Please help us to find and reward Our Heroes

Actress Rachel Shenton with Child of Courage nominee Billy Heslop.

Actress Rachel Shenton with Child of Courage nominee Billy Heslop.

Yesterday The Sentinel launched this year’s search for unsung heroes from across its patch.

I am, of course, referring to the Our Heroes community awards campaign where this newspaper and its partner organisation – the Aspire Group – seek to highlight the lives and work of special individuals and organisations.

Categories range from Child of Courage and Bright Young Thing to Adult Carer Of the Year and Charity Champion/Fund-raiser Of The Year through to School Star and Hero Of The NHS.

We honour members of the emergency services and the Armed Forces as well as community groups whose efforts make such a difference to people’s lives.

The Sentinel publishes their stories then our panel of independent judges convenes to choose three individuals or groups from each category who will attend a glitzy, celebrity gala night.

That’s when the likes of Nick Hancock, Jonny Wilkes, Anthea Turner, Wendy Turner-Webster, Rachel Shenton, Gordon Banks, OBE, Mark Bright, Imran Sherwani, John Rudge, Peter Coates – among others – are only too happy to give the applause rather than to receive it.

They turn out each year on the red carpet to pay tribute to ordinary folk from across North Staffordshire and South Cheshire who have rather extraordinary stories to tell.

We’ve already had more than a dozen nominations but we’re going to need an awful lot more.
That’s where you come in.

Over the next three months The Sentinel will publish around 120 heart-warming stories which put paid to the myth that newspapers are all doom, gloom and negativity.

Remarkably, the biggest challenge when organising an awards event on this scale isn’t arranging the seating plan, shooting 30-plus videos, selecting a menu, or chasing up the VIPs.

It’s actually persuading Sentinel readers to vote for their friends, relatives and colleagues in one of the nine award categories.

You see, the problem is that round here people are rather backward in coming forward – precisely because they don’t believe that what the people they know do, day-in, day-out, is out of the ordinary.

They view their lives very much as the hand they’ve been dealt and just get on with it – whether that means caring for a relative round-the-clock, 365 days a year or coping with tragedy or illness.

Others devote their time to helping those less fortunate than themselves or making their neighbourhoods better places in which to live.

This is the eighth year of the Our Heroes awards and I can honestly say, hand on heart, it is one of the highlights of my year.

Anyone who has ever attended one of the ceremonies will tell you that they are truly inspirational occasions which showcase the triumphs of the human spirit.

They remind you just how lucky you are when you see the adversity others face and overcome and, put quite simply, make you want to be a better person when you see the selflessness and generosity of others.

Over the years The Sentinel has published more than 1,000 inspirational stories of people who have enriched the lives of those around them. People like Edward Dyster who came up with the idea of cycling 150 miles to raise money for the Donna Louise Children’s Hospice at the age of just six.

People like Dylan Kelsall, aged nine, from Longton, who has a muscle-wasting disease which means he faces surgery every six months.

People like Stephen Allerton, from Meir, who gave up his job as an engineer to care for his mother, father and brother.

People like cancer drug campaigner Dot Griffiths and Dougie Mac’s record fund-raiser John Leese, AKA the ‘Tin Can Man’, who have both sadly passed away since receiving their Our Heroes awards.

People like Ralph Johnson, from Biddulph, formerly a teacher at my old school – Holden Lane High – who spent more than 50 years helping to rescue people who got stuck in caves.

People like Colour Sergeant Gary Golbey, originally from Kidsgrove, who won the Beyond The Call Of Duty category after battling back from a brain tumour to complete the full 22 years’ service in the Army.

People like paramedic Rita Davies who tackled a knife-wielding patient who tried to attack a colleague.

People like Graham and Pat Bourne, from May Bank, who have devoted more than 100 years to enriching the lives of youngsters through the Scouting movement.

Each story is unique. Each award recipient extremely deserving. Crucially, each story worth the telling.

On September 19 this year’s unassuming yet amazing nominees will gather for another night to remember.

If you know someone worthy of recognition please don’t hesitate to contact The Sentinel and help us to make them feel special.

*To nominate someone for an Our Heroes award simply email:

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday


Why we should appreciate winter and the occasional snow fall

Who would drive a gritting lorry, eh? What a thankless, anti-social task.

Other than bankers and traffic wardens, these poor souls must be the most unpopular people in the country.

Well, for about two days a year that is. The two days a year that everyone loses perspective.

Yes, the Great British penchant for moaning about the weather returned with a vengeance this weekend.

A heavy (but predicted) snow-storm hit North Staffordshire and South Cheshire around Saturday teatime – bringing gridlock to parts of our road network.

The Met Office had issued severe weather warnings but still many reacted with incredulity – as if a new Ice Age had sneaked up on them.

Motorists sat in queues of traffic for hours on end as blizzard conditions enveloped them.

The A50, the A34 and the D-Road came to a standstill as football traffic leaving the Britannia Stadium drove into a whiteout.

Where were the gritters, people wondered? (As if it would have made any difference).

The question they should have been asking, of course, is: Why are we so woefully inept at coping with a bit of snow now and again?

Why do we fail to fit winter tyres to our cars? Why do we act like it’s the end of the world when we see a few snowflakes?

In the wake of Saturday night’s snow storm, the local authorities will doubtless cop a load of flak for not preparing our roads properly.

Indeed, I await the inevitable backlash via The Sentinel’s letters pages about the inconvenience of it all.

To be fair, we’ve had the mildest winter since Adam was a lad – weeks and weeks and weeks of overcast skies and rain.

Personally, I’d rather have a covering of the white stuff any day.

The truth is, I’ve been waiting for about two months for some snow and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

I suspect, however, this puts me in a very small minority.

The problem is that, as a nation, we simply haven’t a clue how to act when we do have the odd flurry.

What’s more, sadly, most people have absolutely no appreciation of winter.

They sit in their centrally-heated homes, watching summer holiday adverts on the telly and looking balefully out of the windows as if the very pavement has suddenly become a death-trap and the roads a total no-go zone.

I’m pretty sure that when Sammy Cahn wrote Let It Snow back in 1945, this attitude wasn’t what he was trying to evoke.

Yes, I know it’s no fun stuck in a traffic jam. We’ve all been there. Yes, you have to be careful not to trip, drive slowly, wrap up warm, allow a little more time for journeys and travel prepared.

But, by the same token, a snowfall shouldn’t equate to the end of civilisation as we know it.

It’s certainly not an excuse to raid the emergency store of Fray Bentos corned beef.

You see, I’m convinced that it’s only in the UK that we view winter with such fear and loathing. Other nations undoubtedly scoff at our nesh-ness (my word) and laugh at the way in which everything grinds to a halt with a covering of snow.

Why can’t we learn to love winter? I don’t know how anyone can fail to wake up and not appreciate the sun-kissed majesty of a crisp frost.

Have we all forgotten what it’s like to be children? Have we forgotten that snow equals fun?

Have we forgotten listening to Radio Stoke while crossing our fingers and hoping to hear that our school has been closed because the boiler’s packed in?

Are our hearts so hard that we are untouched by the gift of a fresh blanket of snow which makes any tired old street look like a picture postcard?

I actually travel to Scotland annually to seek out the white stuff. What’s more, when I took my kids to Lapland last year to meet Father Christmas, a huge part of the attraction for all of us was proper, deep snow.

People moan incessantly about the cold over here, but the truth is, we don’t know we’re born.

When I was in Finnish Lapland, just inside the Arctic Circle, the temperature dropped to as low as minus 26 degrees celsius.

To be honest, nobody noticed how cold it was until we got back to the hotel. We were too busy sledging, driving snowmobiles, building snowmen and pelting each other with snowballs.

I remember looking out of the lodge windows at the pine trees and the moon-lit snow and thinking that there couldn’t be a more beautiful sight.

What a shame we don’t appreciate it round our neck of the woods…

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Investors deserve an inquiry into collapse of ‘low-risk’ fund

Amid the ongoing austerity measures, the seemingly endless cutbacks and daily haemorrhaging of jobs it is difficult to find crumbs of comfort.
We are all feeling the pinch and wondering how we would pay the bills if the worst happened to us.
But even in these dark times we look to the future. We hope and plan for better days.
It’s human nature and it is one of the things that keeps us going.
That’s why we save up – no matter how small the amount.
We put money away to fund our children’s university education, to pay for that once-in-a-lifetime holiday or to simply help us get by in old age.
Imagine then the gut-wrenching feeling of being told that those hopes and dreams won’t be realised.
Imagine learning that the savings you have invested for the future simply aren’t there anymore.
That’s the grim reality that hundreds of families in North Staffordshire and South Cheshire are facing up to in the wake of the collapse of a £400m investment scheme.
People like 62-year-old Malcolm Redmond, from Oakhill, who ploughed more than £10,000 into the Arch Cru Investment Funds but now finds himself joining a very long line of creditors.
Just £54m has been set aside for compensation which means that investors will only recover a fraction of their money.
Financial experts agree this is a woefully inadequate package for 20,000 investors when we consider that financial advisers estimate that in MP Tristram Hunt’s Stoke Central Constituency alone, losses may amount to £1.5m.
When it was launched back in 2006, Arch Cru was promoted as a low to medium risk fund.
By the time it was suspended in 2009 it had suffered a catastrophic meltdown in terms of its value which clearly calls into question how the funds were managed, the investments made and the assets purchased.
An investigation by the Financial Services Authority discovered that “funds were used to buy assets from which it is very difficult to get money back”.
This makes you wonder if the fund was marketed properly to ordinary investors back when times were good.
If not then the poor sods who invested in good faith may have a case for having their policies mis-sold.
The collapse of Arch Cru is the latest in a line of scandals to emerge from the financial services sector and begs a number of questions that nothing short of a wide-ranging, Government-instigated inquiry could answer.
However, speaking in Parliament, Treasury Minister Mark Hoban described the compensation offer as a ‘trade off’ which avoided a more lengthy and complex settlement process.
He might as well have said ‘let off’ for the three parties responsible for managing the funds – Capita, BNY Mellon and HSBC.
In layman’s terms, someone, somewhere dropped the ball and sonehow they seem to have got away with it.
Mr Hoban went on to say, with all the sincerity of a man looking down from his ivory tower, that he saw no need for additional inquiry into the Arch Cru debacle and that investors were ‘free to pursue redress through the courts if they were unhappy with the compensation on offer’.
Unhappy? It makes you wonder how Mr Hoban would he feel if he had been told that a large chunk of his savings had been wiped out.
It seems that there is one rule for wealthy individuals and the powerful institutions in this country and another for ordinary taxpayers such as the thousands of Arch Cru customers – many of them pensioners – left in the lurch by the failure of this scheme.
This isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme that went pear-shaped. Rather it is a case of ordinary people paying a hefty price for following advice about an investment fund which they were told would be cautiously managed.