Hackney Council has celebrated the borough's "unsung heroes" by presenting three individuals and three organisations with civic awards.

The winners received their prizes on Wednesday, November 23 at the seventh annual I Love Hackney Mayor's Civic Awards.

They were chosen for their selfless and positive contributions to the community.

In total, 174 organisations and individuals were nominated.

Paul Fosu, Hawa Daboh Sesay and Joyclen Buffong received civic awards in the individual category while Hackney Migrant Centre, Apex and Connecting All Communities came top of the organisation section.

Hackney Gazette: The winners preparing to receive their awards at Hackney Town HallThe winners preparing to receive their awards at Hackney Town Hall (Image: Jannine Newman)

Individual Awards

Diagnosed with polio at a young age but committed to maintaining his health through exercise, Paul Fosu was inspired to support the physical health of the community.

He delivers free exercise classes to elderly and disabled people, as well as those suffering with mental health and chronic health conditions.

Paul said: "I used to go to the gym to do exercise to help me improve the strength in my legs but I didn't find any other disabled people [there].

"I wanted to support disabled people working out as well because they [often] don't think they are able to go to the gym and do the stuff non-disabled people do."

His classes range from sosa, a seated salsa dance class, to boccia, seated bowling.

Hackney Gazette: Paul Fosu runs free exercise classes for disabled and elderly peoplePaul Fosu runs free exercise classes for disabled and elderly people (Image: Jannine Newman)

Hawa Daboh Sesay founded the Hawa Trust charity to support vulnerable women affected by female genital mutilation (FGM), violence and abuse.

Joyclen Buffong is the founder of community organisation, RISE.365, which supports young people and their families through mentoring programmes, supplementary tuition and parent support programmes.

When the pandemic hit, Joyclen established an emergency food shop in Kingsmede to fight food poverty in the area, run by over 40 volunteers most of whom are young people.

"It's about us understanding the importance that we can all have within society, and our individual responsibiliies within our communties", she said.

"The young people had also never seen a time like it before and it just made sense to bring those things together and let them take ownership of their space."

She added: "[The civic award is] very meaningful to me in terms of where I work and contributing back to society."

Hackney Gazette: Joyclen Buffong, founder of RISE.365Joyclen Buffong, founder of RISE.365 (Image: Jannine Newman)

Organisation Awards

Led by Faisal Pirbhai, Apex provides provisions for young people, including in education, drama and sports as well as mentoring, coaching and family support.

During the pandemic, Apex supplied iPads, laptops and tablets to many disadvantaged pupils alongside offering support to families to ensure students' education did not suffer.

Hackney Migrant Centre (HMC) has been supporting refugeeds, asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants in need for over ten years.

It provides free advice and support services including support with immigration, housing, welfare and access to health.

Rayah Feldman, founder of HMC, said: "Our ethos is that we'll give adivce to any migrants, whatever their nationality, whatever their immigration status.

"Although, if they're actually eligible for mainstream support, in most cases, we'll tell them where to go because that's not our expertise - we have a particucar expertise in people who have irregular immigration status', including undocumented migrants."

Reflecting on HMC's opening in 2008, Rayah said: "At the beginning... it was much easier to get legal help. Since then, a lot of immigration departments have closed down, legal aid got tightened down and restricted...

"The hostile environment has made it much worse and people come with really big problems and often really difficult histories, especially women."

Hackney Gazette: Founder of HMC, Rayah Feldman (right), and director of HMC, Charlotte Buckley (left)Founder of HMC, Rayah Feldman (right), and director of HMC, Charlotte Buckley (left) (Image: Jannine Newman)

Rounding off the winners was Connecting All Communities, a group of volunteers led by Shukri Adan who aim to tackle segregation and foster community cohesion through events such as Eid in the Park and dinners for rough sleepers.

Nominations for the council's civic awards closed on July 31. The winners were chosen on August 17 by a judging panel.

The judges were Hackney mayor Philip Glanville; Dr Ronx, an A&E doctor and public figure; Euphemia Chukwu, CEO of non-profit organisation Fame Star Youth; Collette Allen, director of charity Hackney Quest; and Hackney Gazette reporter Tara Mewawalla.