The 2019 Fusion Awards honoured charity champions and volunteers from across the North West.

The packed ceremony at King George’s Hall in Blackburn last night celebrated the work of community cohesion campaigners as well as highlighting the most feel good stories from the past year.

The awards were presented by the BBC's Monika Plaha.

And in a touching moment on the night finalists and guests stood up to applaud the Community Cohesion Award winner, Andrew Graystone. 

Andrew who gave an impassioned speech as he accepted the award retelling the day when he woke up and decided to stand outside a mosque following the New Zealand Terror attacks.

He was holding up a cardboard sign with a handwritten message: “You are my friends. I will keep watch while you pray.”

VIDEO Filmed and Edited by Shakil Salam

The Mancunian’s message of solidarity after the Christchurch massacre went viral.

After the prayers had concluded, hundreds came out to thank Andrew who was unaware the imam had commended his actions.

Within 24 hours, Andrew had received over 100,000 messages of support.

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The award was supported by Blackburn with Darwen Council and Our Communities and Our Future.

Speaking on stage he said, “On the 15th March I woke up to the news of the awful attacks New Zealand. My first thought was I wonder how Muslims in my home city and in Levenshulme would be waking up and hearing that news and going to Jummah.

“So, I decided I would meet people at the Medina Mosque. I thought I would look a bit silly so I grabbed a piece of cardboard and wrote on it.”

On receiving messages of support he added, “What People were ‘yes’ to was not me but it was the idea that friendship is better than fear.”

Finalists in 2019 included, Planet Mercy, Near Neighbours Lancashire, The Al-Imdaad Foundation and Hidden Gems.

The Lifetime Community Achievement award went to Bolton's Chandrakant Parmar.

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Known to many as Chan Parmar, (centre) he has worked in many roles but is best known for his role as a Strategic Officer with the Bolton Interfaith Council. 

It is a role from which he retired this year yet aged 70 he still finds time to volunteer with community groups in his hometown. 

He said his journey had always been one where he wanted to create more understanding between cultures, “We have a shared vision where we all live in peace and harmony and build trust.”

Earlier he spoke of this message with regards to Inter-faith work, “As we all know, all our faiths have a common thread inbuilt as humanitarian values of kindness, compassion, empathy, respect, love, tolerance for all mankind. No faith tells you to harm or hurt anyone. 

“We also know there are lots of people- doing good work for whole communities in all our faiths in the world. 

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The first Asian female mayor of Lancashire was presented the Woman of the Year award.

Hasina Khan of Chorley who has also campaigned for women’s rights locally dedicated her award to ‘every single female in Lancashire’ in her acceptance speech.

She said, “It is a great honour to be here today. I am absolutely delighted to win the award.

“This is dedicated to all the women in Lancashire.”

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The ClearTwo Man of the Year Award was presented to volunteer Neil Mistry who helped to establish a community group which assists homeless people.

Speaking on stage he said, “My journey started six years ago in spring 2013 when I had seen a Facebook post looking for people to join a car park in Canterbury Street providing food for the homeless. So I decided to do it.

“I say this award should be for everybody who helps the charity.”

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The 2019 BAE Systems Youth Leadership award went to a youth club first established in Preston back in 1975. The Youth Club at Gujarat Hindu Society remains the longest Asian youth club still running in the region.

A representative said on the night, “Thank you so much for this recognition tonight. Thank you the Fusion Awards and thank you to the GHS for giving us this opportunity not just as youth leaders but as youth coming together.”

A small group of women 45-70 years old who raise money through cooking were named the Community Group of the Year. 

The group has attracted small funding but to sustain the group they charge £3 for a plate of food with as many helpings as a person would like!

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The Curry Club were presented the award by Lancashire's Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw.

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A special award honoured the work of Stand Up to Racism (SUTR) and Unite Against Fascism (UAF).
North West members organised a range of protests across Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside. 

Among those was an event where 80 people rallied in support of Manchester's Didsbury Mosque. Far right groups and supporters had planned a protest outside the building.  

Their most high-profile campaign in the run up the 2019 EU elections mobilised people in the North West to stop far right leader Tommy Robinson being elected as MEP for the North West Region.

A spokesperson said, "There were so many people across the North West that supported us and got involved. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the work that everyone around the North West did. It's wonderful that the work we did as community activists got recognition."

In sport, Manchester based swimmer Afia Minhas won the SKT Welfare Achievement in Sport Award.

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Afia Minhas has been swimming since she was five-years-old and took part in her first competition, ‘Rising Stars’ at Manchester Aquatics Centre at the age of nine. Her swimming club, City of Manchester Aquatics and her school The Barlow RC High School liaise with each other to ensure all targets are met.

Her hard work has seen her soar in success with Afia accumulating a hoard of medals and trophies.  Afia has also swum competitively in Pakistan and holds four national records and was also named top national athlete in her age group.

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The 2019 AMT Lawyers Football Championships official draw also took place on stage with guests Adnan Ahmed and Nathan Ellington.

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The Mumtaz Ellahi Community Sports Award went to Oldham's Red Star Bengal. The club have helped to inspire a new level of pride in their community.

Established in 1986 the club has continued to provide football as a tool to divert younger members of the community in town away from drugs, violence and anti-social behaviour, as well as playing a key role in breaking cultural and religious barriers.

They currently holds Sunday training sessions, in partnership with Oldham Athletic Community Trust (OACT) for Under 11s , Under 16s and Open Age and Vets.

The club regularly organises junior, youth and adult local, regional and national football tournaments to bring communities together.

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The Trinity College London supported Education Achievement Award was presented to teenager Sahil Usman.

Sahil fell ill in the summer of 2018 whilst on holiday. After returning to the UK he was diagnosed with leukaemia and spent months at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. The Queen Elizabeth School pupil returned home in the autumn but had to make regular visits to hospital for treatments.

Sahil decided to raise funds himself through sponsorship and collections and bought all the presents assisted by his cousin Maleeha. He donated his own spending money to the final amount which helped him buy specially selected crisps, sweets and even a scarf.

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Minister for Business and Industry Andrew Stephenson MP was on hand to present the Entrepreneur of the Year Award to Sarwat Jaleel,

Clitheroe based Sarwat launched Kushboo, a natural and hand-crafted soap brand. Sarwat, from Clitheroe came up with the idea after she had spent some time in hospital.  

The concept very soon parlayed into ‘Kushboo’ which is now being  stocked in over 70 outlets throughout the country and a flourishing website Kushboo is 100% natural and does not contain SLS’s, parabens or other chemicals with ethically sourced natural plant-based ingredients.

Speaking on stage she said, "For every soap I sell I donate another to  across three charities a women's refuge, a food bank and Homeless charity here in Blackburn.

"Well, you might think what is a bar of soap going to do. Actually for me it is the very small things that make a difference."