DARLINGTON’S unsung heroes have once again had their achievements honoured at an annual award ceremony.

Hundreds of people packed into the atrium at Darlington College to celebrate the people and organisations which help make the town great at the ninth annual Best of Darlington Awards.

Eighty-year-old boxing coach, Lol Degnan, was named citizen of the year as well as picking up the prize for contribution to sport.

Danny Stevens, a 19-year-old former Hurworth School pupil, won the young citizen of the year award for his volunteering and fundraising for St Teresa’s Hospice.

A special award was presented to borough councillor and chairman of Darlington’s Town Twinning Association, Tom Nutt, for his work to maintain the town’s links with Europe, which last year reached their 60th year.

Opening the awards was teenage saxophonist Alexander Bone, of High Coniscliffe, near Darlington, and entertainment was also provided by 17-year-old singer songwriter Jodie Nicholson, of Hurworth, while Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College swing band closed the show.

The event was compered by the editor of The Northern Echo, Peter Barron.

He said: “There can only be one winner in each category, but seeing the hundred or so nominations it really does continue to warm the hearts of the judges that there are so many great people in Darlington.”

Citizen of the year – Lol Degnan

BOXING coach, Lol Degnan, first took up the sport when he was 11 and went on to become one of the town’s leading coaches.

He has dedicated the last 60 years of his life to teaching the art of boxing in the ring, and set up Darlington Amateur Boxing Club 32 years ago.

A former champion himself, Mr Degnan has trained 75 fighters to world champion level, and once trained Darlington’s Stuart Hall. Now aged 80, the married father-of-one still finds it hard to curb his enthusiasm, and is a regular face at Ward Degnans Boxing Club, in Darlington.

Speaking after the award ceremony he said: “I am really shocked. I am 80 now, and have been fighting since I was 11, so this is a really nice way to finish it off.

“My dad and most of my family were involved in boxing, so I started having a play around. I had my first fight at 11 and since then have just kept at it. “I still pop down to Ward Degnans and get to shows when I can. I just love doing it and keeping the kids right.”

Editor of The Northern Echo and compere at the event, Peter Barron, said: “This man just does not know when to stop.

“He has coached 75 national boxing champions and much of this success is down to this man’s lifelong commitment to the sport.”

Mr Degnan was joined on stage by last year’s citizen of the year, Dave Scott, and Darlington Mayor, Charles Johnson.

Young citizen of the year - Danny Stevens

AT a time when most teenagers are worrying about their image and fitting in with the crowd, Danny Stevens decided to shave his shoulder-length hair off to raise money for charity.

The former Hurworth School pupil has spent much of his teenage years volunteering and helping others, and his latest stunt helped raise more than £3,000 for St Teresa’s Hospice.

The 19-year-old first volunteered as a football coach in while at secondary school in year 9, before helping out at Middleton Rangers Football Club.

He then spent a year-and-a-half volunteering at St Teresa’s Hospice, in Darlington, where he would help staff in a number of activities, including making and serving food, to chatting to patients and visitors.

Speaking at the ceremony he said: “At the time of the head shave I was volunteering at St Teresa’s Hospice and thought this could be a worthwhile thing by trying to raise some money for the hospice.

“I just woke up one morning and thought why not?

“The hospice is a much more joyous place than people imagine, and I absolutely loved my time there.”

When asked how he felt about receiving the award Mr Stevens, who had travelled to the event from Leicester University where he is studying medicine, said: “I am very honoured and feel quite humble to be honest.

“Reading the citations in the programme for all the other nominees, there are so many other people who are more deserving of this award - some people have done some extraordinary things.”

Chairman’s special award - Tom Nutt

FOR the past ten years, Councillor Tom Nutt has served as chairman at Darlington Town Twinning Association.

During that time he has helped maintain Darlington’s links with its twinned towns of Amiens, in France, and Mulheim am Ruhr, in Germany, which were forged in 1953.

Last year the association celebrated its 60th anniversary and, thanks to the work of Coun Nutt and his team, Darlington forged links with eight “town cousins” including Opole, in Poland, and Goerlitz and Dortmund, in Germany. It is also considering further links with Italy and Japan.

During the 60th anniversary celebrations, Coun Nutt also helped organise a number of exchange visits and helped send apprentices at South West Durham Training to Siemens in Mulheim for two weeks of work experience.

The association also brought students from Berufskolleg, Lehnerstrasse and Mulheim to Darlington for three weeks’ work experience at local businesses and sent Longfield Academy’s school football team to Opole, in Poland, for an international tournament.

Speaking at the ceremony the 69-year-old said: “It is a great honour and I feel very proud.

“I am not originally from Darlington and moved here 30 years ago from near Durham, but I wouldn’t live anywhere else.

“It is just a great place and it is lovely to be recognised in what is now my home town.

“It is good for our young people to experience other countries, and town twinning is a great way of sharing different cultures.

“We are always looking for new ways to explore our links with other towns.”