PETER BARRON pays tribute to some of the local heroes whose stories have appeared on his weekly page in The Northern Echo during 2022 – raising spirits and inspiring others through their personalities and actions…

THE joy of having a page in The Northern Echo every Wednesday is being given the opportunity to shine the spotlight on the great people of the North-East.

It has been a privilege to write about some wonderful people over the past year, so here is my personal New Year’s Honours list. There are no gongs to hand out – just heartfelt thanks and admiration.

JULIET SANDERS: Juliet is chief executive of a magnificent charity called Feeding Families, which works with partners to distribute food boxes to people all over the North-East who are unable to access food banks due to health issues.

Juliet and her husband, Neil, founded the charity in 2017 after they saw poverty close to their home while donating an old sofa to a house in Gateshead. A mum was living there with five children who were sleeping on the floor because the family had no furniture.

Feeding Families was born, matching up donor and recipient families, and the idea has blossomed into a huge operation. Supported by a small army of volunteers, the charity helped around 44,000 families in 2022.

It was a pleasure to meet Juliet and her team just before Christmas while they were packing up more food boxes, funded by an £8,000 donation from Darlington Building Society.

With the cost of living hitting families hard, demand has grown by 52 per cent in the past year.

“Success shouldn’t be measured by distributing more food boxes – it should be measured by us being able to lock the doors because we’re not needed anymore. It’s distressing that so many people are having to live in this way.”

Thank you, Juliet.

KEITH WILSON: Keith and I got chatting after taking part in the Darlington parkrun in May, and it has been a joy to tell his remarkable story in instalments over the rest of the year.

Keith, a former lecturer at Darlington College, is the kindest, most thoughtful of men, and his response to a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis in March 2022 has been truly inspirational.

Though initially left depressed by the “devastating” news, he embarked on an intense programme of running, mountain climbing, and singing with the Darlington Sing Community Choir.

His firm belief is that all of these activities help to produce adrenaline and dopamine in his body to hold back the effects of Parkinson’s. In the process, he has raised awareness of the disease, given hope to others, and become a dedicated fundraiser for Parkinson’s UK.

“Parkinson’s UK helped me to come to terms with my diagnosis, so I want to give something back,” he says.

Thank you, Keith.

BERYL HANKIN: Back in March, it was a pleasure to shine a spotlight on one of Darlington’s nicest people, Beryl Hankin, as she celebrated the 50th anniversary of her “wacky, wondrous little wedge of a shop” – Guru Boutique.

Beryl’s had a tough year in 2022, battling cancer, and losing her husband Ray to a heart attack after nearly 60 years of marriage.

Despite it all, she’s continued to welcome customers with her trademark friendly smile.

In an age when town centres are struggling for survival, Beryl is the personification of retail at its best – one of Darlington’s finest ambassadors.

Thank you, Beryl.

PHILIP BOYLE: For nigh on 50 years, retired teacher Philip Boyle has had a positive impact on countless young lives through the sport of badminton.

He founded Hummersknott Badminton Club, in Darlington, as a lunchtime activity, and it’s grown into a powerful force for good.

Every year, the club’s young members are taken on an international tour: learning life-skills, building confidence, and forging friendships.

When Russia invaded Ukraine early last year, Philip’s first thought was to track down young badminton players among the refugees who had fled to Britain with their families. Several of them are now adopted members of the Darlington club, with links to the town that will last a lifetime.

Even when I bumped into Philip at the top of a Swiss mountain while on holiday in the summer, he was still busy planning the latest international tour, and  looking for help in raising funds to take the Ukrainian players on the trip.

“It’s just the way he is – he can’t stop,” smiled his wife, Bridget.

Thank you, Philip.

VIV POW: One of my highlights of the year was hosting The Northern Echo’s County Durham Together Awards, which culminated in Viv Pow being presented with a Special Recognition Award.

In the decade since she was diagnosed with bowel cancer, Viv has raised more than £20,000 for a range of charities by running marathons, and being a parkrun regular.

She has also counselled others who need to go through life with an ileostomy bag.

In June 2021, she was told her cancer was inoperable, but she has continued to motivate others ever since with her special brand of positivity.

Last Sunday, there she was – in Darlington’s South Park, cheering on the New Year’s Day parkrunners.

“It’s about squeezing as much out of life as possible, and recognising there’s a lot to be grateful for,” she says.

Thank you, Viv.

TRACY KIRK: County Durham police officer, Tracy Kirk, is Viv Pow’s best friend, and has been inspired to set herself a series of running challenges aimed at raising £5,000 for Cancer Research UK.

Her gruelling schedule has included the Brighton Marathon, Swaledale Marathon, Great North Run, and London Marathon.

In June, Tracy and Viv led hundreds of people in a 5k “positivity fun run” in South Park.

“Everyone needs a Viv in their lives. She’s changed my life for the better and, for that, I’m forever grateful.”

Her New Year’s resolution for 2023? “To keep on running!”

Thank you, Tracy.

TRISTAN ANDERSON: Tristan, from Sedgefield, was the youngest winner at the County Durham Together Awards, at the start of December.

Known as Enviro-Kid, the nine-year-old won the environment award for his admirable efforts in running his own YouTube channel and digital magazine to passionately promote green issues.

After talking to him on stage at Ramside Hall, I was convinced I’d just interviewed a future television personality or prime minister.

What a star!

Thank you, Tristan.