Derby County Community Trust’s Annual Awards took place on Thursday night and celebrated the achievements of their participants, staff and programmes, following a turbulent 18 months of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions.

Back for the first time since 2019, the awards recognise participants from across the Trust’s 40+ projects, which engage with over 30,000 people each year.

Awards were given for Community Champion, Education Champion, Inclusion Champion, Volunteer Champion, Participant of the Year and Special Recognition.

Internally, the awards also provide the opportunity to celebrate the Community Trust’s Employee of the Year and Programme of the Year.

This year, the awards were made possible by the support of headline sponsor, Smith Partnership.

Winners included those who had really continued to make an impact and support others, even in the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Simon Carnall, Head of Community, said: “Our awards are the highlight of our calendar. To gather so many staff, participants and partners after such a difficult time was fantastic and we are truly grateful to everyone who made the evening a success.”

The Community Champion award was given to Monika Hoffmanova, a New Communities worker based in Firs Primary School who has translated countless resources and made endless appointments for families with English as a second language to access benefits, medical support and even receive food parcels throughout the lockdown.

Education Champion saw students from across programmes nominated, but the accolade was scooped by Joel Kilford, who joined the traineeship programme following a difficult time in his life, and has continued to excel in his now full-time role with the Trust.

The Inclusion Champion award recognises someone who ensures that sessions are accessible for all. This year, Ken Wilson, who works on our Premier League Kicks programme six days a week, deservedly took home the trophy.

Volunteers are at the heart of Trust activities, and one volunteer went above and beyond during lockdown to keep his peers connected. Tony Ward set up WhatsApp groups, Zoom calls and much more, and dedicates over six hours a week to supporting sessions.

Working with over 30,000 people each year, being named Participant of the Year is quite an achievement, but this year’s deserving winner Michael Asprey has provided constant inspiration for all. After batting cancer at the same time as losing his wife to the disease, his attitude to life and care for others has not gone unnoticed.

More than ever, the pandemic has seen people come together to support those in need. The Stay Safe. Stay Fit. Stay Connected. campaign proved the power of collaboration and supported people across the city. From hosting food banks to delivering Christmas meals, it was a team effort between club and Trust which was rightfully given the Special Recognition accolade in the last external award of the evening.

The awards also recognise the efforts of the Trust’s 70-strong team. 2021’s Employee of the Year ensured that no one was left isolated or lonely throughout lockdowns, hosting the network’s first virtual coffee morning, offering IT loan schemes to get people online and even setting up a community allotment to encourage outdoor socialisation when restrictions allowed.

After receiving a national nomination for his work around male mental health, the trophy was taken home by Luke Wilkinson, Health Team Leader, who has been an integral member of staff at the Community Trust for 15 years.

Wilkinson said: “I am so delighted and humbled to have won this award. It’s down to partners, participants and everyone who make the Trust what it is. We are here to help and to be recognised for that is just incredible.”

Lastly, the final award of the evening was given to a programme which not only did not stop in lockdown, it grew to support more people than ever. Derby County’s Extra Time Hub is the most popular across the nationwide network, seeing over 50+ households engage weekly over lockdown and even more participants have got involved since it has returned to Pride Park Stadium. Project staff as well as volunteers accepted the award on behalf of the session.

Overall, the evening was a reminder of the hardship of the past 18 months, but also of the achievements which have come out of the adversity. All winners and nominees were fully deserving of the recognition they received, in another successful, albeit challenging, year at the Derby County Community Trust.