Community Champions 2017: Here’s to the heroes, the highlights and the happy times

They have picked up a clutch of awards, performed in front of thousands of people in Glasgow and around the world, and made history by being the first Scottish act to represent the UK at the Country Music Awards.

But Easterhouse band Raintown – aka Paul Bain and Claire McArthur – say they owe their big break to the Evening Times Community Champions Awards.

The multi-awardwinning country music duo performed at The Bridge in Easterhouse to launch the inaugural Community Champions event back in September 2008.

It kick-started a tradition for the awards, which celebrate local heroes, to showcase the best and brightest local musical and dance talent.

And the lyrics of the song they performed that night – appropriately called Hero – still apply.

“When times get tough you know a hero stands tall” resonated with many people in the audience and the night left a big impression on Paul and Claire.

“We are really proud to be part of Community Champions – for us, performing at the first event and getting coverage in our ‘local’ newspaper, the Evening Times, was a really big deal,” says Paul.

“But we also understood what this was doing for our community in Easterhouse, and what it has continued to do for communities all over the city.

“The awards give people a focal point to celebrate all the guys out there working so hard for everyone else.

“It really opened our eyes to those unsung, local heroes that just get on with it.”

Over the last 10 years we have also helped boost local talent like young singers Chloe Simpson, Glasgow’s Star Turn winner Elissa Crorken, Emma Ochia and 2015 The Voice contestant Stephen McLaughlin.

We have featured a former European Hip Hop Champion James McCusker, young actors from Mamie’s Weans’ Drama Group in Castlemilk, who went on to appear on BBC Children’s drama Half Moon Investigations and in the Peter Mullen film Neds; and the lively Karen Burns School of Dance.

But the real stars of each show, of course, are the groups and individuals receiving awards for their selfless contributions to city life.

It all began at The Bridge in Easterhouse, and since then we have travelled the length and breadth of Glasgow, from Govan to Garthamlock, from Penilee to Pollok, from Castlemilk to Springburn.

The first ever winners included Con Allison, from the east end, who has helped countless families in need for more than 30 years; community activist Sammy Cox, who challenged sectarianism and gangs with his school football league in Garthamlock; and Lochend Community High School, whose inspirational pupils worked hard to help all members of their community.

At the 2010 final, Glasgow’s older citizens stole the show with the public service award going to long-serving Our Lady of the Rosary Primary School janitor Hugh Reilly, 63; and the senior award going to 85-year-old Grace Donald, from Bridgeton, who juggled roles as a Church Elder, a member of the local history group, a community member of Clyde Gateway, part of Bridgeton Cross Public Realm Project and a Peer Educator for PEEPS.

And the late, great Margaret Miller, who was then 101 years old, was the undeniable star of the 2011 final, receiving a standing ovation as she collected a Lifetime Achievement Award.

The humble pensioner, from Springboig, spent more than seven decades helping others, firstly with the WRVS and latterly with the local stroke club she founded and ran.

There have been many moving moments over the years – such as the standing ovation for inspirational dance tutor Linda Kesson, from Barmulloch, who continued to teach and inspire young people through her own battle with cancer; and the tears for our first posthumous champion, policeman Charlie Boyce, who was honoured in 2009 for his work with Mount Florida Community Council.

There has been plenty of laughter too – thanks mainly to the exceptional hosts who have graced the stage, including most recently Michelle McManus and Libby McArthur, and few people will forget the community conga which took Glasgow’s greatest dignatories and honoured guests on a madcap meander around the City Chambers banqueting hall in December last year.

We have honoured heroes and paid tribute to ordinary people doing extraordinary things; we have brought communites together in celebration and even invented our very own ‘champions drum roll’ – a deafening, foot-stamping crescendo which raises the roof of every venue we attend.

But above all, the Community Champions Awards have ensured that Glasgow’s big-hearted volunteers and hardest-working public servants get the recognition they deserve.

Here’s to the next 10 years…..