It was all showtime and stagecalls, pomp and papparazzi and triumph and tears at Bridgwater’s mid 19th century town hall this week as the town’s young Mayor Diogo Rodrigues once more put his finger firmly on the pulse of what Bridgwater does best and launched his new ‘Youth Awards’. This year Diogo has done things differently. He’s looked at what we’ve done traditionally and tried something new. Usually Mayor’s have a ‘civic service’, always in a church, the great and good in their chains turn up and the virtues of Bridgwater extolled. This year Diogo chose not to have a Mayor’s Chaplain, so instead of a beating moral compass guided over by a confessor he put on a show right there and then. As only Bridgwater does best.
If Taunton is the overblown pantomime dame and Frome is the dance troupe dressed as cans of beans appearing in the wrong play, then Bridgwater is the Principal boy and Leading lady waiting in the wings about to make their entrance on the big stage. It was lights up, curtains open and a stage full of young singers in costume belting out showtunes. In this case the extremely talented Westcan Showchoir. The room was packed and the audience brought down the rafters with their applause. Which, if literally true would have been a Health and Safety nightmare…
Then Diogo with his own leading lady Cllr Chelsea Chadwick took to the podium (loaned by the Bridgwater Art Centre) and it was suddenly like the Oscars. But a Bridgwater version. Chelsea, in a voice not dissimilar to that of Alan Shearer, explained that both her and Diogo were the youngest councillors on their respective councils (Sedgemoor District and Bridgwater Town) which earned another round of applause. Of course she could have said ‘I keep thinking it’s Tuesday’ and such was the joyous fervour of the evening, that too would have earned an accolade.
Like the Oscars..
At the Oscars you’d have had Michael Douglas or Tom Hanks opening the show (probably) but tonight it was Malcolm Cattle, Bridgwater’s outgoing President of Carnival who, after many years in the business of fronting the Bridgwater glitterati, was literally out going, but not before he was able to tell the story of his own youth and the opportunities provided for young people through Bridgwater’s unique carnival tradition and made special mention of the Town Hall itself as a place where for him it all started and, appropriately, was ending on such an auspicious occaision as this which shone a light onto the talented young people of the town.
The evening was a showbiz montage of reading out the winners, calling them to the stage, posing with the Mayor for a trophy and then being grabbed by the papparazzi – not a pretty sight…
Young winners thanked supportive parents, proud parents praised brave, talented, kind kids, and every now and then another Bridgwater performer or showchoir leapt onto the stage and sang show songs or Amy Winehouse, but the names loom large in the pantheon of Bridgwater talent – Abigail T, Brandon ‘the King’ and once again the Westcan choir.
But the young people whilst often nominated by parents, siblings or school friends had been chosen not by high ranking industry luvvies or councillors (not neccesarily the same thing..) but by young people themselves. The newly established Bridgwater Youth Council, which Diogo set up to include representatives from all the schools and college, sifted through the numerous nominations and came up with the winners. Young people who were enduring hardships in their own life yet showing strength and fortitude through their illness, young people who wanted to help their fellow citizens and had set up collections for the homeless or shaved their hair off to raise money for people in need. And their was tears as the Mayor recalled his own ‘coming out’ as a young gay man when one award went to a young man who had been nominated for precisely that.
Young winners honoured
The list wasn’t endless, so we’ll print it – Millie Selway, Ellie Meek, Keron Day, Uwyn Llewely, Libby Budden, April Stockham, Darren Hill, Finley Larcombe, Eva Miller, Tobias Date, Samuel Hughes and Fabian Golas.
The annual award of the ‘Bridgwater Cup’ was the pinnacle of the evening. Each year the Town awards this prestigious trophy to someone deemed to have contributed something brilliant to the life of the community. This time it went to Kelly Llewellyn for her ‘Just Giving’ shoebox appeal. Kelly spoke of the day her young son came home and asked what they could give to the poor homeless man they saw sat in the street. They set up an appeal and its still going strong today through the generosity of Bridgwater people.
Gemma has a word
But the final word has to go to keynote youth speaker, 18 year old Gemma Shanahan, member of the Youth Council and passionate advocate for young people and for Bridgwater. Gemma took to the stage and spoke clearly and firmly saying “I’m very honoured to be here tonight to witness so many amazing young people being recognized for their incredible work, bravery and resilience. Young people are being underestimated. There is a popular misconception of the youth -that we’re all troublemakers. But we have the potential to change the world. As even Disraeli recognised ‘Almost everything great has been done by the youth’. Sometimes it takes a young person to stand up and say something is wrong to inspire the adults to change it. The bravery of a young person inspiring adults to be brave through tough times. Often the youth have ideas to make a change, but we need the help of those older,those with more experience to help implement it. It’s about working together. Tonight we’ve heard inspiring stories of winners- overcoming hurdles, unfathomable bravery, standing up to what is wrong and simply standing strong when times get tough.That’s what is most incredible about young people is we stand strong, and together.We support each other, and we support others.”
Leader of Bridgwater Town Council Brian Smedley said aftewards ” What I think is, next time you see a small group of young people ‘possibly up to no good’ try to remember they’re a very small percentage of Bridgwater youth. What young people need of course are safe places to meet other young people and environments that can bring out the best in them. That’s why we get to where we are tonight. Celebrating the talent and achievement of the majority of Bridgwaters young people. What a future!”