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Winner of Outstanding Contribution to Early Years Community Star Award 2021

25 March 2022

The 2021 annual awards ceremony was postponed from December 2021 to March 2022 due to Covid restrictions. Just under 18,000 votes were recorded for this year’s finalists, who eagerly awaited the announcement of the winner of the category that Better Start Bradford sponsor: the Outstanding Contribution to Early Years.

The competition for the category was tough, with the following finalists:

  • Raymond Young and Maryiam Ahmad, Better Start Bradford Community Champions
  • Sam Thirkhill, who volunteers endless hours supporting families from SHINE West Bowling
  • Tahire Zeneli, who has volunteered at BD4 Family for nine years.

Raymond and Maryiam are exceptionally outstanding volunteers who are extremely active and willing to help with anything.

Raymond and Maryiam were described as a “fantastic duo” by the person who nominated them and have both been volunteering for Better Start Bradford for four years now, as well as volunteering for a number of projects within Better Start Bradford, such as Better Place, HENRY and the Parents in the Lead Activities Fund. Raymond also holds a weekly Better Start Bradford Contact Point at Laisterdyke Library.

The person who nominated them said: “They are exceptionally outstanding volunteers who are extremely active and willing to help with anything that they can be involved in. They have both been through extremely difficult circumstances in life, however, they always manage to volunteer with a bubbly, fun and hard-working attitude. In 2021 alone, they have volunteered at over 25 events.”

Sam leads by example and really connects to families through her personal experiences.

Sam Thirkill has been nominated for contributing “endless hours” on a voluntary basis, supporting the families that access the services of the Shine Project in West Bowling, where she works.

Sam’s nominator said: “Sam leads by example and really connects to families through her personal experiences of having and bringing up children. Everything she supports or runs at the project is done with 100 per cent passion and commitment.”

Sam has set up baby groups, supports refugee families and helps to maintain the food and clothing bank at the centre. She also runs and supports projects including the Little Dots Play Group, story and rhyme time sessions delivered by Better Start Imagine. During the pandemic, Sam was actively involved in ensuring that the doors of the centre were still open to families, while still following government guidelines, and maintained contact with families during this period.

Tahire Zeneli has been nominated for her work in volunteering at BD4 Family for nine years. She has led her own sessions, including a group called ‘Culture Comforts’, which aims to break down cultural barriers within East Bowling and beyond. During the pandemic, Tahire also helped to prepare and deliver hundreds of free activity packs for early years.

She also planned and delivered virtual interactive singing sessions via YouTube and helped to deliver face-to-face group activities for pre-school children and their parents/carers. She also supported the BD4 Family summer programme of activities as part of the HAF (Holidays and Food) funding, supporting children on free school meals.

Mel Astin, Manager of BD4 Family, who nominated Tahire said “Tahire is there for everyone. She is a great listener and carer and puts her community first. She is extremely creative, forward-thinking and continues to help drive change and positive outcomes for early years provision.

It is so easy being me and doing what I do because I have got such an amazing team behind me with BD4 Family.

Finally, the time came to announce the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Early Years’ Award’. The four finalists waited with bated breath while Better Start Bradford Community Board Member and finalist in another category, Ludmila Novosjolova opened the gold shiny envelope with the winner’s name on it.

There were tears all round as Tahire Zeneli climbed the stage to take the winner’s trophy – the award clearly meaning the world to her as the audience applauded her achievement.

Once she had recovered, Tahire said: “When I got the message to say that I had been nominated for a Community Star Award, I didn’t even know it existed. It’s been such a long wait and now it is here and happened and I have won – it’s yay!”

She added “It is so easy being me and doing what I do because I have got such an amazing team behind me with BD4 Family. I just love being around people, and I love kids and talking at their level.”

“These awards are such a fantastic opportunity to say thank you to everyone who volunteers across Bradford. Everyone should give something back, even if just an hour – it’s just amazing being part of something.”

Mel Astin, Manager of BD4 Family said: “This award is well deserved, and it has been a long time coming. Tahire has been part of BD4 Family for nine years and I have seen her grow and grow from being a parent bringing her children to activities to delivering her own sessions. To see her receiving this award is overwhelming – I have been privileged to be part of Tahire’s journey.”

The Community Star Awards are in partnership with Telegraph and ArgusBradford Council and the community campaign ‘People Can Make a Difference’.


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