board leader Shannon McLaughlin picking up a pair of awards, two prizes making their way to Avondale Primary School and a fine crescendo as we saluted the decade-long achievements of the Community Trust’s retiring youth engagement officer, Nigel Baker.
Led by hosts Andy Bayes and Kevin Gallacher and supported by contributions from iconic Rovers stars Colin Hendry and David Dunn, the inaugural staging of the event was a huge success, enjoyed by around 200 attendees in Ewood Park's Premier Suite and supported by a host of big name sponsors.
They witnessed a fantastic start for Avondale Primary School, as their success in winning the night's first category - Outstanding School Sports Partner - was immediately followed by their teaching assistant Diane Mears being named as the Primary Star Award winner for the passion she exudes for sporting activities within the Darwen school, which is a partner of BRCT’s Premier League Primary Stars programme.
Next up was a chance to recognise the wonderful influence that Shannon McLaughlin has had on teenage participants in the NCS programme at Ewood Park, picking up the NCS Ultimate Graduate title and later adding the highly-coveted Overall Participant of the Year trophy - a fine reward for picking herself up after some serious recent illness in order to make the ceremony.
Charlotte Kershaw from PD Kinetics - who have used Ewood Park as a base for a programme supporting those with Parkinson's Disease and other related conditions - became the first ever Health Champion, while Alison Rogerson became Inclusion Champion in recognition of the extensive promotion and support she has undertaken for the Down's Syndrome football programme at the Blackburn Rovers Indoor Centre since her son Harvey became involved in the ongoing sessions.
Two young participants in education and social inclusion projects were positively stunned by their success, with Jack Price (Education Champion) and Kane O'Brien (Premier League Kicks Ambassador) clearly moved by their successes.
An all-walking football tussle in the Sports Participation Champion category led to the only split awards being handed out on the night, with England north west regional coach Tony Hartley winning the award and his Rovers team-mate Tony Jones being highly commended for the extent of administration support he has provided to the team, as well as finding time to play for both his club and country!
Kirk Lowe was the only winner unable to claim his prize in person due to a pre-booked family holiday, but his Volunteer of the Year Award was claimed in style on his behalf by his friend Jackie Rigby, who produced the most exuberant on-stage celebrations of the night!
The prize-giving concluded by rewarding Nigel Baker for 10 years of fine service to the charity with a Special Recognition Award. Having conducted almost every role going from youth intervention work through to stadium tours via regular minibus shuttle runs, he was a worthy winner of the final category, before being joined on stage by fellow long-serving staff member Jen Calvert, so that both could receive trophies marking their 10 years of quality work on behalf of the Community Trust.
Blackburn Rovers Community Trust’s chief executive officer, Gary Robinson, who was a guest speaker at the event, reacted: "It has taken many years of tireless work to build up to this point where our charity has the stature and importance to justify putting on an event of this scale to reward all those who support it and this night was well worth the effort.
"I was truly taken away by the professionalism of the event, the level of support from the local business community and the enthusiastic response from the guests on the night. It all combined to produce a truly memorable first awards evening.
"There were many inspiring stories on the night, both from the winners and all the other worthy nominees. Everyone who was selected to be a part of the occasion as a nominee can be rightfully proud of their ongoing efforts and I hope that this wonderful evening acts as further inspiration for them all to keep doing what they're doing.
"I was also delighted with the quality of event presentation from Andy Bayes and Kevin Gallacher, who are forming a wonderful double act through their work at BBC Radio Lancashire, and they helped to bring some of Colin Hendry and David Dunn's stories to life perfectly.
"I look forward to us doing it all over again at our next awards night, which will be a hard act to follow for all the right reasons!"
The celebration took place just 24 hours after the charity itself also became an award-winner once again, retaining their 'Commitment to Blackburn and Darwen' title at The HIVE Awards, celebrating the very best of business within the Blackburn with Darwen borough.
Blackburn Rovers Community Trust would like to thank Blackburn Rovers for being the principal event partners, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, Crown Paints, McDonald's and Nybble IT Solutions for sponsoring award categories and Accesspoint Media Services for printing and sponsoring the event programmes.