Celebrating your Leeds heroes

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In the run up to Christmas we asked our readers to reflect on the year and nominate those who had truly made a difference to our city and communities.

The response we have had was truly humbling, marking out just what the city is capable of.

Today, on Christmas Eve, we celebrate some of the city’s most inspirational people – ordinary people who have achieved extraordinary things. Debbie Leigh reports.

The Maguire Family: Dignity and generosity of spirit

The murder of Ann Maguire, stabbed to death while teaching at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds in April, shocked the entire nation.

Her family’s dignified response was to set up an arts education fund in her memory, in the hope of harnessing the goodwill shown to them and ensuring Ann’s influence would live on in future generations of students.

In the past eight months, the Ann Maguire Arts Education Fund, founded by Ann’s widower Don and their daughters Kerry and Emma, has already raised more than £46,000.

A statement issued by the family last month, thanking the public for their kindness and contributions, said: “We want to look for the good that can come out of this tragedy and focus on what was important to Ann.

“This was about helping others, especially young people, in developing their potential.

“The Ann Maguire Arts Education Fund which we set up in April 2014 will be the channel for harnessing that goodwill and the desire to build a lasting tribute to her memory.”

Corpus Christi pupil Will Cornick, 16, was told he must serve a minimum of 20 years in custody after he admitted the murder of the much-loved teacher, who had taught at the school for more than 40 years.

Josh Warrington: The new pride and joy of boxing in Leeds

A dental technician by day and champion sportsman by night, Josh Warrington is one of England’s most promising boxers, who also comes from Leeds.

In October the 24-year-old, who went to John Smeaton High School in Crossgates, claimed his third major belt in 10 months, adding the European Featherweight crown to the British and Commonwealth titles.

His undeniable talent and humble persona has won him a huge army of fans in Leeds, and his success is expected to inspire youngsters across the city to search out their local boxing clubs, eager to take up the sport.

Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn has compared the level of “fanatical” support in the city to the devotion shown over the Pennines for Manchester’s Ricky Hatton.

Josh said: “I want to put Leeds on the map for boxing. Bringing these big shows to Leeds gives the younger generation something to look up to. They can look at me and say, ‘he’s just a local lad from east Leeds and he’s not doing so bad – maybe I can be like him.’”

Tour Makers: Helping Yorkshire to shine

Their cheery smiles and green jackets were their trademark, a small army of guides recruited to offer a warm welcome to millions of visitors to the Tour de France in Yorkshire.

Around 12,000 Tour Makers, who gave advice and directions as well as steering people across roads and crossings, helped make the Grand Depart a spectacular success.

One of them, Maxine Green, from Wakefield, who helped marshall the crowds on Skipton High Street on the Saturday, said she was delighted to receive recognition in Yorkshire Evening Post: “I gave up trying to keep people off the road; it was such an absolutely amazing day; I hadn’t done anything like that before it was brilliant.

“Even if it was only to direct the public to the toilets, simple things like that, I definitely felt we made a difference.”

Maureen Lillywhite: Tireless efforts to help others

Burmantofts grandmother Maureen Lillywhite’s dedication to helping improve lives in the local community makes it hard to separate her working life from her spare time.

A senior community health development worker with Zest – Health for Life for the past 12 years, her projects include the Meanwood Olympics; Gizza Job and Laughter Club.

She has recently made Christmas wishes come true, teaming up with firms like Lloyds Bank to provide festive gifts and food hampers for families in need.

She also organised bags of treats for the elderly, aimed at combating social isolation, which contain her phone number along with those of five other volunteers willing to be called at any time over the break. And she uses her annual leave to take around 40 Leeds pensioners on holiday four times a year.

Maureen was nominated by her daughter Rosalyn Hamilton, who said: “Not only is she my hero, the best grandma in the world and my best friend, she does so much for the community.”

The 62-year-old said: “I just see it as doing my job but it’s really nice that somebody has recognised that hard work.”

Janet Wilson: Five decades of saving lives

Janet Wilson, 62, has devoted more than 50 years of her life to giving and teaching first aid with St John Ambulance.

The mother of two and retired biomedical scientist, from Otley, joined the charity’s cadet unit aged 11, when she immediately put her skills into practice by helping someone suffering from anaphylactic shock at an agricultural show.

Over the following decades, Janet helped countless people as a St John Ambulance volunteer covering events throughout Yorkshire.

On retirement 12 years ago, she became a trainer for the charity and has since taught essential first aid skills to hundreds of schoolchildren and adults.

And it’s not just in Yorkshire where Janet has put her first aid into practice – she has also come to the rescue of strangers choking on food in China and Peru.

Janet said: “I don’t do these things for recognition, it’s just what I do and comes naturally to me. But if this award helps someone I’m delighted.”

Lee Deighton: Fast-acting hero

Special constable Lee Deighton put his life on the line when he leapt into the River Aire to save two people from drowning.

The volunteer with Leeds City Neighbourhood Policing Team plunged into the ice waters in the pitch black, still wearing his high-visibility vest, baton, handcuffs, police radio and stab vest.

He dragged the 21-year-old woman to safety, along with a man – believed to be her friend – who had got into difficulties while trying to help her.

Hailing him as a hero, chief superintendent Paul Money, Leeds District Commander, said: “I am incredibly proud to have officers like him helping to keep our communities safe, particularly special constables who are private citizens by day and give their spare time to work as police officers.”

Kevin Sinfield: Glittering international rugby career

Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield led Leeds to their first Challenge Cup final victory in 15 years this summer – 12 years after he was first handed the captain’s armband, to become the youngest skipper in the club’s history.

The talented player is recognised as the one of the greatest to play for the Headingley club, having led his team to 18 major finals - including a record-breaking six Grand Final wins since 2004.

The team has also won three World Club Challenges as well as appearing in a further three World finals and were also beaten finalists in a further four Challenge Cup finals and a Grand Final during an unprecedented era of success.

Individually, the man the fans call Sir Kev, has also won the Harry Sunderland Trophy twice, the Lance Todd Trophy, the Golden Boot and was appointed MBE earlier this year. He is also the club’s all-time leading points scorer.

The 34-year-old made his international debut shortly after his 20th birthday in the 2000 World Cup and has been capped 26 times for England, as well as receiving a further 14 caps for Great Britain.

Nile Wilson: Record-breaking gymnastics talent

The first British gymnast ever to win five gold medals at the European Junior Gymnastics Championships in 2014, the Leeds teenager proceeded to win two Commonwealth Games gold medals, and four medals in total, on his senior debut for England.

The 18-year-old is the reigning Commonwealth Games champion on horizontal bar and capped off his incredible year by being shortlisted for the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year 2014 award as well as collecting Pudsey Grangefield’s Outstanding Student of the year Award.

Since he took up gymnastics, Nile has won over 140 medals in competitions – and more than 70 of those have been gold.

The talented teen, who trains at Leeds Gymnastics Club in Seacroft and was just four when he started training, said: “To even be competing for Team England in my first senior event was an honour but to win medals and be part of the most successful Team England is something that will stay in my memory forever.”

Linda Jackson and Lucy Pitkin: Feeding thousands across the city

The two dedicated volunteers with the Trussell Trust have helped put food on the table for thousands of desperate people in Leeds over the past year.

Linda is project manager for both Leeds South Foodbank and Leeds East, while Lucy project manages West Leeds.

They both devote countless hours, week in, week out, to managing around 15 food distribution centres between them, as well as leading a small army of hundreds of volunteers and organising regular food collections across the city.

The duo are tireless in their commitment to helping some of the city’s vulnerable residents, forced to turn to foodbanks when they can’t afford to feed themselves or their families.

Lucy, who last year underwent major heart surgery and is also studying for an Open University degree in Social Policy and Criminology, said: “I have a fantastic team of volunteers, it’s not just me so it’s a shared honour – especially with Sandra Nichols, who has put in just as much time as me.”

Gemma McKeating: Triumph over adversity

The determined mother, who was left unable to walk or speak after having her second stroke aged just 30, not only rebuilt her life but also created an acclaimed fashion label.

Gemma McKeating, from Beeston, had her first stroke at 24 after her drink was spiked on a night out in Leeds.

The stroke left her with epilepsy and in May last year she had 40 seizures in two days – causing another stroke.

It affected her severely and meant she couldn’t even speak to her son on his second birthday.

But the 31-year-old has battled back and not only has a full-time job, managing student accommodation in Bradford, but also runs her own clothes firm Uncommon Nonsense, a label for women of all sizes which has been featured in fashion bible Vogue.

Her achievements were recently recognised with a Life After Stroke Award from the Stroke Association and she is planning a bike ride from Edinburgh to London next year in support of the charity.

Imran Mughal: Global adventurer and fundraiser

The daring 35-year-old has raised almost £4,000 for charity after pedalling 25,000 miles – across 33 countries and four continents.

During that 15 months, Imran, of Harehills, survived a terrifying ordeal at gunpoint in Bosnia, deadly spiders in the Australian outback, 53C heat in the Oman desert and cycled through monsoons in Indonesia.

He took on the challenge, which saw him ride an average of 100 miles each day, after being made redundant from his NHS job – and in doing so raised thousands for Charity: Water.

Since his return to Leeds he has visited schools and workplaces to speak about his experiences, promoting cycling and healthy living as well as encouraging others to follow their dreams.

He has also started writing a book about his journey, which he hopes will continue his fundraising for the charity.

He said: “I’m really shocked to feature in the YEP Christmas honours but it’s really nice.”

Lizzie Marmont: Selflessly fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone

Hardworking Leeds nurse Lizzie Marmont will spend Christmas Day in Sierra Leone, treating Ebola patients in a British-built treatment centre.

The Acute Care Nurse from Leeds Teaching Hospital is one of six Yorkshire NHS staff who have travelled to the West African country as part of the £230m UK effort to contain, control and defeat the disease.

Since arriving on November 23, the 40-year-old has helped prepare for opening the British-built and British-funded Ebola treatment centre in Port Loko and will be providing vital care for Ebola patients until she returns to the UK after Christmas.

Port Loko is one of the areas worst hit by the Ebola virus, with over 250 confirmed Ebola deaths there during November alone.

Justine Greening, International Development Secretary, has labelled the volunteers “NHS heroes”, adding: “I’m sure I speak for the British public in offering them our thanks for the vital work they are doing this Christmas.”