Incredible bravery and immense dedication - the extraordinary winners at The Pride of Manchester awards
Tears were expected at this celebration. The Pride of Manchester awards held at the Kimpton hotel on Tuesday May 10 celebrated the unsung heroes of our region by singing their praises.
From the emergency services award celebrating the best of Manchester's blue light workers, to the spirit of Manchester and special recognition awards to those in the city who have really made a difference, the Pride of Manchester awards celebrates the ordinary people of this great region for their extraordinary actions.
Celebrities joined the stars of the night on both the red carpet and the stage as they presented awards. Manchester’s own Mel B and Andy Burnham were in attendance alongside singer Fleur East, Mwaka Mudena and Richie Driss from Blue Peter, Paralympians Dame Sarah Storey and Jaco Van Gass, legendary broadcaster Moira Stuart, Elbow’s frontman Guy Garvey and many more, including faces from Coronation Street, Love Island and the Real Housewives of Cheshire.
Pixie Belle Sykes
Pixie Belle Sykes, aged nine from Ashton-under-Lyne, looked as if she had stepped out of a fairytale for her Child of Courage award. Despite being nervous at the beginning of the evening, she walked the red carpet like a pro and was excited to show off how her white mascara matched not only her dress and shoes but her award.
Before collecting her award, a short film was shown of Pixie Belle’s battle with pilocytic astrocytoma, a rare brain tumour which she has been battling since she was five. Following four operations on her brain, losing her hair three times and the sight in one of her eyes, Pixie Belle was still the Belle of the ball.
Speaking about watching the short film, Pixie Belle said: “I was crying and I said to mum ‘is my mascara okay?’”
Despite shedding tears, the inspirational nine year-old was excited to be at the event, but couldn’t wait to get home and blow off some steam with a good old dance.
She said; “I’m happy, [it was] scary on stage. I’m going to go home and dance everywhere, I’m just going to jump around.”
Katie, Pixie Belle’s mum, was still feeling shocked after the awards and said: “I’m still overwhelmed to be honest. It’s been absolutely lovely, it’s emotional.”
Pixie Belle was presented her award by singer Fleur East and Blue Peter presenters Mwaka Mudenda and Richie Driss.
Fleur East told the Manchester Evening News how enamoured she was by Pixie Belle. She said: “I said to her on the stage, if she’s managed to come through what she’s been through at the age of nine, then any other challenge that she could possibly face in life is going to be a breeze. She just showed so much strength, she’s so inspirational.
Richie Driss agreed with Fleur and added: “She’s shown more courage and strength in her nine years than in my 33 years.”
Responding to the comments made about his daughter’s strength, Andy Sykes said: “We’ve got a phrase back home: ‘Be more Pixie Belle.’”
Ruben and Elena Evans-Guillen
Ruben and Elena Evan-Guillen are 11 year-old twins from Warrington who were diagnosed with ADHD when they were six. Now, they channel their energy into exciting charity projects and fundraising through being active and have been awarded the Young Fundraisers award for their efforts.
Between the twins, they have over 100 medals, some for 5k runs and some for much bigger accolades. One day in lockdown, the family laid out all of their achievements on a field to see just how many they had.
It took them over three hours.
The twins only understood the magnitude of their award last night upon arriving on the red carpet. Elena explained: “I’m feeling very surprised and amazed, we didn’t think something this big was going to happen.
“We thought this would just be a little award ceremony.”
Ruben added: “I didn’t realise how big this was until dad explained it to us.”
Neither Elena or Ruben are planning on slowing down in their fundraising activities and are now working towards swimming the equivalent of the English Channel to raise money for CAFT , The Children’s Adventure Farm Trust.
However, fundraising activities are not all that the twins are interested in and they also hope to raise awareness for others with ADHD and continue their work with food banks.
Ruben said: “We want people to think better of people with ADHD.”
Elena echoed this and added:“When you have ADHD and you’re in a house all alone, it’s going to be a bit stuffed up and boring. So if you just go out and have fun, it will be so amazing.”
Dame Sarah Storey, who co-presented the award with Jaco Van Gass, believes the work that these inspirational children do is incredible.
She said: “I’m really excited about their next challenge, not just because it’s swimming, but also because CAFT is a charity close to my heart.” Adding: “The equivalent of the channel, you cannot underestimate that. It’s just incredible, I just think it’s absolutely amazing and I’m just so proud of them.”
Ex-paralympian, Jaco Van Gass, added: “It’s truly such an honour to be honest, it’s amazing what they do and the continuous work as well.
“It’s not just one or two things, it’s amazing.”
The twins' dad, Mark Evans gushed over how proud he is of his children and what they have achieved, saying: “Our mantra has always been about kids helping kids.
“This award is dedication to the work they do and how we’ve been able to help as well. Sometimes I just keep thinking, how on earth has this happened. It’s been our path and it has just guided us.”
Despite an exciting night of celebrities, awards and talks of the future, Elena told the Manchester Evening News that she was looking forward to going home and ‘chillaxing’ in front of the TV. The siblings are in year 6 and are sitting their SATS this week, something which Ruben was not looking forward to as he remembers his year two SATS as ‘painful’.
In 2020, Liam Preece felt a twinge in his knee. This led to a devastating diagnosis of osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer.
Despite gruelling years of chemotherapy treatments, Liam took to YouTube to share his journey through his illness to 10,000 followers. His attitude and openness with sharing his illness not only brought him an audience but also to be recognised by The Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People Star Awards.
At the Pride of Manchester Awards on Tuesday last week, Liam was recognised once again for his bravery by winning the Teenager of Courage award. Sadly, due to his illness, he was unable to collect his award and was not aware that he had even won.
Instead, YouTuber Vikram Barn, Vikkstar 123, of whom Liam is a fan, collected his award on the night and presented it to him in hospital the following day.
He spoke of how inspirational Liam’s story is, saying: “I’m really grateful to be able to come and do this. As someone who he has been able to watch content from while he’s been in hospital, I think it was really important for me to come and make the effort.
“Especially after the fantastic things Liam has done in putting himself out there, to decide that he’s going to launch his own YouTube channel, and find other people who are going through similar situations and give a positive outlook on it. I think that’s fantastic.
“I’m really grateful to be able to deliver his award to him in hospital.
“It’s been great also to see his YouTube story and one thing that is quite exciting, is that he can make a video about this whole experience and I will get to be a part of it and for him, hopefully that will be something that he enjoys. I’m looking forward to it.”
John Whaite, the third winner of the Great British Bake Off, joined Vikram Barn in presenting and accepting the award on Liam’s behalf. He said: “Liam kind of summarises what it is to have determination and dignity and to see that in such a young boy is really, really inspiring and I’m sure his message has already resonated with thousands of people and will continue to do so.”
Speaking to the Manchester Evening News last year, Liam explained why he set up his YouTube channel: “Having cancer puts you in a panic mode. It’s not like you can get on with your day without thinking about it.
“I’m keen to help others going through the same ordeal and that’s why I created the YouTube channel.”
James Anderson received a special recognition award at the Pride of Manchester awards for his years of work offering crucial support to 39,000 families. While the support started off as subsidising costs of broken boilers, or fixing leaks for free, James’ work has expanded to offering help to people in need from buying a food shop, to helping with funeral costs.
Despite winning the award, James felt that the award brought forward the issues which we face in our communities. While he was enjoying the ceremony, his team was out working, fixing a broken down boiler.
He said: “I feel humbled because this, it’s not for me. It’s for the people that we support, it’s for the people that support us. It’s for the staff that work 24 hours a day.
“Even as we speak now, we’ve got two engineers out on an emergency job as I’m sitting here. We’ve got to be available because a boiler doesn’t work nine to five, a water leak or gas leak doesn’t work nine to five, hunger from a loss of gas or electricity doesn’t work nine to five.
James was inspired to work for those in need after the death of son at 16 weeks back in 2011. He said: “William, my son, he’s in heaven now and I promised him, I told him I would be the man I wanted him to be if he was still here. I made that promise to him that I would do it and that’s what I have achieved.
“I haven’t achieved it on my own, I’ve achieved it with the support of everybody and it’s something that I hope and I pray has an effect on people so that they can continue to do it once I’m gone.”
As the cost of living crisis continues, so does James’ worries for the future. He has been gaining more recognition for his work, and with it more support from energy companies around the country, as well as a Saudi Princess.
However, the predicted rise in inflation and energy prices set for October, have caused concern for James. He said: “A lot of families, people, children especially are going to suffer. The government isn't going to budge, we need to do it ourselves because if we don’t, people are going to die and we can’t allow that.
“It’s not about politics anymore, it’s about humanity.
“Positive action, that’s what we need. I don’t care what it costs me, if it costs me my house, my van, my car, my life - I don’t care.
“That’s my legacy."
Professor Erinma Bell MBE DL
Activist and campaigner Professor Erinma Bell MBE DL was presented the Spirit of Manchester award by Mayor Andy Burnham and Mel B. Erinma, who has devoted her life to protecting young people from violent crime and giving them opportunities to build a bright future, said she saw the award as an opportunity to give “inspiration” to other people.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the next generation,” she told the Manchester Evening News.
“I see them [awards] as inspiration for other young black women and young black men. It’s encouraging for a whole community of people.”
The night was a double celebration for Erinma, who was elected to Manchester City Council to represent Moss Side just last week. Burnham, who earlier in the night described Erinma as the “true embodiment of the spirit of Manchester,” sang her praises as a Mancunian making a difference.
“I’ve never heard before, in all my time in politics, of a councillor standing for the first time getting a majority of over 2,000,” Burnham said. “It’s an amazing show of love from a community to someone who has made a difference.”
Erinma said it was “about time” for the black community and other minority communities in the city to be taking up the places they deserve on Manchester’s decision-making bodies.
“Nobody’s stopping us from being there,” she said. “We have to put ourselves forward. If we want to see change, we have to be part of that change.”
When asked what was coming next for her, Erinma said the sky was the limit.
“One day I might go for Prime Minister!” she said with a cheeky smile - while Burnham, standing next to her, joked that the only way he was going near that race would be as her campaign manager.
“You’ve got it all, you go all the way!” he told her.
Mike, a firefighter at Manchester Airport, raised more than £800,000 for the charity PAPYRUS [Prevention of Young Suicide] after his daughter, Beth, took her own life in 2020.
After joining the charity, Mike met two other dads who were grieving the loss of daughters in similar circumstances and together they joined forces to walk 300 mile over 15 days between their homes across the country to raise money and talk to other men in similar situations.
At the Pride of Manchester awards, Mike was awarded a special recognition award and spoke openly, with tears in his eyes, about the realities of mental health and how the walk showed him he wasn’t alone. He said: “I’m humbled, absolutely humbled. To share the stage with those wonderful people, it’s unreal.
“Everyone tells us that we’ve done so much, however, we hear everyday sadly, that there is more to do. We can’t catch everyone but we can make a difference and the difference will come.
“I did not do it alone, Andy and Tim are giants, they are giant hearts, they are huge. I know what they’ve been through, I know what they carry with them and I know how hard it is and when we walked, we listened to other people’s stories and we realised we weren’t alone."
Mike was presented his award by former professional boxer Ricky Hatton and former olympic swimmer, Rebecca Addlington OBE. For Ricky, presenting this award was emotional as he has struggled with his own mental health.
He said: “Every award tonight was special because they’re such inspirational people, but this one especially because I nearly went down that road. What I have in life now, I nearly didn’t have.”
Rebecca Addlington added: “I think that’s important that people could jump in and have that conversation with you. Every single element was just a wow, it had all of those different layers.”
Professor Tony Redmond
Professor Tony Redmond was honoured with the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award for his lifetime of work dedicated to giving crucial medical care to those most in need all over the world.
“It’s overwhelming but it's also very emotional,” Redmond told the Manchester Evening News. “I’m Manchester born and bred. I’ve worked all over the world, but I’ve always lived in Manchester. And I’ve been supported right from the very start by the people of Manchester.”
Redmond set up UK-Med, a Manchester-based charity that sends vital medical care to places of great humanitarian need across the globe.
His experience in disaster zones also saw him appointed to help lead Manchester’s coronavirus fight as medical director of NHS Nightingale North West.
He recalled seeing a letter in the Manchester Evening News many years ago, from a resident who said it made them proud to see a team from Manchester doing such important work in the places where it is most needed.
“It really touched me,” he said. “It makes me proud to be from Manchester.”
Redmond was given his award by Guy Garvey, who joked that presenting the award was “the best use” of his “limited celebrity”.
“I can hand on my heart say that I’ve never been prouder to be a Mancunian than I am tonight,” he said as he handed Redmond the award.
“I’m just so very very honoured and proud to be here with him. The attitude at the top filters down in organisations, and that’s why what Tony has done is so special.”
Redmond, who graduated from the University of Manchester himself, now uses his wealth of experience and expertise to help young doctors and nurses take their medical knowledge and skills to places such as Ukraine.
“I always say that UK-med is like Hotel California,” he joked. “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave, and they always come back. It’s a real family.”
Speaking after Redmond collected his award, Garvey reflected on the enormity of Redmond’s achievements.
“I’d like to draw attention to the ‘lifetime’ in lifetime achievement!” he told the M.E.N. “And he’s not done! He’s just confided in me that he’s never going to retire.
“When I think about what Tony has done and how many millions of people he’s facilitated to live…he’s remarkable.”
Jane Gregory, 51, was awarded the TSB community hero award for her work setting up the Salford Survivors project in 2013. A survivor of abuse herself, Jane wanted to protect her family after worrying that her daughter was following the same path.
Now, her charity has 25 volunteers, a dedicated helpline and supports people in court situations as well as with housing or medical appointments.
Jane was shocked to find herself among the winners at the Pride of Manchester awards, and despite receiving the award, could not put herself with the other winners.
She said: “It’s just weird innit, I’m standing there with some awesome people. I can’t even put myself in that category. I really can’t, I’m just an ordinary person.
“I could die tomorrow, but the charity has to carry on. It’s surreal to me, it’s really surreal.”
Jane has high hopes for the future, not just for Salford Survivors but for the way abuse and misogyny are approached and dealt with in our society to change.
“It’s about us making changes within the society and culture, how we look at abuse, educating people about abuse. Educating people about misogyny, what we take as what’s acceptable, changing how victims are blamed for things, putting the onus back on the perpetrator - that’s massive.
“We change it by speaking about it, everything is taboo, especially family abuse, it’s really taboo. Abuse within families is hidden because people feel ashamed as if it’s reflecting on everybody within that family.
“You can’t change other people’s behaviour, they have to change it for themselves. It’s important for you to believe in yourself and put yourself first.
“I will go to the end of the Earth and my volunteers will go to the end of the world. It’s not just a job to us. It’s not for the recognition. It’s not just a job. I’ll carry on, no matter what.”
Guy Garvey, lead singer of Elbow, walked past Jane during her interview and stopped to say: “I think you’re wonderful.”
PC Simon Toft and PC Alicia Snowden
Greater Manchester Police officers PC Simon Toft and PC Alicia Snowden were presented with the Emergency Services award for their bravery in the face of a truly terrifying situation by Corrie stars Shelley King, Sair Khan, and Julia Goulding.
The pair were first on scene at a medical centre in Stockport where Michael Brannigan was armed with three kitchen knives and a meat cleaver and threatening to stab staff and patients.
Working as a team, they managed to apprehend Brannigan, who has since been jailed for three years.
“It’s unreal,” PC Toft said, speaking to the M.E.N afterwards. “To get such a prestigious award, you literally can’t put it into words.”
Both of them said that in the moment, their training kicked in and they were completely focused on apprehending Brannigan. It was only after they’d safely tackled him that they realised the enormity of what they had done.
“I went out to the van to get some evidence bags, and I realised my legs were shaking,” Snowden said.”It’s the aftermath, when things have calmed down, that you’ll never forget.”
Julia described presenting the award as “an absolute honour,” calling Toft and Snowden “true heroes.”
“On screen we would do all kinds of stuff and you’ve always got the police and PC Tinker on the case,” she laughed. “But honestly, these guys are true heroes, people that are actually putting their lives on the line every time they go to work.
“The worst thing that could happen to me is that I trip on the cobbles!”
PCs Toft and Snowden have been rightly showered with praise and awards since the incident, including being nominated for the Police Federation award for bravery, where they won the regional prize.
But they said winning at the Pride of Manchester was special, with other emergency workers outside of the police also nominated.
Ultimately, though, the pair wanted to highlight that their job is to serve the people of Greater Manchester.
“We just did our job,” PC Snowden said. “The most important thing is that he was apprehended and nobody was hurt!”
Lydia Ina was presented with the Children’s Champion award in recognition of her work with young people both in and out of Manchester.
Lydia, who has given a home to around 300 children during 23 years as a foster carer, said she felt “overwhelmed” but “so good” to have picked up the award.
Lydia founded the Gapolunya Foundation, named after her mother, which helps children in Nigeria by providing education, clothing, food, and shelter. She said that children’s needs are universal, whether in Manchester, Nigeria, or anywhere in the world.
“Children are the same everywhere,” she told the M.E.N. “Children are happy when they can eat and they don’t want to know where food is coming from. Look after them. Feed them. Make them feel happy. That’s all I want, because when they are happy, we are happy.”
She was given her award by broadcasting legend Moira Stuart, who said that Lydia has “extraordinary love and compassion”.
“It is obvious that she has made such an impact,” Stuart said. “The children never want to leave her, and I can understand why! She is an extraordinary woman. It was an honour to present her with this [award]”.
Lydia, who has lived in Manchester for 57 years, said she had learned so much from the children she looked after, and departed with some words of wisdom for future generations.
“Look after the children, educate them, and make them feel happy,” she said. “That is all they need!”
Tracey and Phil Payton
Tracey and Phil’s incredible journey to help their daughter Emma get access to the proton beam treatment she needed to help fight her cancer took them all the way to America and back.
While over there, they witnessed first-hand the ‘end of treatment bells’ - a concept they loved so much they decided to bring it back to the UK. They installed their very first bell in Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital in time for Emma to ring it at the end of her treatment, and have gone on to donate hundreds more.
The couple were visibly emotional after being presented by comedian John Thomson with their Special Recognition award, and told the M.E.N it felt like a “full circle” moment to win in their hometown of Manchester.
Phil gave a special mention to The Christie Hospital, which has since become the first site in the UK to offer the proton beam treatment that helped Emma.
“It’s amazing to be awarded for something that you just do in your everyday life,” Tracey said. “It’s something that we love to do, so to be awarded for something that you love is just incredible.”
The couple placed their 100th bell at The Christie, and have donated over 360 bells in total to hospitals and treatment centres across the UK.
And they’re not stopping there. As well as the end of treatment bells, the couple have started to introduce ‘milestone’ bells, which people can ring after passing a significant moment in their treatment.
“It’s more inclusive for people whose treatment will be ongoing,” Tracey explained. “Some people might never finish treatment, but we encourage people to ring this bell for whatever reason they want!”
The couple also wanted to use their moment to thank the NHS for everything they do. “We’re really lucky to have the NHS on our doorstep and for them to fund things like this for families that don’t have access to this groundbreaking treatment,” Tracey said. “Or they didn’t have access. But they do now!”
“We never intended for this to happen,” Phil told the M.E.N. “But I think we’re the only charity that does it.”
Watch the full show on Tuesday May 17 at 7pm on YouTube.