THE Mail’s inaugural Pride Of Hartlepool Awards proved an emotional rollercoaster.
Tears flowed as more than 150 guests gathered to honour the town’s courageous people of all ages who have battled against the odds.
Unsung heroes were also publicly honoured for their selfless dedication to making Hartlepool a better place to live and work.
The Mail’s Head of News, Paul Watson, was there to capture the atmosphere of what turned out to be a truly special evening.
Fifteen awards were handed out and covered every aspect of life from educational to environmental and community to courage.
There were also sporting awards handed out including one special honour to Hartlepool United idol Ritchie Humphreys.
Mail editor Joy Yates (left) opened and hosted the ceremony at Hartlepool College of Further Education, which was compered by TFM Radio breakfast show presenter Wayne Allen in front of more than 150 guests.
Following the success of the first-ever awards they are set to become an annual event.
Some of the award winners:
MADCAP cabbie Stephen Picton was honoured as Fundraiser Of The Year – and almost broke down in shock.
Despite being the public face of charity appeals with his crazy capers, including a seafront conga, the 39-year-old was genuinely taken aback with the honour.
Surprise and shock were etched on his face as he collected his award to a chorus of cheers and loud applause from the crowd.
Stephen has been fundraising for various charities for years and set himself a target of raising £50,000 before his 40th birthday on April 1.
He is within touching distance having raised around £46,000 and has a fundraiser lined up for next weekend.
He told the Mail: “This is the best thing that has happened to me for many, many years.
“The only person I ever wanted to make proud of me was my dad James and I think I have done that tonight.
“I was just expecting to have a good night but to win is brilliant - absolutely mint!.”
He will be holding the next fundraiser on March 31 at the Mayfair Centre and tickets, priced at £5 can be bought from Alison McCabe Hairdressers, on the Headland, Streamline Taxis office, in Tower Street, The Glass Shop, in Lister Street, Owton Manor Resource Centre, in Kilmarnock Road, and North East Home Loans, in Park Road, all Hartlepool.
ONE award that summed up the spirit of the night went to devoted dad Ian Richardson whose life was torn apart when he lost his wife and six-year-old daughter in a motorway tragedy.
He and three-month-old daughter Ava somehow survived the crash and it is their special bond that is helping him cope with the aftermath of the tragedy.
The 38-year-old businessman and his family were travelling home from a wedding when another car drove the wrong way down a sliproad and smashed into their car.
Ian, who lives in Billingham and runs a marketing and communications business in Hartlepool, has now dedicated his life to looking after surviving daughter Ava as they slowly start to rebuild their lives.
Not only is Ian bringing up Ava, now nine months old, but is spearheading a campaign to get more people to sign the organ donor register.
He was unable to attend the ceremony but his Award For Inspiration was collected by his mum Lynn Richardson, who travelled to the presentation evening from her Billingham home.
She fought back tears to collect the glass trophy from compere Wayne Allen who put a comforting arm around the emotional mum as guests gave her an emotive standing ovation.
She told the Mail: “Ian asked me to collect the award as he felt it was all too much for him.
“I am so, so proud of him. Every day he wakes up it is for Eva.
“It’s difficult for him to face every day but Ava is his reason for living.
“He is an inspiration to everyone and I am delighted to be able to collect this award on his behalf.”
STUDENT Vicky Bown collected her award in memory of her late mum Denise who was struck down with blood poisoning and died at the age of just 53.
The 21-year-old endured a heartbreaking five-and-a-half weeks as her mum lay in hospital and visited her bedside twice every day.
She was on the brink of giving up her studies but with the support of her family and tutors she ploughed on to achieve top marks and gain a first class arts degree at the University of Teeside and Cleveland College of Art and Design.
She was commended as Student Of The Year and immediately dedicated the award to her mum.
Wiping away a tear after collecting her award she told the Mail how she planned to place the glass trophy at her mum’s graveside.
Vicky, of Sydenham Road, Hartlepool, said: “I never expected to win the award.
“The other students on the shortlist were amazing and I honestly didn’t think I would win.
“It’s nice for my mum to look down and see me getting this award and I know she will be pleased.
“I’m going to place the award by my mum’s graveside. She put me through university and would be so proud.”
DAWN and Ian McManus hugged each other in an emotional gesture after their Red Dream’s charity won them the Mail’s Local Hero award.
Their beloved son Kyle died of a sudden brain haemorrhage aged 16 and the couple attended the ceremony on what would have been his 20th birthday.
The devoted couple immediately dedicated the award to him.
Dawn, 40, and 41-year-old Ian set up Red Dreams in Kyle’s memory to provide a platform for creative youngsters to express themselves.
The Local Hero category was the only one that was put to a public text vote, the others being decided by a panel of judges, and Ian and Dawn were overwhelming winners.
After collecting the award they hugged each other and wiped away silent tears.
Dawn said: “This is for Kyle. It is his birthday and a very emotional time for us.
“It is so poignant that the awards ceremony was on his birthday.
“Winning this award means so much to us and it is a fitting tribute to Kyle.”
The couple paid tribute to everyone involved with the charity and praised the dedication and determination of its volunteers.
Ian added: “It is amazing to collect this award but everyone involved in Red Dreams are the true heroes.”
HARTLEPOOL United Player Of The Century Ritchie Humphreys was given the Sporting Legend Award and immediately told how the whole evening had left him honoured but humbled.
Ritchie was given his award shortly after the Children of Courage category was awarded to four courageous youngsters.
He admitted that if he had been asked to say a few words while collecting his award he would have probably been too emotional to have managed it.
The popular Pools club captain told the Mail: “I’m pleased I did not have to speak as I was choked after hearing how those four youngsters coped.
“My daughter Eliza is now 18 months old and it was just so emotional.
“I have been to countless ceremonies and have met some wonderful, talented people.
“But I don’t think I have ever been in a room full of such inspirational and amazing people.
“I have never known a presentation evening like this. It is fantastic to be among such courageous and caring people who care about the town they live in and who inspire others to do better.
“I’m a footballer and was given a talent and am delighted with my award but what everyone in this room has achieved or been through puts what I do to shame.”
SWIMMING coach Shirley Black was amazed to be given the Sporting Achievement Award.
She faced stiff competition but was justifiably judged the winner for her dedication to the sport.
Now, 65, she still teaches youngsters at Hartlepool Swimming Club, and even had to get a stand-in to take her class so she could attend Thursday night’s awards ceremony.
She is regarded as the mainstay of the club having been a coach for almost 30 years and has taught hundreds of swimmers including Olympian Jemma Lowe.
Shirley, who lives in the Dyke House area of Hartlepool, told the Mail: “I’m overwhelmed to be honest.
“I was not expecting this at all. I coach because I love doing it and not for any reward to get this honour really is brilliant.
“I originally got involved many, many years ago when my children started to learn to swim and it just became part of my life.”
A commemorative 12-page pull-out keepsake supplement will be published inside your Mail on Wednesday March 30. It will feature stories and pictures of every winner and an array of pictures from the awards ceremony. So be sure to pick up your copy of the Mail on Wednesday.