OUR unsung heroes have been quietly beavering away, making a huge difference to people’s lives.
But now, it’s their moment to shine in the spotlight, as we tell the world about their gargantuan efforts.
The finalists for the Unsung Hero award at The Sun's Who Cares Wins Awards, sponsored by the National Lottery and in partnership with NHS Charities Together, are an impressive bunch.
From a former footballer who now runs the country’s only squad for children with Down’s syndrome, to a hospital domestic who goes above and beyond, and a former soldier who has volunteered as chief toy fixer on a children’s ward for almost 30 years – their stories are guaranteed to leave a lump in your throat.
The winner will be honoured at a star-studded awards ceremony hosted by Davina McCall and screened on Channel 4 and All 4 on September 24.
Now, meet our finalists…
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NOT only does hospital domestic Lorraine Howell, 64, take pride in keeping her ward at the Royal Stoke Hospital spotlessly clean, she also provides a friendly face and listening ear to help put patients at ease.
Her friendly manner and small acts of kindness haven’t gone unnoticed– and she’s been nominated for our Unsung Hero award by Rhian Doyle, 37, after Lorraine made her feel comfortable during multiple hospital stays.
Rhian, from Telford, Shrops, was admitted to Lorraine’s ward after being diagnosed with a Chiari Malformation in 2021 – a condition where the lower part of the brain pushes down the spinal canal and squashes the brain stem.
Rhian said: “I was told I’d need brain surgery to remove some of my skull, but afterwards, I might not be able to walk and might need a feeding tube.
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“My daughter, Afiya, was nine at the time so it was a terrifying thought.
“The first person I saw on the neurosurgery ward 228 though was Lorraine, and she made everything seem that little bit less scary.
"She had such a calm way about her. It's difficult to put into words just what a difference she makes.”
While Rhian has gone on to have 14 neurosurgeries in the last two years, it’s Lorraine who has been there for each one.
Despite complications, Rhian says her treatment would have felt very different without Lorraine by her side.
She added: “Lorraine knows when I’m feeling low.
“She’ll come along for a chat or bring me a coffee without me asking.
"The wait before you go down for neurosurgery is always terrifying – you can’t help but sometimes think the worst, but in addition to making sure the ward is always spotless, Lorraine always seems to find the time to make sure I’m ok.
“Domestics don’t get enough praise, so I knew I had to nominate her because she’s such an unsung hero.
"Without her the ward wouldn’t be the happy place it is.”
Lorraine, who has worked on the ward for a decade, was left gobsmacked when she discovered she’d been nominated for the award.
She said: “I couldn’t believe the nomination, it’s such a shock.
“You go to work and get your job done not thinking for a second you’re doing anything special, so for Rhian to have nominated me means the world.
"Patients like her are the reason I do the job, I love it.
“I have such pride in my ward. I remember Rhian coming in the very first time.
"I popped my head in and introduced myself and asked if she wanted a cuppa.
“Neurosurgery is a big deal, it’s understandable for people to be worried.
“I know it’s not in my job description to make drinks and have chats, but I like making people feel more comfortable and I can see when Rhian, and patients like her, are feeling nervous and worried.
“Besides, who doesn’t like a good chat and a cup of coffee?”
FORMER Spurs player Allan Cockram loves his post-professional coaching career – but his team has one very special difference.
Allan gives up his time to run the Brentford Penguins – the UK’s only football team for children with Down’s syndrome.
Come rain or shine, Alan, 59, is there every Sunday morning to coach more than 30 kids aged between five and 19 and says it’s the highlight of his week.
Former midfielder Allan played against some of the greats in his heyday, but says the smiling faces of the Penguins means more to him than the thousands of fans chanting his name on the terraces in the 1980s.
Allan said: “It’s not like most clubs.
“I don’t know who is turning up each week because anything can happen that morning that means kids can’t come.
“Maybe they haven’t slept all night, maybe their routine has changed and it’s affected them.
“They all know anything goes at the Penguins and we’ll give a great session to anyone who turns up.
“Sometimes the kids want to train, sometimes they’re happy just socialising with everyone.
“Anything goes and everyone’s welcome.”
When he retired from professional football in 1996, Allan got a job as a taxi driver and had a regular gig driving children with special needs to school.
He said: “One of them, Phillip, loved football. We’d have a kick about if we were early and he was just such a character and so much fun.”
Phillip died of complications related to Down’s, but heartbroken Allan swore he’d honour his memory by starting a football club for children like Phillip.
In 2017, using his own money, Allan started the Brentford Penguins with just five players.
Allan has been nominated for an Unsung Hero award by Vanessa Rowley, whose son, Charlie, 16, has trained with the Penguins for five years.
Vanessa, from Brentwood, Essex, said: “Charlie’s life wouldn’t be the same without the Penguins.
“Charlie was just about tolerated whenever he tried to join other football teams.
“He’d sabotage play and wouldn’t be asked back. It was really hard to watch as a parent because he just wanted to join in and he absolutely adores football.
"When we found the Penguins, it felt like we’d come home.
“Allan is everything to these kids, they light up when they see him, and he makes them all laugh so much.”
The comprehension rate of Down’s syndrome children is incredibly varied, and Allan has non verbal children in his squad as well as those with anxiety, special educational needs and a variety of abilities.
He said: “It’s not like a training session, it’s a carnival of football every Sunday.
“I’m by far happier now coaching these kids than I was playing.
“That was a selfish euphoria, this is something bigger and better.
“They give me tenfold what I give them. I feel so fortunate and blessed to be part of this team
“The parents tell me it’s their favourite day of the week. I don’t often say it, but it’s mine too.”
ARMY veteran Jim Tripp isn’t known as the ‘Wednesday Wonder of Rudham Ward’ for nothing.
The former Royal Artillery soldier, 70, has volunteered on the children’s ward at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Kings Lynn, Norfolk every Wednesday for 26 years – and takes pride in his role as chief toy fixer and entertainer.
Having spent decades dedicated to helping sick youngsters, nothing is too much effort for Jim.
As well as being chief entertainer and toy fixer, Jim puts anxious parents at ease and helps take the pressure off clinical teams, running errands that save nurses and healthcare assistants’ valuable time.
Jim was inspired to start volunteering at the hospital in 1997, after he was treated as a patient.
He was left with 82 per cent burns after an industrial accident in Campbell’s soup factory, where he worked at the time.
The tireless work his clinicians and therapists put into his recovery made him want to start volunteering and since 1997, Jim hasn’t 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 down to where they’re needed and take things to different departments.
“When parents want to step outside for a breath of fresh air or go to the bathroom, I’ll sit and chat with their little one or keep them entertained, and I help with decorating the ward for Christmas or Easter.
“I love it. It’s the best volunteering role in the world.”
The Wednesday Wonder has been a familiar face on the wards for so long, he’s become a local celebrity and is regularly stopped in the street by former patients.
He said: “Seeing the friendly faces out and about is the biggest reward for me.
“I hear my name called and it’s almost always a young person or their parents or an adult who remembers me from when they were a kid being treated in Rudham.
“It always puts such a smile on my face to see the kids back where they should be – playing with their friends.”
Jim has been nominated for the award by Sharon Barrett, 62, ward clerk and play specialist Sophie Carter, 27.
Sophie said: “Jim is the most selfless person, forever putting others above himself.
“His first question is always asking how others are. He’s always asking people if they need anything, helping everyone and chatting to patients and parents.
“Wednesdays wouldn’t be the same without Jim. He deserves every recognition possible.”
Sharon adds: “He is incredibly caring. He's totally reliable and never lets us down.
“Jim truly is a huge asset to the ward and a key member of Team Rudham.”
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Jim says he will keep going as the Wednesday Wonder until he’s forced to stop.
He said: “I don’t volunteer for any accolades and awards, so although this nomination is lovely, seeing the patients of Rudham back on their feet is the best reward.”
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