This year’s North Herts Heroes have been announced at a special ceremony in the council’s chamber in Letchworth.
On Friday evening (3 March), five local people were recognised for their work in the community helping others. The live stream is available to watch on our YouTube channel, along with videos of all of the winners telling their story.
Organised by North Herts Council, the awards celebrate people in the district who have gone above and beyond and make a real difference in their local community, and are sponsored by Willmott Dixon and Cala Homes, with The Comet as media partner. Each winner was presented with an engraved glass trophy and gift voucher to acknowledge their achievements.
The winners were nominated by the public and chosen by a judging panel who were there on the night, including Chair of the Council Cllr Sam North, Andy Nazer from North Herts Centre for Voluntary Service (NHCVS) and representatives from the sponsors.
Cllr Sam North, Chair of the Council, said: “These awards are an important opportunity for us to recognise and celebrate some of the special people in the district who go out of their way to make a positive impact on other people. We know they don’t do it for the glory, but we want to recognise our local heroes and give thanks to the exceptionally deserving winners. We hope our winners will inspire others to think about how they may help the wider community. We are delighted to recognise the hard work, dedication and sheer community spirit of Tracey, Colin, Glyn, Laraine, and Keeley, as well as the other nominees.”
Our North Herts Heroes 2023 are:
Caring Award - Tracey Hilton
Watch Tracey's video
Tracey stood out among many caring nominations as she goes out of her way to help and support rough sleepers in Letchworth town centre. For about seven individuals over the last year or so, she has made a point of getting to know them with sincere kindness and compassion and look out for them. She takes time to talk to them and offers help whether that be through local organisation Feed up, Warm up, sourcing sleeping bags, food and wider support including social services and mental health. She has charged their phones – so they can receive important calls from hostels and other services – given them food and drinks, laundered their clothes and given them money for hostels and transport. One man had severe mental health issues, so most people would avoid him, but she made a point of checking in with him and encouraged him to take his medication. Tracey establishes a real bond with them – one man recently cried his eyes out while they were chatting, sharing that he was sadly thinking about ending his life that day, so if she hadn’t stopped and listened, he may well have.
In addition, Tracey helps the volunteers at the charity shop she works at who have special needs, in particular a young woman who was really struggling and not being looked after properly at her supported accommodation. Tracey took the time to really listen to her needs and helped advise her and advocated to get her the help she needed.
Tracey said: “I can’t believe it, I don’t feel particularly worthy. I just help people when they need it, it’s how I was brought up. Everyone is human, and you don’t know their circumstances, anyone can find themselves needing help.
“If you see someone who is homeless or sleeping rough, just say hello, start a conversation, maybe buy them a drink and sandwich if you can. They are often ignored by so many, but having a chat doesn’t cost you anything and could make their day.”
Dedication Award - Colin Thurstance
Watch Colin's video
Colin moved to Ickleford in 1940, and has served the village for 47 years, the majority of which as a parish councillor from the mid-1970s, and is standing down this year. His energetic and enthusiastic determination to improve the village over the years has been fundamental to a number of successes including: championing road safety and traffic calming, resulting in a lorry ban through the heart of the village in the 1980s; campaigning for the protection of green belt land; chairing public meetings standing up for residents against controversial planning applications; publishing a footpath map in 2006 which was distributed to the entire village encouraging others to discover the countryside; and securing the return and restoration of an original water pump that was used in the village during the early 1900s. One of his major projects was securing the five-acre burial ground ‘Alleyfield’ in 2010 to enable the people of Ickleford to be laid to rest in the village, as space had previously ran out.
During his time many trees were planted and his leadership and enthusiasm for the village resulted in five awards for ‘Hertfordshire Village of the Year’ and ‘Best Kept Village’. Even before becoming a parish councillor, in the early 1970s he established Ickleford Sport and Recreation Club – fundraising with others to provide the capital, identifying the land they needed and obtaining planning permission – and it continues to thrive today. Now in his 80s, Colin still exhibits a zest for life and new challenges and is respected and acknowledged throughout the village.
Colin said: “I am probably most proud of establishing the Sport and Recreation Club, seeing people enjoying it still today – not just playing sports, but walking around the grounds using it to socialise – is really lovely to see. It feels really good to achieve something, especially when it’s appreciated by the community.”
Green Award - Glyn Holt
Watch Glyn's video
With multiple nominations, it was clear Glyn has had a significant impact on other people, especially in Letchworth. Glyn was the backbone of Plastic Free Letchworth and manages the Terracycle plastic recycling schemes at Morrisons in Letchworth for hard to recycle plastics. To date it has recycled over a tonne of plastic waste and raised over £1,000 for local schools.
Glyn has been one of the volunteers on the Wilbury Community Forum – which runs Wilbury Café – for over five years and is now also an organiser and trustee. The café is a hub for multiple community initiatives including pre-loved school uniform for local schools and food rescue. Glyn and his family also run a food station in the Westbury area every Saturday as well as most other days, helping to reduce food waste – a major contributor to greenhouse gases and climate change. They help arrange and collect food donations across Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire to be distributed to local families and on Christmas Eve helped distribute over a tonne of food.
In addition, Glyn has run the National Childbirth Trust North Herts Branch outdoor playgroup for about eight years. Held fortnightly at Norton Common, all year round, it follows a different nature-based theme each session including a nature trail and eco crafts, helping start a love of nature and the natural world from a young age.
Glyn said: “I’m extremely humbled, a bit embarrassed, but very pleased to win this award. Although I have been described as the backbone of the community, none of this would happen without all the other hard-working volunteers – it’s a real team effort so a massive thanks goes to all of them. We’re always looking for new volunteers, who are willing to help with any level of commitment, so please get in touch if you want to get involved. Finally, a massive thanks to the local community for their continued support and participation in these initiatives, without whom they could not be a success.”
Health Award - Laraine Upton
Watch Laraine's video
Laraine has been a community first responder for the East of England Ambulance Service in Royston for eight years, attending the most urgent 999 calls within her local community 24/7, to assist before an ambulance arrives. This volunteer service is vital, given Royston’s rural location and distance to the nearest emergency facility, and in 2022 they attended nearly 500 calls. Last year, the categories of calls which the first responders are asked to attend, were increased to include falls and seizures, in addition to cardiac arrests, strokes and other life-threatening conditions.
With the ambulance service over-stretched, Royston has two teams of three community responders, but they really need a total of eight volunteers, and they only have the equipment for one team. Therefore, Laraine has also been raising money to fund more equipment, including a specialist phone and a raiser chair.
First responders fund their own training and during the Covid pandemic, Laraine and other volunteers, even undertook additional driving training and can now be called upon to drive an ambulance if required, freeing paramedics to stay in the ambulance administering first aid. Laraine leads both Royston teams alongside a fulltime job.
Unfortunately Laraine was unable to attend the ceremony, so her award was accepted by fellow first responders Chrissie Wolfinden and Jo Caruana.
Laraine said: “About nine years ago, my mum was critically ill and I felt guilty calling the ambulance service so much so I became a volunteer. I absolutely love It. We get the alert and the adrenaline starts pumping, we need to get there as soon as possible as someone’s life is in danger.”
Chrissie added: “We couldn’t do it without Laraine as our coordinator. We’re so happy to serve our community, we love doing what we do.”
If you are interested in joining the team, please visit: Community first responders (eastamb.nhs.uk)
Young Star - Keeley Thomas
Watch Keeley's video
Keeley has been fundraising since she was five years old, raising around £15,000! This year, Keeley has raised £1,600 for 15 different charities by singing for an hour every month on Facebook, and in 2021 she raised a similar amount for doing 50 squats a day during February. She is due to get her long hair cut for charity for the fourth time in October, having donated a total length of 5’7” to the Princess Trust so far.
One of the main charities she raises money for is Home-Start Royston and at Christmas she raised money to buy presents for the children who attended their Christmas party. She also bought about 20 bags of shopping, totalling around £600, which she shared among HomeStart and four food banks.
Keeley is 16 and has Down’s syndrome, and when she was born her parents were told she probably would never walk or talk – thankfully the doctors were wrong. Keeley sang on the night with around a third of her community choir ‘WomenSing’, performing ‘You’ve got a friend’ and ‘You raise me up’.
Keeley said: “I really love singing. I just want to help people with special needs.”
Keeley’s mum, Lindy, said: “I am just so proud of everything Keeley achieves, especially after such a poor prognosis of what her life could be. I’m sure she will continue to achieve many things in her life and who knows, one day she might achieve her dream of being on a big stage in the West End!”
You can sponsor Keeley here: Facebook
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