Get into the spirit at the SOLA awards celebrating our young heroes

A string of glittering awards will celebrate the valuable work of young volunteers, community activists, carers and sports achievers at every level next year.

The Spirit of London Awards (SOLA) has already inspired a generation of youngsters to become mentors in their fields – and to lead a drive away from knife crime and gangs.

The honours system was launched in 2008 and has already paid tribute to film star Sir Michael Caine, football manager Harry Redknapp, EastEnders and Carry On star Barbara Windsor, and The Voice winner Jermaine Jackman.

Other winners have included Britain’s first stem cell donation recipient and campaigner Daniel De Gale, who died shortly before receiving it.

But it is by focusing on less well-known future stars that has given inspiration to thousands.

Awards are made for achievement in the fields of sport, charity, music, education, the arts and business.

Mr Jackman said at the launch on Friday at City Hall: “With these awards we celebrate and recognise young Londoners who do amazing work.”

Double Olympic 400m champion Christine Ohurugu, who retired from the sport last year, said at last week’s launch: “Seeing the impact SOLA had in 2009 made me decide to be a part of something really special.

“The awards are uplifting and that helps communities as much as it helps individuals.”

Winner in 2009, Andre Campbell, added: “Some of the biggest celebrities turned up in 2008, supporting young people, not being selfish and giving them the highest platform in this country.”

Another 2009 winner, Dwayne Miller, said: “A friend of mine had passed away two months before. That showed why it was so important. It meant a lot to us at the time because we were going through a lot of grief.

“Public speaking was not my thing. But afterwards, I was much more comfortable because we went on stage in front of 2,000 people, including celebrities.

“It allowed me to be something I did not think I was – and helped a lot of people in that way. It improved our confidence and changed lives.”

The relaunch is planned as part of the 20th anniversary of the death of teenage Damilola Taylor. A Year of Hope campaign will nurture several projects to combat the rise of knife crime among young people.

Organiser Gary Trowsdale, a former chief executive of the Damilola Taylor Trust, said after the launch: “It was a fantastic evening – I was so pleased with the turnout.

“I don’t think that outside of our team and a select few people many realised what the alumni had been doing – the sheer amount of effort which went into the One Big Community project and then the support work with the Parliamentary commission.

“We said in our alumni-drafted manifesto of change in 2012 that the normalisation of violence affecting young people needed challenging – and challenge it we did. Celebrating young people on a grand scale and empowering positive role model peer groups is central to a best practice public health approach.

“It feels like we’ve gone full circle now and what better time to bring SOLA back than as part of the 20th anniversary legacy campaign for Damilola?”

JS Dance Factory discovered and trained performers who have starred in West End shows such as The Lion King, Matilda and Motown the Musical.

Its founder, Jessica Elliott, said: “Not everyone feels a part of something at school. Our school is a safe place for kids to thrive when they might not have other opportunities.

“Gary Trowsdale told me to get involved. I never realised how important it would be. I went to the London School of Economics and worked for a management consultancy before setting up my own management company.

SOLA was fundamental to my progress. “And I still don’t know who nominated me.”

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