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Meet the kindhearted community champions helping others


Some of the local heroes who won National Lottery Awards for their community spirit

Some of the local heroes who won National Lottery Awards for their community spirit (Image: Lorna Roach)

Drumroll please! It’s time to celebrate the amazing achievements of the ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their local communities – and beyond – with a helping hand from National Lottery players.

Yes, the incredible winners of this year’s National Lottery Awards have been announced, and we want to honour their hard work and determination to inspire change, bring communities together and make the seemingly impossible possible.

From Signkid, the deaf rapper and producer using his art to make the music world more accessible and inclusive, to Sam Stables, whose charity gives farmers mental health and wellbeing support, there are some fantastic winners across the seven categories: Sport; Arts, Culture and Film; Heritage; Community and Charity; Environment; Young Hero; and Athlete of the Year.

The activities and projects overseen by these community champions are made possible thanks to National Lottery funding. By playing each week, you’re helping to support these good causes. So let’s meet six of the winners…

Eric Sproul – Sport

Eric Proul’s life was turned around by cycling – now he’s helping others learn to ride

Eric Proul’s life was turned around by cycling – now he’s helping others learn to ride (Image: Lorna Roach)

Eric has had scoliosis, which causes twisting and curvature of the spine, since he was 14. “I was in constant pain, which made me angry,” says Eric, 53, from Glasgow. “I just wanted to fight everyone.

“When I was diagnosed at 16, they said operating had a huge risk of paralysis, so I was given huge doses of painkillers. But the pain was still constant, for 15 years. I became depressed and even considered suicide.”

Life improved for Eric when, in 2016, his mother left him a little money in her will and suggested he use it to buy a bike. “She knew I’d loved cycling as a kid and I thought it could help,” says Eric, who has had a huge boost in his mental and physical health through cycling.

He then saw an ad seeking cycle leaders for Easterhouse Phoenix Community Centre: “It’s literally 10 minutes from my street – it was meant to be.”

Now Eric volunteers at the community centre every day, helping others learn to ride and maintain their bikes.

Winning the National Lottery Sport Award was a wonderful surprise. “I thought they were winding me up!” he laughs. “If you’d told me 10 years ago, I’d never have believed you.”

Signkid – Arts, Culture and Film

Rapper Signkid invented a language that lets deaf people access the lyrics of their favourite songs

Rapper Signkid invented a language that lets deaf people access the lyrics of their favourite songs (Image: Lorna Roach)

Deaf rapper Signkid is on a mission to make music more accessible for deaf and hard of hearing people.

The 31-year-old artist – real name Kevin Walker – has integrated elements of British Sign Language and UK Sign Slang into a visually based language that allows deaf music fans to access the lyrics of their favourite songs.

“I don’t hear everything completely but I feel the vibrations,” explains Signkid. “I read the lyrics and match them to the beat.

“Hearing artists often look at people like me and think that we can’t do music, but I want to see the number of deaf UK artists growing. I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved so far but it’s just the beginning.”

Signkid, from London, has been deaf since the age of three, after contracting meningitis. But he hasn’t let it hold him back – writing, producing and recording music and performing at major festivals alongside hearing artists.

He also recently starred as himself in a musical short film called Silent World, made with the help of a grant from The National Lottery.

The film won Signkid the Arts, Culture and Film category in this year’s National Lottery Awards. “I’m privileged that my work is being recognised,” he says. “Growing up deaf, I didn’t think I’d ever win something like this. But winning the award has given me a boost. I’d also like to win a Brit Award or a Grammy – that’s my ultimate goal.”

Clive Gray – Heritage

In a community hit by unemployment, Clive Gray teaches people maritime skills to help them back into work

In a community hit by unemployment, Clive Gray teaches people maritime skills to help them back into (Image: Lorna Roach)

Retired Royal Marine Clive Gray is using the past to build better futures for the people of Blyth in Northumberland.

As the CEO and founder of the Blyth Tall Ship project, Clive teaches maritime skills like engineering and shipbuilding to help transform the lives of local people in a town facing high unemployment.

A key part of the organisation’s mission since its launch in 2009 was to restore a 100-year-old tall ship – a project supported by National Lottery funding.

It was a tribute to Blyth’s proud history as a shipbuilding town, and local sailor Captain William Smith’s historic 1819 voyage to the Antarctic on a vessel built locally. “The apprentices are building relationships with male and female volunteers with a lifetime of experience in engineering,” says Clive, 58. “It helps them to mature.”

Over 80 per cent go into employment and many go on to further learning. Success stories include a 20-year-old single mum who secured an apprenticeship with Rolls-Royce.

“Winning the National Lottery Heritage Award is a huge boost for the team,” says Clive. “We know we’re changing lives.”

Sam and Emily Stables – Community and Charity

Farmer Sam Stables and wife Emily set up a charity supporting rural mental health – after he tried to take his own life

Farmer Sam Stables and wife Emily set up a charity supporting rural mental health – after he tried t (Image: Lorna Roach)

Sam Stables knows only too well the importance of having someone on the end of the phone when you’re at your lowest ebb.

It’s been over a decade since Sam, 43, tried to take his own life, sending a ‘farewell’ text to tell his mother he loved her. She immediately called his wife Emily, who was at work and asked a neighbour to check on him. They arrived just in time, and Sam was saved.

“I was in a bad place and embarrassed to say I was struggling. I thought not being here anymore would make everybody’s life better,” says Sam, who farms 81 hectares of the Duchy of Cornwall Estate in Kingsthorne, Herefordshire with wife Emily, 41.

He adds: “Poor mental health in farming is 46 per cent higher than in other occupations. It’s such an isolated vocation.”

The experience inspired the couple to launch the We Are Farming Minds charity to support farmers’ wellbeing and raise mental health awareness in the countryside. “Our 24-hour support line is manned by people who understand agriculture and its unique pressures.

“We also train people in rural communities, such as vets, to spot signs of mental illness.”

The couple are thrilled to have won the National Lottery Community and Charity Award. Sam says: “It was fantastic. I’ve met King Charles a couple of times and winning a National Lottery Award is right up there!”

Sal Chebbah – Environment

Sal Chebbah launched a garden project to bring the community together with weekly gardening workshops

Sal Chebbah launched a garden project to bring the community together with weekly gardening workshop (Image: Lorna Roach)

Living in the vicinity of the Grenfell Tower, Sal Chebbah saw a community shattered by the tragedy. Now she’s helping residents heal through a nature project that’s inspired people across the Lancaster West Estate in West London.

As project manager of Growing with North Kensington, Sal helped install a mushroom garden in the grounds of the estate and also supports the community with regular gardening workshops, which help bring people together.

The project – supported financially by the Centre for Innovation in Voluntary Action, with National Lottery funding – supplies residents with grow kits. It’s inspiring them to create one of the greenest estates in London.

“There are so many therapeutic benefits to urban gardening,” Sal explains. “It connects people. And when an area becomes more attractive, we all want to take better care of it.”

Sal, 45, also teaches people about the eco and health benefits of mushrooms via her company Elysian Roots, showing how easy and cheap they are to grow – even in an urban tower block.

Now affectionately known by locals as The Mushroom Queen, Sal is delighted to have won the Environment category in this year’s National Lottery Awards.

“There are a lot of issues to be resolved in the community,” says Sal. “But the people at the project are resilient – and they tell me it’s changed the way they shop and how they think about food.”

To find out how your numbers make amazing happen, visit national-lottery.co.uk/life-changing



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