Abdi’s message of inspiration for new heroes

HEROES of the community are encouraging people to nominate those who make a real difference to everyday life in Camden

Ed Thomas

HEROES of the community are encouraging people to nominate those who make a real difference to everyday life in Camden.

Past winners of the Epic awards - Exceptional People In Camden - say the accolades help build positive role models and will inspire people to help others.

Nominations opened last week, and organiser Camden Council is keen for people to get voting ahead of a glitzy award ceremony in Koko this summer.

Two years ago Abdi Arshe, 24, picked up an Epic award for his exceptional work with young people, particularly among the Somali community in Somers Town.

"We used to get a lot of bad press about young Somalis being useless louts, fighting all the time, and that we were all drug dealers and gang members - which just wasn't true," he said.

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"We wanted to show that young Somalis were successful and did contribute to the community in a positive way."

Abdi organised a Bridging the Gap event, to show that only a small minority of Somali youths were bad news and the majority were hard working, ambitious young people. Since winning the award he has become a fully qualified youth worker and hopes others will follow his lead.

"I love what I do now. I work with young people in their own territory on the streets and don't tell them what to do but encourage them to get involved in different projects and offer help in things like getting back into school, finding a job or if they're having housing problems we can help them with that as well," he said.

"I was proud to receive the Epic award and feel very privileged to be the first Somali young adult to be recognised for my achievements.

"I believe that it is important for there to be positive role models within my community. In every community there are good people who want to do positive things and I hope my award inspires others to make a difference, taking action, getting involved in learning how to do things by empowering themselves to be future leaders of their communities."

Anyone who lives or works in the borough is eligible to vote for their hero in the awards which are sponsored by the Ham&High. There are eight categories for nominations: Exceptional Young Person, Exceptional Work with Young People, Exceptional Contribution to the Local Environment, Exceptional Contribution to Sport and Leisure, Exceptional Contribution to the Arts and Culture, Exceptional Contribution to Community Safety, Exceptional Carer, and Exceptional Older Person.

The closing date for nominations is April 4. Top prizes are up for grabs, including a Eurostar trip and shopping vouchers for nominators.

Formerly homeless Michael Stratton was the winner of the Exceptional Carer title in 2006. He too hopes people will put forward the names of community heroes in order to reward them and continue transforming lives in the borough.

"If staging the Epic awards encourages just one more person to help others less fortunate than themselves then it's a great thing," said Mr Stratton, who set up the London Mobile Christmas Service offering homeless people a hot hearty meal, a place to keep warm, clean clothes and even a hair cut.

"These people who give up their own free time, without being paid should be recognised. I would say to anyone who knows somebody who selflessly help others to pick up a pen and get nominating."

Last year actor and comedian Griff Rhys Jones announced the results, and another celebrity is being lined up this year for the ceremony in Koko in June. Winners will be picked via a public vote and a final judging panel.

Nomination forms are available at your local leisure centre, library or council office or at the Ham&High offices in Swiss Cottage. Alternatively, log onto www.hamhigh.co.uk or www.camden.gov.uk/epics or fill out the enclosed coupon.