They are the superstars of our region and now the brave, the good and the caring have been recognised in our prestigious Chronicle Champion Awards.

On Wednesday night we held the red carpet event at the Grand Hotel Gosforth Park in Newcastle and our local heroes were given the praise they deserved.

Five months ago we opened the gates to find the most admirable people in the North East in our 8th annual awards and we had a record number of entries as hundreds flocked to nominate their very own champs.

And over much deliberation we chose our worthy winners who celebrated at the glitzy event hosted by former BBC Radio Newcastle and Metro Radio presenter Ingrid.

We started out with 11 unique categories but as judging took place we decided to add categories of Outstanding Contribution and Champion Family as the standards were so high.p

Sponsored by Banks Group, Northumbrian Water Group, TDR Training, Newcastle City Council and the Grand Hotel Gosforth Park, our Chronicle Champions event went off with a bang.

There was laughter and tears as winners took to the stage and there wasn’t a dry eye left as Chris and Sarah Cookson collected their Champion Parent Award.

Throughout heartache this brave couple have channelled their grief into helping others.

Their son Charlie was born with an undiagnosed condition and suffered from a number of serious diseases and died aged two-and-a-half.

After losing their beloved son, the Cooksons set up The Charlie Cookson Foundation in 2013 to provide financial security to parents of children in hospital.

Chronicle Champions awards night at the Grand Hotel at Gosforth Park
Chronicle Champions awards night at the Grand Hotel at Gosforth Park

Then on Boxing day 2018 Sarah gave birth to little Carter, who arrived prematurely and suffered three cardiac arrests within hours of being born.

Doctors told Sarah and Chris, of South Shields, that their beautiful baby boy had just weeks to live unless a new heart was found. So Sarah took to social media to desperately find someone to donate their baby’s heart to save her son’s life. Her campaign went viral, pulling on the nations heartstrings and beyond.

During this time Sarah and Chris were working to raise awareness of the need for organ donors for babies and children who are on the transplant list.

Devastatingly Carter died before a heart could be found at just 25 days old.

Chris, 41, said: “Winning the Champion Parent Award will live with us forever, it has given us a huge emotional boost knowing that although both our sons are not with us, we can still be parents in a different way, making a difference to families' lives who have children with life limiting conditions for Charlie and promoting organ donation for Carter. We can only hope our sons are proud of the work we do and thank you to everyone from the Chronicle Champions Award for this award, it means so much.”

Sarah, 44, said: “This award really does mean so much to us as being a parent is all we ever wanted to be. We feel blessed that our two very special angels chose us to be their mammy and daddy. We gave them our everything, we were their lifelines and we continue to get up each day for them - they were certainly here for a reason.

“They showed us what real love and strength is and we continue to use this strength to save as many lives as possible through supporting those in need with our charity and raising the importance of organ donation, we all have the gift of life. We hope they are watching down on us with big smiles saying ‘That’s our mammy and daddy’.

“Thank you to the Chronicle and to everyone who voted for us, we are forever grateful.”

The Rich Family brought huge applause after guests were told of their relentless battle for life saving treatment after their two daughters, Nicole and Jessica, were both born suffering from the rare incurable Batten disease.

The Rich Family at the Chronicle Champions awards night at the Grand Hotel at Gosforth Park.
The Rich Family at the Chronicle Champions awards night at the Grand Hotel at Gosforth Park.

As their daughters had their own fight, parents Matthew and Gail decided to take on the NHS as they campaigned for a life saving drug to be made available.

And it ended in victory after the NHS told them the drug to treat Batten Disease is now available to patients.

Matthew and Gail, who also have son Louis, of Throckley, Newcastle, were overwhelmed with their award for Champion Family.

Gail said: “When we got the phone call to say we had won the Champion Family Award, we could not believe it. We had nominated our very brave daughters for an award, but we had no idea that people had been nominating us. To think people have nominated our family to win this is just amazing.

“We have had the most incredible night and it has given us more memories to cherish as a family.

“We would like to thank everyone who took the time to nominate us, we are so grateful and humbled to have won such a special award.”

Matthew said: “To find out as a family we had won the Champion Family award, it was just an amazing massive surprise, We only ever thought our brave girls Nicole and Jessica had been nominated. The people who nominated us we can’t thank you enough for giving us a family a very special award we will always cherish.

“The awards night was just amazing and to have the children with us made it really special. We can’t thank everyone enough for giving us such a fantastic evening we will never forget.”

Then there was Colin Burgin-Plews, aka Big Pink Dress, who has become a local hero with his great fundraising efforts and scooped our Outstanding Contribution Award.

Chronicle Champions awards night at the Grand Hotel at Gosforth Park. Chronicle Champions awards night at the Grand Hotel at Gosforth Park. Outstanding Contribution Award, Lisa Hutchinson, left and winner Colin Burgin-Plews
Chronicle Champions awards night at the Grand Hotel at Gosforth Park. Chronicle Champions awards night at the Grand Hotel at Gosforth Park. Outstanding Contribution Award, Lisa Hutchinson, left and winner Colin Burgin-Plews

The 51-year-old, from South Shields, has worked tirelessly to raise thousands of pounds for charity in his famous array of big dresses. And at 6ft 6ins he can’t be missed. He’s ran 48 marathons, half marathons and 10k races - all in the most flamboyant of dresses.

He’s a man on a mission and it all began when he decided to raise a small amount for charity when his wife’s friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. But five years later he’s managed to reap in a whopping £120,000.

Colin said: “To receive the Outstanding Contribution Award has truly blown me away. Local awards mean so much to me. The Chronicle did my first ever interview as Big Pink Dress and even after five years it still feels like yesterday. Can’t thank the amazing people of the North East enough for their continued support and nomination.”

Scooping our Champion Child of Courage category, sponsored by TDR Training, were; Chloe Bowser, nine, of Sunderland, who was born with the rare blood disorder Diamond Blackfan Anaemia; Nathan Curry, eight, who suffers from acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, and his 10-year-old sister Chloe, from Jarrow; Kristopher Dale, eight, of South Shields, who has cystic fibrosis; five-year-old Hannah Rogers, from South Shields, who was born with spina bifida; and Tyler Ridley, 13, of Bedlington, who has a rare disease called Osteogenesis Imperfecta (which is brittle bones), Benign Hypermobility Syndrome and ADHD.

After winning the award Tyler, who has broken 62 big bones as well as many fingers, toes and ribs, said: “I feel really proud and so happy that I won the award and I’m having a great time here tonight. I never ever thought I’d win an award like this as all I’m trying to do is have fun every day and enjoying life.”

Winning the Armed Forces Champion Award, sponsored by Newcastle City Council, was Sunderland based Veterans in Crisis, ran by Troubles veteran Ger Fowler, while Calmer Therapy, a social enterprise that supports families who have children with additional needs and disabilities, won the Champion Business Award.

Winning the Champion Fundraising Award was Kayleigh Bloxham and Monju Meah.

Kayleigh, 26, from Heaton, Newcastle, has raised over £10,000 for the Tiny Lives charity after her son Luka was born with medical problems and needed the Special Care Baby Unit at the Royal Victoria Infirmary.

Monju, 32, of Newcastle’s West End, helped to start the Toon Aid initiative to support the West End Foodbank and spearheaded a campaign to raise £50,000 by Christmas Day in 2017. A similar campaign was run the following year, hitting around £72,000. He’s also done other fundraising activities and volunteered for the NUFC Fans’ Foodbank on match days.

Green Champion, sponsored by Northumbria Water Group, was won by Community Fridge, based in Birtley, which shares surplus food with needy residents.

Community Champions was won by 89-year-old Betty Playford, who has become a much-loved figure on a Newcastle estate since setting up ‘Betty’s Hut’ in 1975. The community stalwart, is not only a grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother to more than 100 children, but she’s known to many in Cowgate as their ‘Nana Betty’.

Also scooping the award is Shirley Smith, of County Durham, who set-up the If U Care Share Foundation after her son Daniel O’Hare, took his own life in 2005.

Chronicle Champions awards night at the Grand Hotel at Gosforth Park. Pictured Children of Courage, from left Tyler Ridley, Kristopher Dale, Chloe Bowser, Chloe Curry, Nathan Curry, Hannah Rogers.
Chronicle Champions awards night at the Grand Hotel at Gosforth Park. Pictured Children of Courage, from left Tyler Ridley, Kristopher Dale, Chloe Bowser, Chloe Curry, Nathan Curry, Hannah Rogers.

Winning the Champion School award, sponsored by Banks Group, was Archibald First School in Gosforth. It was class teacher Helen Nisbet, 1-1 support assistant Sidra Tadbeer and Year 3 teaching assistant Pam Patrick who caught the eye of our judges. When pupil Daniel McAdam was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of childhood cancer this trio stepped up to the mark and went above and beyond to help him before he died aged eight.

On behalf of all three, Tadbeer said: “We were honoured to find out about this award and to be given the opportunity to talk about our Archibald star ‘Super Dan’. The true award winners behind all of this is our lovely Daniel and his family. Daniel had the potential to light up any room as he entered it, with that twinkle in his eye and his love for learning.

“We’re proud that Daniel wanted to come to school and it gave us great pleasure to go that extra mile and ensure his happiness was the key to everything.

“We’d also like to thank Daniel’s family, who at a difficult time, still kept following Daniel’s wishes and bringing him into school to share precious memories with us. At Archibald, we’re a great team of staff who all work together to ensure that happiness is at the heart of learning and this award also reflects our happiness and the love we all share for Daniel. A tribute must also be made to Daniel’s mum who has now joined our wonderful staff at Archibald, she’s a credit to the school and we love working with her.”

Our Outstanding Act of Bravery award was won by hero schoolgirl Karla Fish, 14, a pupil of St Bede’s School in Lanchester, County Durham, who showed sheer courage when chaos unfolded in front of her after a boy was seriously injured when he was hit by a bus.

Chronicle Champions awards night at the Grand Hotel at Gosforth Park. Bravery Award. From left Ian Young, Karla Fish and Courtney McGee.
Chronicle Champions awards night at the Grand Hotel at Gosforth Park. Bravery Award. From left Ian Young, Karla Fish and Courtney McGee.

Also winning this award was Thomas Wallace, 15, of Hebburn, South Tyneside, who without hesitating rescued a pensioner from perishing in the freezing temperatures when she fell and broke her leg.

Winning our Emergency Services Champion Award was Zoë Hingston who joined the Northumbria Police Positive Action Team during August 2018 ready to make a real difference. She pro-actively researched and identified good practice and developed a completely revised approach to attracting and supporting a high calibre of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic applicants.

And winning the Young Role Model category were Michael Ndiweni and Benjamin Burton-Payne.

Michael, 16, from Throckley, showed incredible dignity and compassion when reporting his peers had used racist language. His conduct through the investigation and resolution of what happened was outstanding and he has become a role model at St Cuthbert’s High School in Newcastle.

Benjamin, 12, of Forest Hall, suffers with cerebral palsy and is a permanent wheelchair user but in 2018 he decided he wanted to leave his special needs school and go to a mainstream high school.

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Since starting Longbenton High Ben has been an amazing role model. He is the happiest and most positive person within the school, with so many children looking up to him.

Ben said: “I’m very grateful for the award I have been given and hope I can make people aware of the condition cerebral palsy and the many challenges people face but can overcome with determination. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for my family, especially my mam and Craig (stepdad). I also want to thank my teachers past and present for helping me reach my full potential.”