The Unsung Hero award has always recognised the most dedicated volunteers from around the UK driving participation in grassroots sports and fitness activities.

Over the past year, 2017 winner Denise Shannon has told us of her experience as the Unsung Hero and what she’s been up to since.

But of course the other 14 National and regional Unsung Hero award winners have not stopped either.

World record breakers

“We’ve had a great year at Ormeau Table Tennis club growing from strength to strength in participation and performance,” says Gervis Knox who, along with his brother Keith, were the 2017 Unsung Hero award winners for Northern Ireland.

“It has given us a much greater presence in Belfast and Northern Ireland and put table tennis on the map.”

One of the highlights of their year was setting a world record for the most consecutive opponents in a table tennis rally – 113, including 1972 Olympic pentathlon gold medallist Mary Peters!

If that was not enough, the club finished third in their debut season in the UK and Ireland’s highest league.

They also started Table Tennis in the Workplace sessions with the council, which has prompted the start of a corporate league (eight teams competing on a monthly basis).

Work with local schools means some more kids are filtering into the club and Gervis says a new Para-disability section will be starting up shortly.

A summer camp with Wales international Charlotte Carey (top left), celebrating after breaking the world record (top right), a Table Tennis at Work session (bottom left) and Try-IT session with the Mayor of Belfast

Double lift for Gareth

Gareth Waterfield, who was recognised for his work setting up girls rugby at Winscombe RFC, has had two promotions since picking up the 2017 Unsung Hero award for the West.

“The success has lead to me being made head coach of all the girls’ sections at Winscombe RFC – and the newly formed Ladies team,” explains Gareth.

“I’ve also got a new part-time job at Kings of Wessex secondary school in Cheddar as head of rugby and am really enjoying the role so far.”

Earlier this year he had a visit from Denise and keeps in touch with other Unsung Hero award winners on social media.

Denise Shannon (in tinted glasses) and Gareth Waterfield (far right) with the Winscombe Rugby Club Ladies team

“I was nominated by one of our parents, John Podpadec,” said Gareth, “so I would like to thank him personally.

“It has been my dream to go to Sports Personality of the Year along with the world’s best sporting stars.

“I met some of them that evening and they were so inspiring.”

‘Recognition can be useful’

Mandy Parker and cyclists at the East Bradford Cycling Club's 'Save Our Circuit' day

Mandy Parker – like many of the other Unsung Hero winners – emphasises that she volunteers because she wants to put something back.

“Recognition can be useful to break down barriers and be a stepping stone to something we are trying to achieve,” adds the 2017 Yorkshire Unsung Hero.

“We are losing our venue in a few months as it is being bulldozed and work to obtain a replacement is frustratingly slow.

“Thanks to the Unsung Hero award and the Sports Personality of the Year show, I was able to call in a few favours to launch a Save Our Circuit campaign.

“I was amazed by all the people who supported it, from the very young to GB squad riders and world champions.”

‘A lot of people didn’t know we existed’

Frank O’Sullivan, the 2017 West Midlands Unsung Hero, says winning has given his boxing club in Sparkhill, Birmingham a better profile.

“It made a difference that so many people saw us on television, particularly locally, we’ve had numerous calls as a result.” says the England Boxing coach.

And he was grateful that his effort was recognised.

“It was absolutely tremendous,” he said.

“One of the biggest things for me personally was calls from old acquaintances around the world congratulating me – from Canada, Australia, Poland and Ireland.”

One of those – Rob McCracken – was trained by Frank as a 14-year-old, had a successful career as a professional and is the current trainer of Anthony Joshua.

Another of Frank’s boxers, Galal Yafai, became a Commonwealth Games gold medallist in Australia this year.

After training with the GB set-up in Sheffield, Galal can still be found at Frank’s gym.

“He feels he wants to give something back,” explains Frank.

“By his presence and seeing how he trains he hopes to influence the young lads.”

‘Our classes now seem to be bursting at the seams’

Stuart Usher with (left) fellow Unsung Hero winners Marcellus Baz and Denise Larrad, (right) a student and (bottom) Denise at a black-belt ceremony at Messingham Martial Arts

“Since Unsung Hero we have gone from strength to strength,” says Stuart Usher, who won the East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Unsung Hero award in 2017.

“Our classes, which we run for all ages, now seem to be bursting at the seams.”

Stuart has stayed in touch with 2016 UK winner Marcellus Baz and Denise, who he met at Sports Personality of the Year.

He and Denise supported Baz’s skip-a-thon in aid of mental health, which prompted a change on his club’s website.

“We have created a wellbeing page for those looking for links that may help,” he says.

“The Unsung Hero award made me proud but also taught me a lot about myself,” Stuart adds.

“It is so rewarding to know that what I have created in Messingham Martial Arts is truly appreciated.

“We are growing and developing and aim to continue for our members and communities for years to come.”