Stars of Norfolk and Waveney Awards were a beacon of positivity in this gloomy December

EDP Stars of Norfolk and Waveney 2020 Awards at Norwich Cathedral.

EDP Stars of Norfolk and Waveney 2020 Awards at Norwich Cathedral. Karen Fulcher, Overall Star of Norfolk and Waveney, with Joshua Hopkins, senior land manager, Hopkins Homes, David Powles, editor of the Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News, Lord-Lieutenant, Lady Philippa Dannatt. - Credit: Simon Finlay Photography

Friday, December 11 was unremarkable on many fronts; one of those days that never really gets going. Sluggish skies that marginally lighten as the day moves forward, before giving up entirely, as if exhausted by the effort, abandoning us to a grumpy half-light far earlier than ought be.

I love our cathedral to bits but negotiating The Close amid bollards and a strange new traffic system, did little to lift the spirits. It was 9:35am and I was due to be at the  Stars of Norfolk and Waveney Awards 2020 from 10am until 3pm. On arrival, Budge, the omniscient cathedral cat, slunk past, glancing furtively and disdainfully over his shoulder before firmly ignoring me altogether.

He was off to his chosen spot, on top of the heating grids within the cathedral itself. I was destined for six hours in the cloisters, with no such luxury available. A long day beckoned, the promised refectory lunch still barely on the horizon.

And it was cold, that damp cold that penetrates right through, regardless of the number of layers. Did that matter? Not one jot. Seldom, if ever, have I been more moved, or indeed so incredibly proud, to be among some of Norfolk’s finest women, men and children of today. They came, with their families, from all walks of life and every corner of the county. None of them expected recognition for their remarkable deeds. ‘It‘s just what you do, isn’t it? I never expected a fuss like this, I feel like royalty, I do really.’

The same sentiment was echoed time and time again. Editor David Powles and his team left no stone unturned in ensuring the individual ceremonies were not only Covid safe, but profoundly intimate and hugely joyful at the same time. The day whizzed by, hand warmers generously circulated - and the parsnip soup for lunch was as welcome as it was delicious.

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How many of that day’s award winners would expect to be compared to St Nicholas I wonder? I recently stumbled across a story detailing what is known about the man behind the legend; a gentle fourth century bishop who apparently rescued three young sisters from prostitution by dropping three sacks of gold coins through their window at night; thus, enabling their impoverished father to pay his daughter’s dowries, and see them happily married. So far, not much of a connection to us here in Norfolk, one might be tempted to think.

Except we are told that St Nick, far from being the ‘chubby and plump, right jolly old elf’ affectionately described by Clement Clarke Moore, and firmly rooted in our childhood consciousness, was instead a rich but shy and humble young man (hence the anonymous night-time deliveries of gold) intent only on easing the hardship of others. This he did through a great number of supremely kind and generous acts, claiming no recognition for himself, only for the God he loved and served.

So perhaps mine was not such a fanciful suggestion after all. In any event, we owe our winners, along with the thousands of individuals like them, all quietly reaching out across our Norfolk communities this Christmas, a profound debt of gratitude. It is they, each demonstrating such simple acts of human kindness, who are quietly transforming the lives of the individuals and families who need it most of all.
St Nicholas, patron Saint of children, would surely endorse the words contained in the traditional advent prayer ‘Let me be a child again, just for Christmas Eve, let me know the simple truth, that little ones believe.

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Happy Christmas everyone.

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