THERE were so many wonderful moments during the 19th Local Heroes Awards but one above all the others captured the spirit of the occasion.

Julie Scurfield had just been announced as the overall Local Hero of 2018 for the huge impact she has made on girls’ women’s football in County Durham.

As she headed for the stage to be presented with her award in the Grand Marquee at Wynyard Hall, the inspirational founder of the Chester-le-Street Amazons Football Club grabbed the hand of 15-year-old Harry Brown.

Harry had been a finalist in the Junior Remarkable Achievement category for his achievements in becoming a coach of the Amazons Under-Sevens team despite having Down’s Syndrome. He’d missed out on the award and was feeling a bit disappointed so, in her moment of triumph, Julie took Harry on stage with her.

As they walked hand in hand, through a standing ovation to be presented with the award by The Jarrow Arrow Steve Cram and Lorraine Bulloch, from sponsors Cummins, Harry’s smile melted hearts.

And that’s why Julie Scurfield is known by the youngsters in the Amazons as “The Special One”. Her instinct is to think of others.

That was her response 13 years ago when she used to watch her sons play football and all she ever saw was “a sea of boys”. Despite having no footballing experience, she embarked on an FA coaching qualification and formed a girls’ football team. The Amazons lost 20-0 in their first game, didn’t score a goal for three years, and it took four years to win a game. There are now ten teams and 130 girls representing the Amazons and they are truly a force to be reckoned with.

Julie Scurfield is a worthy Local Hero – but it was 15-year-old Harry Brown who walked back to their table, punching the air with one hand, raising the trophy with the other, and milking the applause. That’s special.

SIMON Ripley was a losing finalist too. The 34-year-old Darlington dad was nominated for his tremendous sporting achievements in the year that marks the tenth anniversary of him having a heart transplant.

Those achievements include winning a gold medal in the biathlon at the European Transplant Games, along with silvers in the cycling and 1,500 metres and a bronze in the 4km cross-country run.

Simon, now a passionate campaigner for organ donations, lost out to Middlesbrough amputee Terry Bywater, who was part of the Great Britain wheelchair basketball team that won the World Championships.

Within minutes, Simon had Tweeted: “So tonight I lost out to a Paralympic world champion. Well done fella.”

That’s what I love about presenting the Local Heroes Awards. It’s packed with big-hearted people.

THE wonderful Wilf Gilbert was the Unsung Hero winner for being the heart and soul of Darlington Table Tennis Academy at the age of 86 and despite a diagnosis of incurable mesothelioma.

Academy youngsters Katie Wray and Georgina Peart started the second half of the show with a display of their impressive skills and then I challenged Wilf to a quick game. It was meant to be a bit of fun but he insisted on checking the height of the net.

“Let’s do this right,” he muttered.

IT would be wrong - in the year that marks the centenary of the end of the First World War – not to mention a gentleman called Alan Frankland.

Alan, 85, spent much of the year getting up at the crack of dawn every morning to swim half a mile until he’d covered 100 miles. In doing so, he raised just over £2,000 for the Royal British Legion.

Within minutes of him being given a Local Heroes Special Award, and a surprise guard of honour by colleagues from the Redcar Branch of the Royal British Legion, Darlington Building Society told Alan that they’d boost his fund-raising efforts by £1,000.

A game of “Red Card, Yellow Card” stand-up bingo, conducted by Spennymoor’s splendid World Cup referee George Courtney, added another £1,400 to the pot.

Alan Frankland, Local Hero, is planning a sky-dive next year.

NEXT year, Local Heroes celebrates its 20th anniversary. An extra-special night will be planned but number 19 will be hard to top.

To me, it’s what local newspapers should be all about – making local people feel special and telling their stories in a way the national press could never hope to match.