A STRICTLY Come Dancing star has handed a North-East hospital team an award after being nominated by a 21-year-old man, left paralysed following a motorcycle accident.

Head Judge Shirley Ballas and medical broadcaster Dr Hilary Jones, presented the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trusts' therapeutic supported volunteers team an award at the 'Who Cares Wins Awards' earlier this week.

The team, which works across hospitals on Teesside and in North Yorkshire, won the overall Unsung Hero category after being nominated by former patient Sam Watson, and beating off competition from across the country.

Mr Watson previously worked for the volunteers team before suffering life-changing injuries in a motorcycle accident early this year.

The Northern Echo:

Debi McKeown and trust volunteer Ify Nwokoro

Collecting their awards at the event, held by The Sun newspaper, hundreds of the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust's volunteers were represented by lead nurse of therapeutic support Debi McKeown and trust volunteer Ify Nwokoro.

Speaking after achieving the awards, Ms McKeown said: “I’m absolutely over the moon for the team to be recognised like this.

"It’s a real honour.

"The work that our volunteers do is fantastic and they are a real asset to the trust and the region.

“We have developed a very special community of people who are enhancing the patient experience while getting experience themselves.

"And often they have to overcome their own challenges too."

Trust volunteer Ify Nwokoro, who met both Shirley Ballas and Dr Hilary Jones, began offering support to patients with spinal injuries at the James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough after being paralysed in an accident in 2009.

Overall, the trust said there were more than 500 volunteers working across the trust, many of whom had gone on to secure permanent roles at its a number of its sites.

Ms McKeown added that the recruitment of volunteers into staff provided a 'locally-sourced' workforce.

She said: "Many of the team go on to get permanent roles at the trust, which is giving South Tees a home-grown workforce. The country can now see what we already know – that our volunteers are some of the best around.”