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Inspiring young people honoured at Courage Awards

Posted onPosted on 13th Mar


Inspirational children and young people who have overcome adversity to succeed against the odds were honoured at the annual Mansfield Rotary Courage Awards.

Ten recipients of the awards were nominated by their school or college for “exemplifying moral and spiritual courage in the face of difficulty.”

Now in its 33rd year, the event was hosted at Portland College, Mansfield, in front of the young people’s families and teachers.

The 10 young people were congratulated by the mayor of Mansfield, Andy Abrahams, the president of Mansfield Rotary, Rotn Kelvin Bowman, and special guest, Rotn Richard Vegette, governor of Rotary District 1220.

Special guest Rotn Richard Vegette, governor of Rotary District 1220.

They all demonstrated the message that whatever is thrown your way, you can do things, you can succeed, and you can achieve — and success is measured by your own rules, you don’t have to conform to what society tells you is success.

It might be overcoming anxieties, living with serious illnesses, coping with an accident or incident, or even simply raising a smile.

The 10 young people — Scott Belshaw (R.E.A.L. Independent School), Zachary Blackburn (Simply Sensory Training and Support), Finlay Brown (The Brunts Academy), Chris Cyriac (Portland College), Sophie Etherington (Meden School), Noah Jepson (Samworth Church Academy), Lilly Noble (APTCOO), Harry Poxon (Reach Learning Disability), Lucas Pownall (The Joseph Whitaker School), and Lucas White (West Nottinghamshire College) — received an engraved plaque from Mansfield Rotary president Kelvin Bowman and a civic citation from the Mayor of Mansfield, Andy Abrahams.

Paying tribute to the 10 award winners, Kelvin said: “We feel that they are all deserving of honour for the way they have all shown courage over their own adversity.

“Thirty-three years ago the then president of Mansfield Rotary, Rotn Mike Neville, used this definition at the very first Courage Awards. Successive presidents have been unable to better it:

Courage is often described as the ability to conquer fear or despair.
But courage is not only showing bravery in the face of danger, more often courage is the day-to-day determination and hard work of dealing with, adjusting to, and hopefully overcoming, the obstacles and harsh realities that life may present.
It is a quality of mind, enabling one to face that hardship with resolution — a resolution with power and spirit.
The power to make choices and set goals and to act upon them firmly without renouncing those objectives. The spirit to let that courage succeed by the behaviour and attitude shown to the world about them.

“That courage has been exemplified by all the young people here, but not only by those who have been nominated, but also by the parents, siblings, grandparents, and carers of these amazing young people who share in their lives and live with their difficulties.”

Kelvin Bowman, Mansfield Rotary president.

Kelvin thanked staff, teachers, parents, and students from the schools and organisations represented for their time, effort, and enthusiasm for the awards.

He also explained how the Courage Awards has its origin in Mansfield, Ohio (USA) where that city’s Rotary began its programme in 1968, when a retired Salvation Army brigadier, Rotn William McGowan, saw the need to honour worthy students not usually selected for awards — and thus the Mansfield Ohio Courage Award programme started.

It continues to this day and what one Mansfield club started, another is continuing in England.

Les Marshall, of Education Mutual, who was unable to attend but was represented by two managers, James Hutchinson and Ellie Rischer, was thanked for sponsoring the celebration for a 12th time.
Tables were sponsored by Tyler Bros Ltd, HW Martin Waste Ltd, Bee Noticed, Asmech Systems Ltd, Portland College, Hall-Fast Industrial Supplies, Mansfield Building Society, Fidler & Pepper, Mansfield Garage Doors, Plastek UK, and Totally Integrated Systems.

Ellen Gent, of The Rose Bower, Outram Street, Sutton, provided floral gifts for the parents and carers of each nominee.

After the event local transformation coach Sarah McNicoll congratulated organisers for 33 years of celebrating such inspiring young people and said hearing about the amazing nominees puts things into perspective.

Mansfield Rotarian Wayne Swiffin, who attended the event, added: “I wanted to share a couple of thoughts.

“One is, young people often get a bad press, but there are so many good stories out there. We should perhaps look at the work of young people not solely with our ageing eyes and a lens affected by experience, but also with a view to how they see a world we have not grown up in.

“Secondly, there are stories everywhere, but we just do not see them for one reason or another. Take young Sophie (Etherington), who was sat at my table. At 16, she looked after her mum who had cancer. Sophie got on with things and stepped up so that her stepdad could work two full-time jobs to keep the family finances going. Her mum is, thankfully, in remission.

“Or there was Finlay (Brown), who wasn’t able to attend because of his anxiety but guests heard how he, at the age of 13, saw his mum slowly fade away after she developed a brain tumour.

“Young Finlay may well walk to school using the lane behind my house, yet I wouldn’t know his story.

“There are many tales of courage and of children doing well, despite the odds.

“And there is many an adult who could learn from one of the kids of today.”



Pictured from left are Mayor Andy Abrahams, Victoria Gardner, Scott Belshaw and Rotary president Kelvin Bowman

Scott Belshaw

(R.E.A.L. Independent School)

The enthusiasm of remarkable Scott Belshaw inspires those around him every day at R.E.A.L. Independent School Blidworth.

Those are the words of learning manager Victoria Gardner, who said his nomination was a testament to him and his supportive family.

Scott has been through — and is currently going through — a lot in his life, but still shows up to school every day with a smile on his face, a positive attitude, and an admirable capacity to work. He is studying for his GCSEs, working hard even in subjects that he does not enjoy, and is expecting good grades.

Victoria explained how Scott has amazing relationships with the school and its staff, as well as his peers.

“He is a role model to other students in the school and staff alike. We are all so proud of him and inspired by his enthusiasm every day,” she added.

“This award is a testament to him and his amazing supportive and caring family.”

At school, Scott enjoys maths and history, and is very good at PE and English.

He also enjoys gaming and football, and, as an avid Nottingham Forest FC supporter, would love them to win the Premier League.


Award winner Zachary Blackburn is pictured with mayor Andy Abrahams (left) and Mansfield Rotary president Kelvin Bowman.

Zachary Blackburn
(Simply Sensory Training and Support)

The bravery and resilience of Zachary Blackburn is the reason for his nomination for a Courage Award.

Sarah Ashall and Michelle Love, Zach’s home tutors, say they are privileged to help the teenager they call an absolute inspiration.

Zach has many health-related issues that have a huge impact on his day-to-day life and can cause extreme pain and fatigue. He needs regular visits to hospital, sometimes for longer stays and intrusive investigations, which are particularly challenging.

All of this would be difficult for any child to bear, but in addition he has autism and sensory processing needs.

Sarah and Michelle said: “He is a very brave young person and, despite these challenges, Zach’s resilience shines through.

“Every day Zach amazes us. He has a very unique learning style. We have a plan for sessions, but we can never predict quite which direction Zach will take us.

“He is amazing with his devices and has a love of Thomas The Tank Engine. He combines the two to make the most creative and well-composed movies. Zach uses his iPads to film scenes with his trains, and adds in clips from TV programmes, along with a few special effects.”

Foreign languages are also of interest to Zach and he has taught himself to say the alphabet and count in Spanish, German and Russian.

His favourite song, I Need A Hero, is often played in German rather than English and Zach can be heard singing along.

Zach likes to bake as well. He can read recipes, but often chooses not to follow them to the letter, preferring to improvise and make up his own versions of pancakes, bread, biscuits, and cakes. There is even sometimes a train crash thrown into the mix!

Sarah and Michelle added: “When Zach is feeling well he is an adrenaline junkie! He accesses the climbing and abseiling walls, and the zip wire, at the Woodland Adventure Centre at Portland College. He also visits a soft play centre and hydrotherapy pool, and goes horse riding.

“In his free time Zach loves a good rollercoaster and visits Alton Towers, West Midlands Safari Park, and Yorkshire Wildlife Park with his family and carers.

“On all of these adventures he takes his most favourite of all trains, Hiro, from Thomas The Tank Engine.

“Zach is very special to everyone who works with him. He is clever, cheeky, funny, resilient, and an absolute inspiration.”


Helen Leaning accepts Finlay Brown’s award from mayor Andy Abrahams (left) and Mansfield Rotary president Kelvin Bowman.

Finlay Brown
(The Brunts Academy)

Courageous Finlay Brown has been nominated for finding the resilience and determination to carry on over the past 18 months, despite losing his mum when he was just 13.

Helen Leaning, head of year at The Brunt Academy, explained how Finlay’s mum had a brain tumour and he saw her fade over several months.

This impacted the teenager in a big way, and he is only now starting to understand the impact of losing his mum and coming to terms with what has happened.

But Helen said Finlay’s mum would be proud of the person he has become.

“Finlay, you are an amazing young man,” she said. “I know that the past 18 months have stopped you from seeing that, but you are a fighter, with a heart of gold, and you should be so proud of how you have dealt with what has happened.

“Keep fighting young man because you have so much to fight for.”

Even on the days when he feels like giving up and wants the world to end, Finlay still gets up and finds the resilience and determination to carry on.

“Finlay has faced something no 13-year-old should have to face and his mum would be so proud of him,” said Helen.

“He fights every day to be the strong, kind, caring and warm-hearted person that his mum and dad saw, and continue to see, in him daily.

“This past 18 months has been so hard. Finlay struggles every day just to do the small stuff, like get dressed, attend school, and play football, which he absolutely loves. Yet he still tries!”

In the future Finlay is aiming to make his parents proud and get through each day, one at a time.



Pictured are mayor Andy Abrahams, (left), award winner Chris Cyriac, his parents, Mark Morton, Portland College inclusion manager, and Mansfield Rotary president Kelvin Bowman.

Chris Cyriac
(Portland College)

“Moving to a new place and starting a new life would be daunting for anyone, let alone an individual with Chris’s needs. We are so proud of him, and look forward to continuing his journey with him for the foreseeable future.”

That is how Ashleigh Smedley, Chris Cyriac’s progression tutor at Portland College, describes the young man’s resilience and progress.

Among the substantial changes Chris has faced in his life was moving to England last year

Initially he found the change of his environment difficult to manage.

Chris’s accommodation changed, and he again had to adapt to living somewhere new, and getting to know a lot of new people outside of his family. Chris also began his journey at Portland College, which was another substantial change.

However, he has shown tremendous resilience throughout these changes, and has worked very hard to overcome his anxieties and struggles around living and being somewhere completely unfamiliar to him.

Ashleigh said: “Chris has thrived over the last couple of months, showing a huge increase in his confidence, communication and independence. He is happy, settled and now seems to be enjoying his new pace of life and environment.

“Chris loves going out with staff on a weekend to access the community, especially his trips to parks and McDonald’s.

“In college, he continues to thrive and progress towards his targets around learning, communication, and social interaction. Chris is making fantastic progress towards developing his emotional resilience, and generally seems happy. He particularly loves accessing the therapy zone and digital sensory area on site.

“Chris is a worthy winner of this award, simply due to the resilience and courage he has shown.”

He enjoys walks, sensory activities, and digital equipment — and his favourite subjects at college are art and sensory activities.

Chris, who loves going into the therapy activity zone at Portland, where he can complete sensory circuits, hopes to have a safe and happy future.


From left are mayor Andy Abrahams, Emma Callaway, award wInner Sophie Etherington and Mansfield Rotary president Kelvin Bowman.

Sophie Etherington
(Meden School)

The courageous and determined way Sophie Etherington diligently continued with her studies at Meden School while helping her family through difficult times has been highlighted with her Courage Award nomination.

At the end of 2022 Sophie lost her grandmother, who she was incredibly close to.

Then last April her mum was diagnosed with cancer and has had to undergo a considerable amount of chemotherapy.

Emma Callaway, safeguarding officer at Meden, said despite this Sophie continued to attend school and complete homework and revision, while also helping to look after her mum and support her siblings.

Supporting her mum through the cancer has made Sophie decide that she wants a career in the NHS, and she has won one of just 15 places on a health and social care course at West Nottinghamshire College.

Her favourite subject at school is history because she wants to learn about the past and how things can be changed to improve what we do in the future. Sophie also loves RE because she thinks it is important that we understand different cultures so that we do not offend anyone.

Away from school, Sophie enjoys reading and spending time with best friend, Lara, dancing to music and watching Harry Potter films.


Mayor Andy Abrahams, Alex Noble, winner Noah Jepson and Mansfield Rotary president Kelvin Bowman.

Noah Jepson
(Samworth Church Academy)

Brave Noah Jepson was nominated for the Courage Award for the way he overcame the loss of his mother and having to move during the pandemic.

Alexandra Noble, learning manager at Samworth Church Academy, Forest Town, praised Noah for becoming a well-rounded young man, who works hard and has excellent attendance.

“He tries to help others and is a really good older brother,” she added.

At Samworth, Noah said his favourite subject is business studies because it can be applied to the real world — learning how to understand assets and liabilities while achieving passive and portfolio income — which helps his ambition to be a successful entrepreneur.

Away from school, Noah enjoys Airsoft, game/clay shooting, football, gym, and running. His favourite song is In My Head by Juice WRLD.


Emma Salt accepts Lilly Noble’s award from mayor Andy Abrahams (left) and Mansfield Rotary president Kelvin Bowman.

Lilly Noble

The bravery and courage shown by Lilly Noble on a daily basis have been singled out for praise.

Carol Burkitt, chief executive of A Place To Call Our Own (APTCOO), said the team was proud of the way the teenager has faced her challenges and become an outstanding ambassador for the school.

Lilly faces daily struggles with her mental health that are evident from waking up in the morning to going to bed at night.

But thanks to the support of many professionals and the team at APTCOO, she is now attending regularly and calls the school her safe place.

Carol said: “Lilly has recently begun sharing her journey with other students and leads some PSHE sessions to her peers, where she reflects on her own struggles with her mental health.

“Lilly is an outstanding ambassador for APTCOO and we are proud of the courage and bravery that she shares with us on a daily basis.”

Lilly particularly enjoys flower arranging and one day hopes to be able to own her own florist shop.

She says her favourite subject at school is science because of her enquiring mind and interest in plants.


Award winner Harry Poxon with mayor Andy Abrahams (left) and Mansfield Rotary president Kelvin Bowman.


Harry Poxon
(Reach Learning Disability)

Determined Harry Poxon faces many challenges in his everyday life due to various ailments — including cerebral palsy and hearing impairment — but he does it all with a smile and a ‘I’ve got this attitude’.

Those are the words of Maria Williams, the centre manager at Reach Mansfield, where Harry has been attending since September.

Maria said: “We have nominated Harry because we all think he’s an amazing young man. Everyone should know about him, and he should be acknowledged for all he is and does!

“Reach Mansfield were very quick to recognise that Harry was a super-friendly person with a great, sunny disposition.

“He has slotted into the sessions at the centre with ease and has already made lots of friends.

“We feel that the Courage Award is well deserved and recognises the amount of work Harry does to keep active in his community.

“We would have 100 Harrys at Mansfield because he is a joy to have around and makes those around him happy.”

Harry works with the Lovely Lunch group, whose members combine to produce a delicious and/healthy lunch that they all eat together.

Then he takes part in the afternoon Fun Fitness group, joining fitness activities such as parachute games, boccia or the bleep test.

A keen Mansfield Town FC supporter, Harry enjoys clothes shopping and playing boccia. He also attends West Nottinghamshire College, where he is gaining daily life skills.

Harry said he enjoys going to Reach Mansfield and the college, as well as seeing his friends.


Mayor Andy Abrahams, Abbie Balchin, award winner Lucas Pownall and Mansfield Rotary president Kelvin Bowman.


Lucas Pownall
(The Joseph Whitaker School)

In January 2023, Lucas Pownall very suddenly became ill. What initially was thought to be a severe migraine or infection turned out to be a significant brain bleed.

The teenager was quickly transferred to the specialist brain trauma team at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, where a diagnosis of a condition called AVM was made.

This is a malformation of the blood vessels in the brain, which can lead to haemorrhage and brain damage.

Lucas suffered loss of movement down one side and it impacted his speech. He had to relearn to walk and remained in hospital for many weeks.

However, all through this Lucas’ priority has always been to ask when when could he go back to The Joseph Whitaker School in Rainworth — when could he go back to being ‘normal.

He worked tirelessly with his physiotherapy team and his family at home to regain a sense of normality, and has returned to school — never once complaining about what he has experienced.

Abbie Balchin, his head of house at Joseph Whitaker, said: “He never expects any fuss or special treatment. Even after radiosurgery in September he was still keen to return to school as quickly as possible.

“Luca has been able to go back to what he loves doing and playing for his beloved football team, Ravenshead Reds. He has a smile that lights up a room and personifies courage and resilience.

“It has been my pleasure to be his head of house and a privilege to nominate him for this award.

“Sadly, the person who would have been most proud of this award, his grandad, passed away at the end of 2023. This devastated Lucas, but he pushes on, making everyone who loves him so very proud.

“He inspires me every day and he is an inspiration to other students at The Joseph Whitaker School.”

Lucas loves all things sport in school; it is his passion. He particularly enjoys football.

Looking to the future, he has an interest in a career in IT or sport — or may even give back to the people who have helped him so much and train to be a physiotherapist.


Award winner Lucas White (second right) is pictured with Mansfield Rotary president Kelvin Bowman (left), Scott Corah (second left) and mayor Andy Abrahams.

Lucas White
(West Nottinghamshire College)

After experiencing significant social difficulties throughout school, Lucas White developed an anxiety that prevented him from applying to study an engineering course at college.

This resulted in a year out of education, not knowing how he would progress. But after deciding to return to learning, Lucas went to West Notts to find out more about its sports courses.

He was very nervous, couldn’t maintain eye contact, and upon being told about a multi-skills coaching course, he initially felt apprehensive to apply because of the confidence needed to conduct sessions in the community, which is a key requirement.

However, Lucas was determined to overcome his anxieties and since starting the Level 2 Sport: Certificate in Multi-skills Coaching course, he has become a role model for his group.

He supports others and continues to seek opportunities to develop his personal and social development. He has become the learner representative of his course and regularly engages with meetings and enrichment activities to benefit others.

In the past, when times were tough, he tended to run from his problems, but now he faces up to his challenges and adopts strategies to thrive.

Lucas completed his first portfolio before the deadline, has engaged in a work placement, delivers extra-curricular activity, and has received positive feedback.

He overcame the disappointment of not securing a work placement with an employer by independently finding an alternative placement with the college, supporting a football scheme for young girls.

Lucas recently organised and delivered a physical activity multi-skills event to primary schools in addition to supporting childcare students at the college with their studies for early years physical education.

Tutors throughout the college and teachers in schools have praised Lucas’s commitment.

Scott Corah, programme area leader for sport, who nominated Lucas, said he was an exceptional student and approaches each day to overcome his personal challenges.

At home, Lucas supports his mother, who struggles with fibromyalgia, and he volunteers in a charity shop run by brain injury association Headway.

He enjoys playing all sports, particularly basketball, football, and badminton. In the future he hopes to have a successful career in sports coaching, whether working with children or adults, including those less able. Lucas also wants to continue his voluntary work.