It was a night of celebration, joy and pure emotion as we gathered at Leeds Castle this month to honour the winners of our annual Exceptional Awards.
Our awards night, which is now in its third year, recognises the altruism and dedication of exceptional businesses, charities and individuals across the county of Kent. It's truly amazing to hear the stories of people who work so hard to benefit others in their community, and we're thrilled to be able to mark their efforts in this way.
More than 100 guests attended the event on November 8, including Perrys staff, nominated finalists and their guests, and ambassadors from many Kent businesses and charities.
Now it's time to share the winners' stories with you. Prepare to feel inspired!
Cianna was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of three, but that didn't stop the brave seven-year-old from raising money to help others with cancer. Cianna has organised raffles and set up lemonade and cake stalls, raising an impressive £3,000.
As she came up on stage to receive her specially-engraved trophy, Cianna received a standing ovation. With a beam on her face, she said she felt "happy" to be a winner, and told everyone that she will carry on raising money for cancer patients as she liked "helping people to feel better".
The team at Emmaus Dover helps homeless people in the town by giving them a place to live at Archcliffe Fort, as well as providing support and helping them to develop new job skills. Funds are raised via three thriving charity shops in Dover, Ashford and Canterbury.
Lawrence O'Sullivan, Nigel Bodell, Nigel Simmons and Sean Cullinane, who have all been helped by the charity, were presented with a specially-engraved trophy.
Lawrence, who now works for Emmaus Dover, said: "It was an absolute surprise to win. We were up against some very wonderful organisations so it is a great achievement for us. This award will really help us to improve what we are trying to do and get the message out there a bit more and help us in every possible way – particularly with raising funds for our new shop. It has been a wonderful experience, thank you."
The family-run garage has earned AA certification and is a Which? Trusted Trader, but of equal importance to owners Pam and Geoff Manwaring is the the garage's role in the community. As well as hosting fundraising events, Orchard employees regularly go the extra mile for customers.
Pam Manwaring said: "We are quite amazed and a little bit overwhelmed. Orchard Garage is a team at the end of the day and everyone at the business will be buzzing with this award - this is a recognition of their efforts. It's fantastic for all of us. Just thank you!"
Bickley Park School launched an inspiring initiative to bridge the gap between age groups in the community. Every week a group of three-year-old children visit the Crown Meadow Nursing Home, where they engage with the elderly residents, reading stories together and playing games.
Head of Nursery at Bickley Park Sarah Spiteri instigated the initiative after seeing a television programme that highlighted the positive effects of bringing the two generations together.
Sarah said: "Winning the Perrys Exceptional Business Community Initiative Award is an amazing feat as we were up against many strong contenders in this category."
Patrick Wenham, Headmaster at the school, added: "I'm very proud to have such an inspirational team and the boys will be delighted to hear we are award winners!"
This year, the judges announced a surprise special award to Reg Spicer for his contribution to the community. Reg founded Tonbridge Junior FC in 1993 and has been chairman ever since. For 25 years, Reg has dedicated his life to the club, providing low-cost grassroots football to more than 750 children of all ages.
Reg said: "I started doing this because it seemed to me that in Kent there was nothing for kids to do. I came from London and I didn't want my kids standing on a street corner. Our football community has now grown to 750 kids and 54 teams. Most of the money we raise is through charity. Hopefully with 115 volunteers, we will continue to thrive."
Stewart Pope, Perrys CEO, said: "It's truly humbling to find that there are so many dedicated, committed individuals making such a positive contribution to the lives of the people in our wonderful Kent community. Our winners this year really are exceptional and inspiring."
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