On the face of it, the five nominees for the title of Community Hero had little in common.
But in fact the award, sponsored by the city company Investec, brought together five candidates who have saved, or are saving, lives.
Some, like Ashley White, a PE teacher at the cross-denominational school, J-Coss, have demonstrated this in the most tangible way. He saved the life of one of his school students, Noah Baron-Cohen, in 2016, when Noah, then 16, collapsed during a routine school rugby practice.
Ashley’s first-aid training kicked in and he began to perform emergency CPR on the teenager, working on Noah for an exhausting 15 minutes before the paramedics arrived. “It was only after they took over that the emotions began”, Ashley confessed. As for Noah, waking up in hospital and finding out what Ashley White had done for him, made him feel “lucky to be alive”.
Sam and Lee Bladon were nominated for the service they launched late last year in memory of their daughter, Evie. Their little girl was born with severe brain damage, and, though she survived until she was three, the multitude of health issues from which she suffered meant she required considerable overnight care.
No-one knew better than the Bladons how exhausting, physically and emotionally, it could be to deal with a child in these circumstances. Wanting to do something in her name, they worked with Camp Simcha and established Evie’s Night Owls, an at-home overnight respite service designed to help parents. Gina Greenwood, a single mother of three, is one of the beneficiaries of the service. She says the Night Owls’ help with her ill son, Jake, has transformed her life. And for the Bladons, continuing to provide respite for exhausted parents will become “Evie’s legacy”.
George Gabriel, chief executive of the Safe Passage campaign, a UK project to bring child refugees to Britain, is in no doubt about the contribution of Jude Williams to his work. “Jude saved the day”, he says, speaking of huge problems faced in trying to bring children from the so-called Calais “jungle” in northern France.
Working with Nic Schlagman, whose mother came to Britain on the Kindertransport, Jude, whose father was caught up in the Holocaust and came to Britain as a refugee in 1945, raised a staggering £200,000 in just three weeks. “They brought a huge amount of energy and public attention to the issue at the critical moment”, says George Gabriel. Just over 1,000 children arrived with Safe Passage’s help, courtesy of Jude Williams’s hands-on initiative.
And the last two nominees for the Community Hero award crossed paths in a way never envisaged by those who named them as finalists — Norman Rosenbaum and Kerry Rosenfeld.
Norman, a scarcely believable 83 and a retired surgeon, has saved thousands of lives in Israel through his fund-raising for Magen David Adom ambulances.
To date he has raised money for an astonishing 11 ambulances, and, despite fighting his own health problems, is now trying for a 12th MDA vehicle. It was, he said half-jokingly, his wife Eve who had pushed him into starting his fund-raising work. “Don’t just sit there earring salmon sandwiches”, she admonished him. “Do something!”
So Norman Rosenbaum did, and now his whole family is involved.
Meanwhile Kerry Rosenfeld, together with her husband Doron, was a nominee for the launch of the vitally important Duchenne Research Fund, after they heard the heartbreaking news that their son Gavriel Meir had been diagnosed with the condition.
So far they have raised more than £7 million in their bid to find a cure for the otherwise fatal condition.
Each one of these stories was touching in itself but when Norman Rosenbaum was announced as the winner — a hugely popular choice — he stunned the organisers, including presenter and TV host Dermot O’Leary, when he asked if he could present his award to Kerry, in Gavriel’s name.
It was a moment which illustrated, if it were needed, quite why Norman Rosenbaum is a Community Hero and how all the nominees deserved recognition and support.