Disability sport heroes were crowned at an inspirational Active Essex Sports Awards 2018 which celebrated sporting achievements from grassroots to professional level.

Double Olympic gymnastics champion Max Whitlock was on hand to help recognise individuals and organisations that have made outstanding contributions to sport and physical activity in Greater Essex over the past 12 months.

Team GB Paralympian Freya Levy was crowned Disabled Sports Personality of the Year at the glittering ceremony at Chelmsford City Racecourse earlier this month. The award – one of three categories decided by public vote – celebrates athletes who have made a significant impact in the last year at a national or international level, either individually or in a team.

Freya Levy, of Rochford, has represented her country as part of the Team GB Wheelchair Basketball Team, England Wheelchair Rugby Sevens, and Team GB Para Ice Hockey. In Rugby Sevens, Freya scored her first international try on her debut game in France in April.

She said: “It was an amazing feeling to have won. It was down to a public vote and I’d like to thank everyone who voted for me – friends, family and people who I’ve never met before. It means the world to be recognised by my local community.

“Active Essex has done another great job this year for disability sport, with some great work with the All Together Ambassadors and across social media – really pushing that message of the importance of getting involved in sport, whether you’ve got a disability or not. A lot of Active Essex’s campaigns have been influential in terms of getting people involved in sport.”

Elsewhere, Sport for Confidence, a nationally-acclaimed organisation which fuses local health and sport sectors to tackle inequalities in sport and physical activity participation, won the Services to Inclusive Sport award.

Based in Basildon, the organisation places health professionals in leisure centres directly alongside sports coaches and leisure centre staff to make adjustments that create truly accessible and inclusive sport and physical activity opportunities.

Fitness in Mind, an organisation based in Brentwood, took home the Changing Lives through Sport and Physical Activity award. Fitness In Mind is designed to promote, encourage and provide physical activity as an aid to mental wellbeing – and has helped over 1,350 people from 20 districts.

Meanwhile, Max Whitlock, a previous multiple winner at the awards ceremony, stepped to the other side of the podium this year to present the Young Personality of the Year award to Freestyle Kayak World Youth Champion Ottilie Robinson-Shaw.

Max said: “It is very important to celebrate all aspects of sport and physical activity across our county, and I’d like to congratulate all the winners and finalists. Here’s to another 12 months of well-deserved success, at both a grassroots and professional stage.”

Now in their 11th year, the awards recognise the people, clubs, organisations and volunteers who make sport and fitness accessible to people across Greater Essex. The awards are part of an ongoing commitment by Active Essex to change one million lives by getting more people around Essex active. 

The awards, which took place on December 5, were presented by Heart FM’s breakfast show presenter, Su Harrison, and Active Essex board member Steve Mitchell. A full list of winners can be found below.

Azeem Akhtar, Chair of Active Essex said: “The 2018 Active Essex Sports Awards proved to be another huge success and I’d like to congratulate all the winners and finalists for their hard work and dedication. I hope these awards will inspire more people to get active in disability sport across the region.”

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Active Essex Sports Awards 2018: Winners

Sports Personality of the Year: Jo Harten (Harlow)

Sponsored by Chelmsford City Racecourse

England Netball captain Jo Harten helped her country claim a dramatic victory over Australia to win a Commonwealth Games gold medal in 2018. She was born in Harlow and started playing Netball for Teegate Netball Club as a youngster. Jo, who has amassed 81 caps for England and plays in the Goal Shooter and Goal Attack positions, scored a last-gasp winning goal against Jamaica in the semi-finals of the 2018 Commonwealth Games and played in the final. She currently plays for The Giants, based in Sydney, in the Australian Super Netball League.

Highly Commended

  • Alastair Cook
  • Hannah Stodel

Unsung Hero: Nicola Arnold (Harlow)

Sponsored by Spotlight Sound

Nicola has been involved with Harlow Penguins for over 35 years. She originally joined as a swimmer herself becoming club captain while competing at the National championships. Over the years, Nicola has continued with the club by becoming a committee member, team manager, and supporting numerous open meets and team galas. Today, she teaches and coaches various squads, and will be accompanying swimmers on their first camp overseas. Nicola is fantastic with the youngest swimmers as they transition from Swim School, and is equally respected by the seniors due to her knowledge and experience.

Highly Commended

  • Adrian Marsh
  • Richard Kheder

Disabled Sports Personality of the Year: Freya Levy (Rochford)

Sponsored by Active Essex Foundation

Having internationally medalled in three different sports, Freya has her eyes set on the Six Nations in Paris next year. Freya is a current member of the UK and England Wheelchair Rugby Sevens team, scoring her first international try at her debut against France. Alongside being part of the GB Women’s Para Ice Hockey team and gaining bronze at this year’s Para Ice Hockey World Cup in the Czech Republic. Freya also has two silvers and a gold at the U25 European Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Championship. Off court, Freya works for Panathlon Challenge, a sporting charity engaging over 17,500 disabled children in sporting activities and campaigns in parliament for access to sporting facilities and sporting opportunities for disabled people. She is also an ambassador for All Together Essex.

Highly Commended

  • Hannah Stodel
  • Richard Chiassaro

Active Workplace of the Year: NHS Mid Essex CCG (Chelmsford)

Sponsored by Essex County Council

Shortlisted at last year’s Sports Awards for their 100 Day Challenge, the CCG’s employee reaction was so positive that they followed up this year with a second challenge focussed on mental wellbeing. Called a ‘One Hundred Days in Mind’, each CCG’s director agreed to champion one of the five steps to mental wellbeing  connect, active, learn, give and mindful – giving staff time to attend activities based on them. Every day, everyone voted for the ‘mood of the day’, and on any dates that were found to be particularly challenging, extra support was found. Staff shared inspiring daily quotes and more than 50 pledges were focussed on the mental wellbeing steps.

Highly Commended

  • Basildon Council
  • HTS Property Services Ltd

The award was for an employee or employer who has been the driving force in getting colleagues within their organisation active. The employee/ employer has implemented innovative ideas to change the workplace sedentary behaviour culture by creating an environment that actively encourages physical activity within the working day and embeds an ethos of health and wellbeing among staff.

Changing Lives through Sport and Physical Activity: Fitness in Mind (Brentwood)

Sponsored by Fusion

Fitness In Mind is designed to promote, encourage and provide physical activity as an aid to mental wellbeing. Getting active when you’re not feeling great isn’t easy – but Fitness In Mind strives to support individuals into fun physical activity, helping them establish and maintain a healthier lifestyle for both body and mind. All the classes are run by specially selected, qualified instructors, and friendly Peer-Support Volunteers, giving expert tuition, emotional support, and guidance towards other useful organisations. So far, Fitness In Mind has touched the lives of over 1,350 people from 20 districts, offering 568 sessions across 24 sports with over 10,500 hours of peer support.

The award was for an organisation, group or individual who can demonstrate they have made a positive impact on people’s lives through a sport or physical activity project. For example by increasing participation, promoting stronger, safer communities or improving health and wellbeing.

Highly Commended

  • Essex Fit Mums
  • Happy Hearts Exercise

Coach of the Year: Jane Naylor-Jones (Maldon)

Sponsored by Everyone Active

Jane received her 50 year Long Standing Member award at the Karate Union of Great Britain Nationals in May 2018 – one of only eight people to so. Despite chronic asthma from birth, Jane started training at the age of 10 and went on to represent Great Britain in both the European and World Championships, and has been coaching since she was 18. In response to the Soham murders in 2002, Jane set up a dedicated class for children called the Shotokan Tigers. They have since produced numerous local, regional, national, European, and two World Champions. Not only supporting the elite team, she now has a development squad to bring through younger members who are showing potential.

The award was for someone who is committed to providing the highest standard of coaching to their athletes and/ or for helping other coaches to develop – someone who goes above and beyond.

Highly Commended

  • Garry Leach
  • Jazz Stark

Education Champion of the Year: Thameside Primary School (Grays)

Sponsored by Jump Street

The school has transformed how they deliver PE provision over the last five years. PE lessons are now covered by four PE teachers on a rolling timetable, so that each class gets to participate in every sport. The PE teachers also offer free before- and after-school clubs four days a week with a number of clubs on each day. Pupils take part in a variety of different sports including hockey, table tennis, basketball, netball, swimming, football, rugby, athletics and many more. Last year, Thameside Primary School won the Thurrock School Medal Table – with a margin of over 500 points to the runner-up.

This award was for a school, college, university or early years setting that gives its pupils a wide range of opportunities to participate in high quality physical education and extra curriculum sport and that is helping young people to understand and embrace daily exercise for the benefit of their health and wellbeing. The institution should show a continued commitment to club links.

Highly Commended

  • Abbotsweld Primary Academy
  • Church Langley Primary School

Services to Inclusive Sport: Sport for Confidence (Basildon)

Sponsored by Sport England

Sport for Confidence, in partnership with Basildon Sporting Village, works with individuals with a range of special abilities from autism to dementia and from Down’s syndrome to learning disabilities across the multiple centres in Essex. It engages individuals who face barriers to participation, placing specialist health professionals alongside sports coaches to deliver a wide range of sports and physical activities, including dementia-friendly swimming, trampolining, Boccia, New Age curling, and dodgeball. Sport For Confidence has grown its engagement by an incredible 167% in the last 12 months and is now delivering more than 1,000 interventions every month at four mainstream leisure venues across the county.

This award was for an individual or an organisation that has made a significant contribution in the last year to advancing sport and physical activity for people with disabilities.

Highly Commended

  • Disability 4 Sport (Colchester)
  • Epping Forest Inclusion Project (Epping Forest)
  • Motivated Minds (Basildon)

Young Sports Personality of the Year: Ottilie Robinson-Shaw (Tendring)

Sponsored by: Intelligent Health

Ottilie started kayaking at the age of 11 after being inspired by the daughter of a local kayaking coach who had competed at the World Championships. She went on last year to win junior gold at her first attempt at the 2017 Freestyle Kayak World Championships in San Juan, Argentina. During her time there, she volunteered at visit local schools, encouraging more young people to take up the sport. This year, Ottilie picked up gold again by becoming the 2018 Double ICF Freestyle Kayak World Champion, the European ECA Champion, and the British Champion.

This award was for a young athlete (under 18) who has made a significant impact over the last year at a regional, national or international level, either individually or as part of a team.

Highly Commended

  • Alice Kinsella
  • Sam Bennett

Young Volunteer: Alfie Davidson (Tendring)

Sponsored by: Healthwatch Essex

Alfie has volunteered 222 hours of his own time this year as a football coach and a referee. This includes spending a week of his school summer holiday as a junior coach at the Walton Football Academy. Alfie is a Level 8 referee and is an active member of the Essex FA Football Futures Programme which recognises and rewards young people volunteering in football. He completed the Essex FA Junior Football Leaders Award which is the first step on the coaching ladder and regularly referees mini-soccer games at this club and is a fully qualified referee.

This award was for a young volunteer (under 18) who has made an outstanding contribution to local sport. It could be a dedicated volunteer within a sports club setting who deserves recognition for their commitment to supporting and developing the club and its members.

Highly Commended

  • Ben Phillips & Reefe Ellis
  • Emily Brown
  • Imogen Giddings

Community Club of the Year: Harlow Penguins Swimming Club (Harlow)

The Harlow Penguins Swimming Club has a big family atmosphere and encourages parents to get involved in the running of the club as well as in competitions and acting as officials. They have swimmers at county and national level but as equally important for the Penguins is keeping teenagers involved – meaning the club also supports those in competitive squads alongside those who just want to keep fit by training twice a week with motivational coaches. They have also developed senior swimmers involved in Swim School and coaching learners as young as four. When the helpers turn 16, they are able to be funded by the club and go on to take their teaching qualifications.

Highly Commended

  • Adrian Marsh
  • Richard Kheder

About Active Essex

Active Essex is the Physical Activity and Sport Partnership for Greater Essex. It was formed in 2013 and continues to deliver a lasting legacy to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. See www.activeessex.org.

In June 2017, Active Essex launched a new four-year strategy to tackle the issues around inactivity and change 1 million lives by getting Essex active.

Active Essex will focus on four main priorities as part of the 1 million strategy: to drive and sustain participation in physical activity; improve health and wellbeing amongst specific groups who are currently inactive; develop the people and organisations who work or volunteer in the sector and strengthen local partnerships and networks.

Active Essex is a key partner in the delivery of the Essex Local Delivery Pilot. Essex is one of only 12 places in the country to be part of this game changing Sport England initiative and will benefit from a share of around £100 million of National Lottery funding.