Luton's Best shortlist revealed and you can now vote for the People's Choice award

Celebrating the achievements of truly remarkable individuals and organisations who make Luton a better place

Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 12:02 am
Updated Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 6:35 am

It's time to reveal which unsung heroes in our community have been shortlisted for the Luton’s Best Awards - and our readers can have a say in one of the categories too.

The awards, in partnership with Love Luton, celebrate the achievements of truly remarkable individuals and organisations who make Luton a better place. The last year has been like no other seen before.

COVID-19 has had an impact on everyone in some way, but since the start of the pandemic, the town has seen some of the most incredible acts of kindness and selflessness across Luton.

Luton Best Awards

The Luton’s Best awards mission has always been to shine a light on the those who do so much for the community. The health crisis has seen everyone pull together and as such the Love Luton partnership felt it was more important to recognise outstanding individuals and organisations.

Due to the third national lockdown, Love Luton delayed the judging and awards, as they were keen to meet the nominees, celebrate their achievements and formally say thank you.

But now, in partnership with the Luton News, they are delighted to announce the shortlisted nominees and the People’s Choice award where you the general public get to vote. You have until June 30 to place your vote with the winner being announced on July 15, 2021. Vote here...

Due to COVID restrictions, Love Luton will not be hosting its normal award ceremony, but a number of smaller-scale private events have been planned to mark the outstanding achievements of our local heroes.

The 2019 People’s Choice winner was Roma Patsalides

So here's the round-up of those shortlisted. Pick your People's Choice winner from those named below.

1. ADULT ACHIEVER sponsored by the University of Bedfordshire

A) Mary Emeji: Mary founded Luton’s very first Poetry Society in 2011, becoming Luton’s inaugural Poet Laureate in 2012 and featured in the top ten best poets by United Press Publishers. Mary has published eight poetry collections, and thanks to her support and encouragement, the Poetry Society has also produced 12 published authors. Mary has kept the Society going during the pandemic by organising meetings online, helping members to cope with the lockdowns. The group celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and a members anthology is due to celebrate this milestone.

B) Musthafa Hussain: Since the pandemic began, Musthafa, who works for Diverse FM, has worked seven days a week and sometimes up to 12 hours a day working on his own sourcing food and essential items and delivering to the most vulnerable people in the community. Musthafa had sourced and delivered £7,500 worth of food and PPE items in the first ten weeks, followed by another 11 weeks, providing 42,518 nutritious meals to 2,058 vulnerable people total cost of £84,067. Without this, many would have fallen into extreme poverty and hunger.

2. Best Fundraiser Sponsored by Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf and Spa

A) Hannah Fehr (Patrick’s Parcels): Hannah has supported individuals in Luton for the last 18 years in various voluntary roles, supporting many local individuals with their learning and career development. She has also led several fundraising initiatives securing thousands of pounds for local charities. During the pandemic, Hannah led the hugely successful Patrick’s Parcel campaign at Christmas. They supported more than 50 families with both gifts and food parcels ensuring as many local families didn’t go without at Christmas.

B) The Superheroes: Two local friends, Andrew Voller and Jack O’Shea, started a local running group where they dressed up as superheroes to fundraise for the NHS. They cheered up many bored and upset children throughout lockdown by visiting them on their birthdays as well as waving to them through windows, encouraging them to also dress up as Superheroes. They managed to raise more than £6000, but alongside this also filled many young children with happiness during a very scary time.

3. Best Volunteer sponsored by Signature Flight Support

A) Ian Fensome: This is a posthumous nomination for the late Ian Fensome, who sadly passed away on 25th January 2021. Throughout Ian’s life, he actively volunteered for Keech for many years, working at all their events as a marshal. He also organised his own fundraising events. Ian particularly loved Smiley Sam each Christmas and inspired many people to join in. He also helped collect much-needed funds for Keech during the festive period. Ian was volunteering right up until he sadly passed away. This nomination is to honour his memory and say thank you for everything he has done.

B) Mary Winter: Mary is the Vice-Chair of Trustees of Luton Irish Forum (LIF) and is also very much hands-on with supporting members directly as well as the organisation’s wider work. Mary has played an active role in supporting members throughout the pandemic. In December, Mary organised Christmas lunches for almost 130 locals (during the lockdown). Mary dressed up as a different character each day, from an elf to Mrs Santa, to serve the lunches. That and her continual good humour added immensely to the Christmas cheer and helped people forget the current difficult times, for a while at least. Mary’s immense contribution to making Christmas happen for so many is even more impressive when one knows that she has her own health issues, making physical tasks exhausting.

4. Care in the Community sponsored by Volker Fitzpatrick and Volker Highways

A) Go Dharmic: The Luton branch of the Go Dharmic charity has worked tirelessly for the past year, supporting, feeding and caring for some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our community. Run solely by volunteers, the group continue to: Provide hot meals, drinks and snacks to homeless individuals in Luton town centre every week; an initiative that is now a mainstay and is visited by an increasing number of people week in, week out. Alongside this, they have delivered hundreds upon hundreds of cooked, nutritious meals to the elderly and immobile across Luton. In addition, they have organised fortnightly food distribution points, where families from across Luton visit and can collect food parcels full of fresh and long-life food products.

B) Keech Hospice Care (Children’s team): Keech Hospice Care’s Children’s Team celebrates its 20-year anniversary this year. Twenty years of providing free specialist care and support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to seriously ill children and their families in Luton. Since it began 20 years ago, the children’s hospice has cared for an incredible 1,401 children while supporting their loved ones, and that number is on the rise, with more and more families wanting to be at home when the time comes. Last year, many of the 78 children visited by Keech’s nurses and care workers across Luton were in the final weeks and months of their lives, showing more than ever before that Keech Hospice Care is putting patient choice at the heart of everything it does by helping children to remain at home at the end. In total, the team made a staggering 245 visits and more than 116 calls.

5. Child of Courage sponsored by FCC Environment

A) Harvey Buckingham: Harvey is an amazing little boy who, over the three years he has overcome many struggles. He has so much courage to carry on. He is such a courageous little boy who deserves the world. Harvey suffers from a rare genetic condition that he cannot speak, so he uses makaton at the age of 3! Harvey faces many struggles day to day; he was told he would never walk, yet he is able to persist, and he started using a walking frame. Harvey has so much courage to show everybody he is well known and deserves to be shown how much strength and determination he has. He shows everyone how brave he is after multiple operations and hospital admissions. He is always smiling he spreads so much cheer.

B) Evie Gormley: Evie has always had health problems but last year was her most frustrating yet. She was admitted to hospital three times whilst the hospital carried out further testing. Evie was exhausted both physically and mentally. The final attempt was to put a feeding tube up her nose bypassing her stomach to her jejenum. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be done locally, and she was put on a waiting list. This was cancelled 3 times before a slot was found. While in hospital, Evie sat three maths GCSE exams. After 18 weeks in hospital, Evie finally came home in November. However, she was only home ten days before she vomited again and was put back on the waiting list to be re-admitted. In this time, she has fought to start Sixth Form, where initially she was turned down. Through her determination to show them she could manage the course despite her medical difficulties, she attended even while in hospital, managing her feeds around her lessons.

6. Community business person sponsored by Ryebridge

A) Liz Aldous: Last Spring, Liz, a local community business person and artist, originally left flowers on the bridge in memory of an aunt and who had passed away. After a chance meeting with a lady similarly leaving flowers, Liz had the beginnings of an idea: she was inspired to use the bridge as a community project at which residents could leave messages, artwork or other items designed to lift the spirits of passers-by. Over time, inevitably, some of the contributions became weathered, and it was decided to replace the items with a small plaque. In October, a small ceremony took place. While the original purpose of the Bridge of Hope was to encourage residents and celebrate the amazing work of NHS staff and other key workers, Liz has widened its message. At key times for the different faith communities in the town, such as Eid, Diwali and Christmas, the bridge has been redecorated with colourful baubles, bunting and artwork.

B) Andy Calvert: At the beginning of lockdown, Andy, Executive Manager of Tokko Youth Centre, instantly recognised the pandemic impact on mental health and well-being. He immediately set about adapting Tokko’s services so that young people were still supported at home. Thanks to Andy, Tokko provided over 200 food parcels and 155 education packs and assisted with referral pathways for young people to access the council’s Youth Support Team and Tokko’s own youth counselling service. They also supplied families with gardening equipment and frozen meals . Tokko gained funding, continuing to run many other COVID projects that helped families regain some structure during a challenging period. The youth centre is still providing ‘at-home’ services as the pandemic continues.

7. Community Company sponsored by the Mall, Luton

A) Discover Islam: Discover Islam has been at the heart of many community initiatives when Covid-19 hit. They have taken a proactive approach and leading role both in the support they offered the community directly and the many partnerships they supported and enabled financially. Discover Islam role models kindness, generosity and a demonstrable love for Luton and its citizens and is always a front runner in supporting the community. Volunteers in the organisation have worked tirelessly over those last ten years, raising tens of thousands of pounds to meet the demand and need of the most vulnerable in our community. The Pandemic has shown the crucial work of the organisation raising over £100,000 worth of food and supply just at the start of the pandemic peak and selflessly working alongside the community to keep the town afloat.

B) Flying Start Luton: Flying Start provides invaluable support to children and families across the town. They support all parents and children, regardless of social status, background or ethnicity. Without this support, many families would face bigger challenges and have nowhere to turn. In addition to their support and expertise, they also forge and develop friendships and support networks between parents. This means that no one feels alone on their motherhood journey and peer support is available.

8. Environmental Achievement sponsored by LLAL

A) Setting up Warwick Gardens & launching Edible Bury Park: On Saturday 5th September, Luton Mosques gathered a group of 15 residents and volunteers to clean, dig and plant at the disused Warwick road raised bed – a notorious fly-tipping and drugs hotspot. After clearing glass and debris amassed over the years, the team set about removing deeply rooted weeds and tree stumps in order to turn the soil. More than 15 rubble bags and 5 hours later, planting of more than 200 vegetable and fruit seeds, bulbs and plants took place, to the joy of residents and passers-by.

B) Surrey Street Primary School Safe Space Bubble: During the Summer Term, the Key Worker children and staff transformed the gardens and woodland area. They weeded, planted, pruned and tidied the gardens. In addition, they created resources that other children in their outdoor learning could then use. This garden makeover has enabled them to learn more about the outdoor environment and created more space for wildlife, including a pond and bug hotel. This project has raised the profile of outdoor learning and will enable future children to learn about and how to look after the natural world.

9. Keeping Luton Safe sponsored by Beds Fire and Rescue Service

A) Scott Eastwood and Fiona Martin: Scott and Fiona set up and founded the Luton Community Action Group to support the local community during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was meant to be a small group to help people but soon grew to be the primary source of factual information for Luton, with over 6000 people actively engaging in their group. They have run for the last 21 weeks (and counting) to provide the most up to date guidance and advice for people, answering questions. They have worked closely with Luton Council, voluntary organisations, charities and faith groups to ensure Luton is as safe as possible from the pandemic. In addition, They have fundraised and provided over 40 care kits to key workers; They have made information videos and uplifting videos.

B) Luton All Women’s Centre: Luton All Women’s Centre (LAWC) is a small charity that works tirelessly to support more than 800 of the most vulnerable women and girls in Luton every year. During the last 12 months, LAWC set up a new service - the Women’s Academy and is also planning to launch an innovative new Employers Against Domestic Abuse project. For the women that LAWC supports, life was difficult enough before COVID-19, but the problems they were experiencing then were all exacerbated by the pandemic. Increasing cases of domestic abuse and complex mental health issues have especially been areas of concern. Over the last six months, LAWC has faced a significant rise in demand for its services alongside increasingly challenging and higher risk cases. On top of that, like many others, that charity had to swiftly move its services from its usual face-to-face environment into virtual settings. That has literally made a difference in the lives of hundreds of women in Luton.

10. Key Worker sponsored by HBD

A) Daniel Pallett: During the covid-19 lockdown, Daniel, an Engineering SLE at Chiltern Academy, devoted his time to making over 14000 visors which were freely donated to frontline workers in various medical industries and hospitals across the community. He built a team of volunteers consisting of other technology teachers across the county and sourced appropriate materials from local businesses to fulfil the national demand for more PPE. Dan led the team of volunteers every day for over four months. His efforts attracted national attention over social media; this led to further investment from businesses that donated materials and equipment to sustain the project.

B) Elaine Tolliday: At a time unlike any the hospice sector has ever seen, Keech Hospice Care’s Clinical Director Elaine Tolliday has been on the frontline throughout the Covid-19 pandemic providing exceptional care for seriously ill adults and children in Luton and beyond, quickly establishing new ways of supporting families in isolation. Where patients haven’t had hospice access, Elaine, a nurse for more than 20 years, has worked tirelessly around the clock to ensure her teams deliver the best care through home and virtual visits, gym sessions, play activities and more - all while pitching in and caring for those on the inundated adult in-patient unit too.In the challenging times of Covid-19, external care providers have cried out for support in end of life care. With her impressive experience in this highly specialist field, Elaine’s written a symptom management plan which local health partners have signed up to.

11. Lifetime Achievement sponsored by LLA

A) Jim O’Connor OBE: Jim served as CEO of NOAH Enterprise between 2000 and 2020. During these 20 years, Jim gave his all to the betterment of those in poverty in Bedfordshire. Proudly committed to Luton’s Irish heritage, he saved the charity from near financial demise by transforming it from an advice centre and small shop of 800sq ft into a multi-faceted charity with a welfare hub at its heart. The charity also operates a social enterprise trading from a shop of 20,000 sq ft, an employment and training academy and multiple outreach teams meeting people in need on the streets across Luton. In 2015, Jim was awarded an MBE for services to homelessness, and in 2017 the contribution of the organisations Luton volunteers were recognised with the Queen’s Award for voluntary service.

B) Paul Rogers: Paul, who sadly passed away last December, was described as the most selfless man in existence. He spent the last few years as the chairman for Cancer Research Relay for Life Luton, raising over £70,000 for Cancer Research UK. He was also a prominent member of the local amateur dramatic societies and would regularly entertain the Luton community. He would always do everything to help anyone, taking part in many different community events, including Luton Mela. Unfortunately, just before Christmas, at the age of 49, he sadly lost his life to COVID-19, leaving a huge hole in the community and the fundraising world.

12. Luton in Harmony sponsored by Active Luton

A) Discover Islam: Discover Islam is a grassroots, community-based organisation representing the understanding and views of the majority of Muslims in Luton and is supported by the Luton Council of Mosques. Over the last ten years, the organisation has proven resilience despite being targeted by the far-right inflaming racial tensions; they kept going serving the town selflessly. Discover Islam has shown great partnership work across Luton, including working with Level Trust to combat child poverty, working with Age Concern Luton to tackle fuel poverty and working closely with Luton foodbank. Moreover, the organisation run the curry kitchen for those most vulnerable needing a hot meal and the homeless.

B) Revoluton Arts: During the pandemic, the Revoluton Arts team delivered a creative programme that was led by Luton's talented creative community and powered by the talent of Luton's young people, aimed at bringing Luton together through a programme to inspire hope and cohesion. Together, Revoluton delivered an online programme over 12-weeks with the Luton Creative Community. It produced 31,500 minutes of new creative work that reached over 88,000 people who engaged with the programme. It delivered several projects in partnership, including with CHUMS; Revoluton delivered 100 ukeleles to young carers and their families, along with weekly ukelele workshops. Revoluton also partnered with The Level Trust and Discover Islam to deliver 600 creativity packs to children facing hardship. They led a successful piece on Ramadan in Lockdown from a Luton local perspective and created two new commissions in response to Black Lives Matters.

13. Outstanding citizen sponsored by Lu2on

A) Scott Eastwood and Fiona Martin: Scott and Fiona set up the Covid-19 Luton Community Action Group on Facebook as the pandemic started to take noticeable effect. Between them, they have worked tirelessly to make sure that the page was kept informed with the very latest information on lockdown restrictions, support services and much more. They have managed a large and ever-growing group with grace and patience, compassion and good humour. Today the group has over 6,000 members. They have delivered all of this in their spare time. Through the group, they have facilitated local support for individuals, from shopping deliveries and lifts to medical appointments, to free school meal access, security information and more. At a time when restrictions made it difficult for communities to come together physically, their work made it possible for the community of Luton to come together online.

B) Jane Malcolm: Jane has made an outstanding contribution to Luton and Luton’s children over many years. She is the CEO and founder of Level Trust and has worked tirelessly to ensure children living in poverty in our town have the resources they need to love learning. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Jane quickly contacted others and was a leading force behind the creation of We Are Luton. She mobilised Level Trust to deliver its Emergency Home School Fund, which supported over 500 children with food, clothing and learning resources. The SMASH summer programme was reimagined to offer 260 children art, activity and cooking activities for children to enjoy at home. Jane also started Luton Learning Link who raised money, and delivered devices and internet access to children who do not have either.

14. Sporting Inspiration sponsored by LTFC

A) Runi Choudhury: Runi is described as an integral part of the Luton community; she has helped and continues to help so many women maintain their health, fitness and wellbeing. Her classes are described as so much fun and are always full. Runi is described as always positive and motivating. So many of the women who have joined her classes have gained so much confidence. Runi also adapted her classes over lockdown and introduced outdoor classes when restrictions allowed.

B) Hasina Rahman: Over the years, Hasina has been inspiring and motivating women and young girls to learn the importance of self-defence; many have now become fully trained in martial arts and many other active sports. Hasina has inspired so many women and children to start martial arts who wouldn't have thought about it without her ideas and encouragement. In addition, she has boosted the confidence of young children who were bullied and helped women who have low self-esteem. Hasina’s club, Pink Diamond is an integral part of the community. She has many classes for all ages and the lockdown hasn’t stopped her from reaching out to her students, during such a time of need for community and support.

15. Young Achiever sponsored by Barnfield College

A) Ella Legg: The Make UK National Manufacturing Awards ceremony was held virtually with apprentices from aerospace engineering company Leonardo picking up awards. Ella was the winner of the Final Year Business Apprentice Award. Ella was described as "professional, organised and highly motivated" and she was given the award for her commitment to Leonardo as well as the local community in Luton. Since starting on her apprenticeship, Ella has encouraged young people to study STEM-based subjects through her air cadets group and her programmes with local schools.She has also represented the company at several high profile events, including a special STEM event at the Houses of Parliament, where she spoke to MPs about her experiences on her apprenticeship.

B) Olivia Lynn: A teenager from Luton who was bullied at school joined forces with Generation Z to raise money for Young Minds UK and Grief Encounter. Olivia, now 15, who has been singing since nursery, wanted to raise awareness of the support that is available for young people after spending years being bullied at high school. The song Strong was released to raise money for Young Minds UK and Grief Encounter, a child bereavement charity. Moving forward, Olivia will continue working on projects to raise awareness of her experience and will continue with her singing.

16. The People's Choice Award sponsored by the Luton News: The readers of the Luton News can pick the winner they feel is most deserving from all the shortlisted candidates. You will have until June 30 to place your vote. You can do this by visiting: www.lutontoday.co.uk.