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Unsung heroes honoured in 2013 Inspire Awards at Westminster

TV crews from BBC and ITV put the media spotlight on the UK Church's unsung heroes as the winners of the 2013 Inspire Awards were announced at the Palace of Westminster ...

A former homeless couple, a youth project leader, and the pioneer behind a debt-advice counselling centre were announced recently (28 November) at the Palace of Westminster as the winners of the 2013 Inspire Awards …

The winners were announced at a special awards event by Shadow Employment Minister Stephen Timms MP, Evangelical Alliance general director Steve Clifford and Inspire magazine editor Russ Bravo.

Carol and Len Fowler (pictured right), who were once destitute, opened The Well Centre in Blackpool, Lancashire for the homeless 10 years ago. It has since expanded and is now helping hundreds of people every year. They are the unsung heroes who ended up winning the Inspiring Project category.

Carol said: “It’s about showing God’s love, grace and mercy and what we are trying to do in a small way is to show people that there is hope. Sometimes we have had people come in who are suicidal and we have been able to sit down with them and say ‘there is hope’ because Jesus is our hope.

"We have seen lives changed and we just thank God that we have been able to be part of this ministry and it will continue to grow.” See the BBC's coverage and ITV's take on the story.

Runner-up in the Projects category was Number 72, a family support centre in Sudbury, Suffolk, run by Tim and Joy Ayrton, who work with Christian charity Counties. The centre helps families with issues ranging from bereavement and parenting to debt advice.

Highly Commended was Gifted, a ministry to vulnerable women run by New Life Church, Scunthorpe, based around a 12-bedroom house giving 24/7 support to women struggling with substance abuse, domestic violence and a range of other disorders.

Hannah Gibbons (pictured left with CPO chief executive Paul Slide), an award-winning financial adviser, is the winner in the Inspiring Individual category for her work in setting up and running the CAP (Christians Against Poverty) Centre that Gillingham Community Church, Dorset, had been longing to start. Since its establishment in 2008 they have helped more than 400 people, some of whom were at their wits end.

An article in Inspire on CAP was the starting point for Hannah's journey, followed by a trip up to their HQ to find out about it where "I literally cried the whole day". She said: "It is really good to see how far the project has come since it started a few years ago. God just opened doors and the number of people that we were able to help is absolutely mind blowing."

Runner-up in this category was Geoff Lumley, who has led the Twyford Fellowship Group at Twyford CofE High School in Acton, London, for 25 years, seeing hundreds influenced positively for Christ over that time.

And Highly Commended was Margaret Romain, whose Care and Share support group for people with mental health issues at her church in Darlington, County Durham has been acclaimed as a model of recovery practice in the local NHS Trust.

Based in Bournemouth, Dorset, The Shine Project which helps teenage girls with problems of self-identity is the winner in the Inspiring Youth/Children’s Initiative category. The youth programme is in big demand by schools across Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch requiring it to put on more programmes to cope with the demand.

Trustee Beryl Bye (pictured right with Bournemouth East MP Tobias Ellwood and Shine Project worker Anne Clarkson) said: “It’s so much fun spending time with these girls that we are going to see and giving them a different perspective on life. The media so often tells them who they should be and what is beautiful. It is fantastic going and speaking with these girls and telling them they are lovely just as they are.”

Runner-up was Christian charity The Encounter Trust, the admin powerhouse behind a network of Lighthouse children's holiday clubs in the High Wycombe area. The support provided by the Trust enables up to 6000 local children to enjoy free clubs and camps offering a wide range of Christian-run activities.

Highly Commended was Anji Chant and the work of Spiritulized in Kingsbridge, Devon. Projects run by Anji and her team include the Friday Night Project for teenagers, the Work Club offering employment advice and support and the Spiritulized Bus which goes to outlying villages.

Shadow employment minister Stephen Timms MP, speaking at the awards, said: “Believing in Jesus inspires people to do wonderful things. You don’t have to be a believer to realise that. Believing in Jesus moves people on to not just think something is a good idea, but to act on it. The contributions we are celebrating this afternoon are examples not of a dying phenomenon, but a growing one.”

Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, said: “I would have loved for those who believe the Church is dead or irrelevant to society to have been here today. This is one of the highlights of my year, as we see the amazing work that individual Christians and local churches are doing to make a huge difference in the lives of thousands of people – of all faiths and none – in their neighbourhoods. This is faith in the community at work.”

And Inspire editor Russ Bravo, who hosted the event, told the invited audience: “We love to tell some of the most encouraging stories of Christians and the local Church in action, making life better for so many in their communities. These people are living their faith in a way that really counts.”

The Inspire Awards have been running since 2008 and are run in partnership by Inspire magazine, CPO and the Evangelical Alliance, assisted this year by YFC (Youth for Christ).

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