Kent’s Children’s Awards, organised by estate agent Wards, announce 2023 winners
Sisters who cared for two parents with cancer at the same time and a little girl who saved her diabetic mum’s life are among the Kent youngsters to have been chosen this year for a Children’s Award.
Described as ‘heroes in their own stories’ by television and radio presenter Charlotte Hawkins, the awards aim to shine a light on children, families and charities fighting inconceivable battles or overcoming unimaginable odds.
Organised by estate agent Wards, and supported by the KM Group and Kent Community Foundation, the event is now in its 20th year. This year’s winners were presented with their accolades during a glitzy celebration event on Friday, which told many heartwarming stories alongside those of utter heartbreak.
Host and Good Morning Britain presenter Charlotte Hawkins added: “This is the 20th year of the Wards Children’s Awards and one thing that strikes me every time is the resilience that all of our winners show.
“In spite of their circumstances, the love these families have for each other and the joy that they have for life is evident.”
Read more about this year’s winners below...
DAISY CHERRY-MATTHEWS, Triumph Over Adversity, age 0-5
Little Daisy was born with rare genetic condition Apert Syndrome, affecting her bones and in particular her skull, face, hands and feet. Alongside this, judges were told, she has a learning disability, autism and a severe speech and language disorder.
But despite all the adversities life has presented the five-year-old with, those around her say she has proven to be an incredible force, continually overcoming the obstacles in her way.
The Tunbridge Wells youngster has undergone eight major surgeries to improve her quality of life – including operations to expand her skull and separate her fused fingers – and she faces regular appointments and therapy sessions.
Despite it all, Daisy started school last September and she’s a bright, happy little girl with an adventurous spirit and a love of the outdoors to match.
Judges have described the Oakley School pupil as a ‘true beacon of joy and hope with unwavering courage’ that made her a clear winner for this award.
ETHAN WELLS, Triumph over Adversity, age 6 to 11
In 2021, Ethan was diagnosed with Severe Aplastic Anaemia, a rare illness that demanded a place on the bone marrow register and left him requiring grueling treatment.
Amid countless transfusions, chemotherapy and weeks in isolation, life has become challenging for Ethan and his family as they try on a daily basis to keep him safe and free from germs and infection that could harm him.
Currently facing his third battle, the Herne Bay youngster has developed a blood disorder in his kidneys following his transplant, called TMA, which has led to more chemotherapy and a fight with Graft VS Host Disease, where his body slightly rejects his new bone marrow transplant for which he is now undergoing more treatment.
Through it all - say those who nominated him - Ethan displays ‘remarkable bravery’ and never complains. Mum Tracy calls him ‘the bravest person I know’.
His strength, perseverance, and positive spirit in the face of such adversity touched the hearts of the judging panel deeply, earning the 11-year-old his Triumph Over Adversity award.
HALLIE ROBB, Triumph over Adversity, age 12 to 16
For a 12-year-old, Hallie Robb has faced more challenges than anyone should have to endure in their whole life.
Born with numerous health problems, at five-months-old she was diagnosed with severe visual impairment, leaving her only able to see light. Her resilience was further put to the test at three when diagnosed with Osteopetrosis – an extremely rare disorder causing her bones to grow abnormally.
Just six months after her diagnosis Hallie underwent intensive chemotherapy to wipe her immune system and pave the way for a life-changing bone marrow transplant to halt the disease’s progression.
Now, more than eight years later, judges have been told that despite a journey marked with countless hospital admissions the Herne Bay youngster remains undaunted by the hurdles she continues to overcome.
Friday’s audience heard how she has learnt brail, can write her own stories, dreams of being a writer and faces all that life throws at her with a smile. It’s her ‘incredible spirit’ that has seen her crowned one of two winners in the Triumph over Adversity age 12 to 16 category this year.
RUBY BROOKES, Triumph over Adversity, age 12 to 16
When little Ruby Brookes didn’t hit the same milestones as other babies her age, parents Jon and Jane became concerned. After seeking a formal diagnosis the family received the earth-shattering news that their daughter, who is one of three children, had Angelman’s Syndrome.
Developmental delays, speech problems, seizures and issues with movement and balance can all form part of the rare genetic disorder for which there is no cure.
Yet Ruby, the judges were told, has a determination to thrive. The Dartford teen has already battled double pneumonia and sepsis earlier this year, which left her desperately ill and her parents fearing the worst, only to return home two weeks later as if nothing had happened.
Now, aged 16, she continues to confront all life throws at her, with award ceremony presenter Charlotte Hawkins describing her in Friday’s ceremony as ‘a true hero’.
BETH CREEDEN, Young Fundraiser of the Year
Driven by an incredible love for her young cousin, winner of the Young Fundraiser award Beth Creeden was described as ‘selfless’ by the panel who selected her for an award.
Beth, nine, has raised £1,605 by completing a triathlon for Designability - a charity that provides Wizzybug powered wheelchairs for toddlers and very young children.
For Beth, the cause is close to her heart because at just two and a half years old her cousin Ollie is an efficient Wizzybug driver having been left severely disabled by Spinal Muscular Atrophy.
With the chair’s gear stick control, it’s unique design helps even very small children with limited mobility control where they want to go and explore giving them freedom from a pushchair.
Beth, who lives in Folkestone, initially set herself a target of £300 but her efforts, say her family, will mean more children like little Ollie can experience the freedom of a Wizzybug.
THEO OAKLEY, Remarkable Achievement
Theo Oakley is described as an ‘exceptional’ musician and producer. However, due to rare genetic condition Norrie Disease he was born blind and the condition may at some point claim his hearing too.
Yet despite the challenges the Hawkinge youngster has faced since birth, he is described as a huge talent with unwavering determination.
At Kent Music Centre’s Music Lab, Theo has learnt more about his craft – understanding instrumental sounds, chords, and studio production skills with technology tailored to his needs.
Beyond music and to further his skills, he has become involved in local radio too, where the staff who support him say he is ‘thriving’.
His passion for music, exceptional ability and confidence - despite ‘substantial barriers’ - left the judging panel in no doubt that such an ‘extraordinary chapter’ in the 11-year-old’s life made him deserving of the Remarkable Achievement award.
BONNIE LOUISE CROUCH, Exceptional Young Carer
Bonnie Louise Crouch’s quick thinking saved her mum’s life when she developed a serious complication of her diabetes and had a seizure just before Christmas.
The nine-year-old, who provides crucial support to her family because her mum also experiences depression and anxiety, remained calm, called for help, administered insulin and looked after her siblings in the ultimate test of courage and bravery. She was even able to find the composure to explain what happened and what she’d so far done to try and help when emergency services arrived.
The youngster from Longfield receives support from Imago Kent Young Carers – where staff say they don’t believe Bonnie realises how clever she was in such a high-pressured moment.
Despite worrying about her mum's health and wellbeing while she's at school, the Children’s Awards judging panel felt Bonnie's actions showcased the ‘selfless devotion’ and impact one person can have on the lives of their loved ones.
PUZZLES, Outstanding Charity
Four years ago a group of determined parents came together to build a new group to support families living with someone with autism.
Connecting families across Medway and beyond, Puzzles has since become a busy and active tribe of people who also welcome to the group people with other disabilities and long-term health conditions.
As well as a safe space to socialise with people going through similar experiences, Puzzles lends support in other areas too, such as accessing education or help with form filling.
At the heart of Puzzles, judges were told, is a dedicated team of seven trustees who each bring unique skills and experience to the committee. The group’s aim is to reach out to those who can often face challenges in socialising or going along to events without support. And its gentle encouraging approach has fostered a sense of belonging and understanding among those who attend events - where friendships are built and strong bonds forged.
With its work having made such a difference to so many families not just in Medway, but across Kent, the judges felt Puzzles this year deserved the title of Outstanding Charity.
THE ROBERTS FAMILY, Courageous Family
Young sisters, who lost their beloved dad to cancer shortly after their mum had undergone her own treatment for the disease have been chosen - alongside mum Nikki - as this year’s Courageous Family.
Lucy and Isabella Roberts’ dad Dave was diagnosed five years ago with an incurable and rare form of cancer. He battled, Friday’s ceremony was told, for four and a half years before passing away earlier this year.
But during his treatment - which included 41 rounds of chemotherapy - tragedy struck the family again when his Nikki was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Balancing her own treatment with supporting the family, Nikki underwent two operations, chemotherapy and radiotherapy before going into remission at the end of last year. But during an unimaginably dark time, Isabella and Lucy at one stage found themselves as young carers to both their mum and dad.
Despite inconceivable hardship and the most horrendous few years, judges were struck by the Ashford family’s ‘unmatched strength and determination’.
In announcing the family as this year’s winner presenter Charlotte Hawkins paid tribute to dad and husband Dave - who she said had left ‘a ‘remarkable legacy’.
She added: “The Roberts family have stood tall in the face of unimaginable adversity and have inspired us all with their incredible courage. Their story serves as a reminder that, even in the darkest times, love can conquer all.”