OUR unsung heroes have been quietly wreaking havoc and making a huge difference in people’s lives.
But now it’s time to take the spotlight as we tell the world about their gigantic efforts.
The finalists for the Unsung Hero Award in The Sun’s Who Cares Wins Awards, sponsored by the National Lottery and in partnership with NHS Charities Together, are an impressive group.
From a former football player who now leads the country’s only squad for children with Down syndrome, to a hospital worker doing his best, to a former soldier who volunteered as the head toy repairer on a children’s ward for almost 30 years – their stories are diverse. Guaranteed to leave a lump in your throat.
The winner will be honored at a star-studded awards ceremony hosted by Davina McCall and shown on Channel 4 and All 4 on September 24th.
Get to know our finalists now…
Lorraine Howell, 64, not only takes pride in keeping her ward at the Royal Stoke Hospital spotlessly clean, she also provides a friendly face and a listening ear to make patients feel comfortable.
Her friendly nature and small acts of kindness have not gone unnoticed – and she was nominated for our Unsung Hero Award by Rhian Doyle, 37, after Lorraine made her feel comfortable during several hospital stays.
Rhian, from Telford, Shrops, was admitted to Lorraine’s ward after being diagnosed with Chiari malformation in 2021 – a condition where the lower part of the brain pushes down the spinal canal and squeezes the brain stem.
Rhian said: “I was told I would need brain surgery to remove part of my skull, but after that I may not be able to walk and may need a feeding tube.
“My daughter Afiya was nine years old at the time, so it was a frightening thought.
“The first person I saw on neurosurgical ward 228 was Lorraine and she made everything seem a little less scary.
“She had such a calm demeanor about her. It’s hard to put into words what a difference she makes.”
While Rhian has had 14 neurosurgical procedures in the last two years, it is Lorraine who has been there for every procedure.
Despite the complications, Rhian says her treatment would have felt very different without Lorraine by her side.
She added: “Lorraine knows when I’m feeling down.
“She comes over to chat or brings me a coffee without me asking.
“Waiting before going to neurosurgery is always scary – you can’t help but think the worst at times, but Lorraine not only ensures the ward is always spotless, but also always seems to find the time to make sure I’m okay.” .
“Domestic workers don’t get enough praise, so I knew I had to nominate her because she’s such an unsung hero.
“Without them the community wouldn’t be the happy place it is.”
Lorraine, who has worked at the station for a decade, was stunned when she found out she had been nominated for the award.
She said: “I couldn’t believe the nomination, it’s such a shock.
“You go to work and do your job without thinking for a second that you are doing something special. So for Rhian it means the world to have me nominated.
“Patients like her are the reason I do this job, I love it.”
“I am so proud of my community. I remember Rhian coming in for the very first time.
“I popped my head in, introduced myself and asked if she wanted a cup of coffee.
“Neurosurgery is a big deal, it’s understandable that people are worried.
“I know making drinks and chatting isn’t part of my job description, but I like making people feel more comfortable and I can see when Rhian and patients like her are nervous and worried.
“Besides, who doesn’t like a good conversation and a cup of coffee?”
Former Spurs player Allan Cockram is loving his post-professional coaching career – but his team has a very special difference.
Allan donates his time to run this Brentford penguins – the UK’s only football team for children with Down syndrome.
Rain or shine, Alan, 59, is there every Sunday morning to coach more than 30 children aged between five and 19 and says it is the highlight of his week.
Former midfielder Allan played against some of the greats in his prime but says the smiling faces of the Penguins mean more to him than the thousands of fans chanting his name in the stands in the 1980s.
Allan said: “It’s not like most clubs.
“I don’t know who comes every week because anything can happen that morning which means the children can’t come.
“Maybe they didn’t sleep all night, maybe their routine changed and it affected them.
“You all know anything is possible at the Penguins and we will give everyone who comes along a great session.
“Sometimes the children want to train, sometimes they are just happy to be social with everyone else.
“Everything is possible and everyone is welcome.”
When he retired from professional football in 1996, Allan took a job as a taxi driver and had a regular assignment driving children with special needs to school.
He said: “One of them, Phillip, loved football. We would love to be early and he was just such a character and so much fun.”
Phillip died of complications related to Down’s illness, but a heartbroken Allan vowed that he would honor his memory by starting a football club for children like Phillip.
In 2017, Allan used his own money to form the Brentford Penguins with just five players.
Allan was nominated for the Unsung Hero award by Vanessa Rowley, whose son Charlie, 16, coached with the Penguins for five years.
Vanessa, from Brentwood, Essex, said: “Charlie’s life wouldn’t be the same without the penguins.
“Charlie was almost tolerated when he tried to join other football teams.
“He would sabotage the game and not be asked back. It was really hard to watch as a parent because he just wanted to be involved and he absolutely loves football.
“When we found the penguins, it felt like we had come home.
“Allan is everything to these children, they light up when they see him and he makes them all laugh so hard.”
The comprehension rate of children with Down syndrome varies incredibly and Allan has both non-verbal children in his group as well as those with anxiety, special educational needs and varying abilities.
He said: “It’s not like a training session, it’s a football carnival every Sunday.”
“I’m a lot happier coaching these kids now than I was playing.
“It was a selfish euphoria, this is something bigger and better.
“They give me ten times what I give them. I feel so lucky and blessed to be part of this team
“The parents tell me it is their favorite day of the week. I don’t say it often, but it’s mine too.”
ARMY veteran Jim Tripp is known as the “Wednesday Wonder of Rudham Ward” for a reason.
The former Royal Artillery soldier, 70, has volunteered on the children’s ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, every Wednesday for 26 years – and is proud of his role as lead toy repairer and entertainer.
After decades of dedicating himself to helping sick youth, nothing is too much trouble for him.
In addition to being the chief entertainer and toy repairman, Jim calms anxious parents and helps lighten the burden on clinical teams by running errands that save nurses and healthcare assistants valuable time.
Jim was inspired to volunteer at the hospital in 1997 after being treated as a patient.
After an industrial accident at Campbell’s soup factory, where he was working at the time, he suffered 82 percent burns.
The tireless work his doctors and therapists put into his recovery gave him a desire to volunteer, and since 1997 Jim has never missed a day.
Jim said, “There’s not much I don’t do.
“There’s always something that needs to be done or fixed in the playroom.
“I take pharmacy notes where they are needed and take them to different departments.
“When parents want to go outside for some fresh air or to go to the toilet, I sit and talk to their little one or provide entertainment, and I help decorate the station for Christmas or Easter.
“I love it. It’s the best volunteer work in the world.”
The Wednesday Wonder has been a familiar face on the wards for so long that he has become a local celebrity and is regularly stopped on the street by former patients.
He said: “Seeing the friendly faces along the way is the biggest reward for me.
“I hear my name called and it is almost always a young person or their parents or an adult who remembers me being treated at Rudham as a child.
“It always puts a smile on my face to see the children back where they should be – playing with their friends.”
Jim was nominated for the award by Sharon Barrett, 62, and community secretary and theater specialist Sophie Carter, 27.
Sophie said: “Jim is the most selfless person, always putting others before himself.
“His first question is always how others are doing. He always asks people if they need anything, helps everyone, and chats with patients and parents.
“Wednesdays wouldn’t be the same without Jim. He deserves every possible recognition.”
Sharon added: “He’s incredibly caring. He is absolutely reliable and never lets us down.
“Jim is truly a great asset to the community and an important member of Team Rudham.”
Jim says he will continue as Wednesday Wonder until he is forced to quit.
He said: “I don’t volunteer for awards and accolades. Although this nomination is nice, seeing Rudham’s patients back on their feet is the best reward.”