THE stars at the heart of Darlington’s community were given chance to shine at an awards ceremony this weekend.

The Best of Darlington Awards saw the town’s unsung heroes recognised for their community efforts.

Now in its 11th year, the heart-warming annual ceremony saw hundreds gather to celebrate the achievements of people working to make Darlington a better place.

Finalists in 17 categories mingled with dignitaries and those who nominated them at the event, staged at Darlington College on Friday, May 6.

A poignant moment saw the Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Paul Butler, lead prayers in honour of late teenager Freja Nicholson.

Ms Nicholson’s family was presented with the posthumous Chairman’s Award in honour of their daughter, recognised for her courage in battling cancer and for devoting her final months to fundraising for cancer charities.

Other notable winners included Citizen of the Year Morag Coates, who was nominated by Cllr Gerald Lee for her efforts in running Top Deck, an organisation providing support for young people in Darlington.

Cllr Lee’s nomination said: “Morag herself is a quiet gentle lady.

“She has never sought any recognition for the dedication that she has given and continues to give to young people for over 25 years.”

The prestigious Young Citizen of the Year award – and the Young Person’s Contribution award - went to community activist and “exceptional young woman” Sharifah Rahman, nominated for her work fighting prejudice.

After becoming the target of hate crime, the Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College student decided to make a stand, founding the Youth Action group to battle prejudice and misconception.

Her nomination said: “This brave young Muslim girl who has grown up on the Red

Hall estate has single-handedly set out to change the perception of people towards her religion in the town.”

Darlington’s home-grown Paralympian, teenager Kieran Maxwell, received the Performance in Sport award for his achievements in athletics.

Other winners at the event, organised by the One Darlington Partnership, were: Callum Blades (Contribution to Sport); Doug and Rachel Dickson (Volunteers of the Year); John Elliston/700 Club (Contribution to the Community); Charlie Sergeant (Vocational Excellence); Jasmin Abbott (Academic Excellence); Vicky Neeson (Exceptional Student); Peter Woodmansey (Contribution to the Environment); Darlington for Culture (Contribution to the Arts); Jo Thurland (Public Service Hero); Modus Seabed Intervention (Business Contribution to the Community); Stone Technical Services (Bringing Success to Darlington); CPI (Most Ingenious).