Tonight, Thursday 15th October, has been one of the most nail-biting and eagerly anticipated events of the Soldiering On Awards’ virtual calendar! Tonight saw the announcements of the winners in our public vote categories: Animal Partnership and People’s Choice, as well as the highly coveted Inspiration Award. This tremendous Zoom event brought together the finalists of these categories, along with their nominators, sponsors, judges, colleagues, families and friends.
One outstanding moment that’s worth a special mention was when SOA Ambassador, Carly Paoli, sang Happy Birthday to one of our finalists in the People’s Choice category. The charming, inspirational hero of the Isle of Man, Hector Duff OBE, MM. Ld’H celebrated his 101st birthday – and we were so thrilled to share his special moment!
Tonight’s ceremony was hosted by RAF Veteran, best-selling author, and SOA Ambassador, John Nichol.
The ceremony was also attended by the category finalists and sponsors, judges including Vice-President of the Soldiering On Awards, Debra Allcock-Tyler; Helen Helliwell, Defence People and Families (MOD), Gavin Paton, Army Sergeant Major, and WO1 Glenn Haughton OBE, Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chiefs of Staff Committee.
As the winners found out, the news was simultaneously shared across social media channels.
The Earl Howe, Patron of the Soldiering On Awards said: “Despite the new virtual backdrop, the evening was a tremendous hour of celebration. All the finalists’ achievements cover an impressively wide range, from driving change in the Armed Forces environment and supporting our veterans’ community, to fields beyond Service life – be that sport, business, charity-work or public service.
“As the scope and prominence of these Awards has increased with each passing year, they add ever more value through the strong and positive messages that recognition gives to the vital and impressive work being done by our Nominees, Finalists and Winners in their communities.
“Huge congratulations to ALL our fantastic 2020 winners and finalists. Each and every one of you is an inspiration to us all.”
About this Award
This special Award honours the unique relationships and companionship provided by animals, and/or the achievements of individuals or organisations engaged with animals that support or empower members of the Armed Forces community. The Winner of this category was selected by public vote – THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to vote earlier this year!
So, in this ever-popular category that allowed YOU to vote for your favourite contender, our finalists were:
Barry Coase and Bella – Bichon Frise Bella offers comfort, waking Barry from nightmares and calming him down when he suffers from anxiety attacks.
Battling On Animals and Staff – supporting Veterans in need using animal therapy; training them to become instructors and mentors to further support vulnerable people.
Chris Lewis and Jet – an inseparable partnership, walking together around the whole of the UK to raise funds for SSAFA.
Stable Lives – providing respite days and equine-assisted personal development courses to support Veterans and their families, particularly those living with PTSD and other mental trauma.
You can read more about these finalists here.
We are delighted to announce that the Winner is…
Chris Lewis and Jet
Chris Lewis said: “The fact of the matter is we found each other, the way me and Jet came about, she changed the way I think about things, and my walk, so it has been seriously special. I’m so proud to have been a part of this, I’m really honoured and I wish I was there to see all of you guys and shake your hand.”
After leaving the Parachute Regiment, Chris Lewis spent ten years raising his daughter as a single parent. Life was not easy and, at crisis point, Chris faced debt, homelessness and the fear of his family being separated. He became very secluded but received invaluable support from ABF The Soldiers Charity, The Airborne Forces Security Fund and SSAFA’s “Last Resort” Fund.
When his daughter went off to college Chris vowed to give something back. Aiming to raise £100,000 for SSAFA, he set off from Swansea in August 2017 to walk right around the United Kingdom. The following January he met Jet, a poorly looked after working dog, and the two have been inseparable ever since.
Chris and Jet forged an empathic bond and, as walking partners, they have covered many thousands of miles together, showing fantastic teamwork. They have turned from being isolated and inward looking to always looking forward, and their story offers hope to others who face struggles and withdraw from life. Chris says, “I was a little bit broken and she was too.” They face challenges together: “the hard parts are the most beautiful.” In the summer heat of August 2018 Chris had to carry Jet across the Isle of Skye.”
Together for nearly two years, the pair have so far raised £79,000 for SSAFA. They have earned the respect of peers worldwide, with almost 30,000 followers on Facebook. Their social media posts show the incredible beauty of the UK’s landscape, our precious wildlife and its amazing people. They have also raised awareness of the sacrifices made by our Armed Forces, in both war and peacetime, by showing the many memorials along our coastline. A 2019 calendar of their walk photos added to their fundraising.
But over and above this fundraising, their walk has illustrated far more about the Armed Forces family; the kindness and support from others has been outstanding. Chris and Jet have reciprocated by visiting schools and Veterans’ breakfast clubs to talk about their journey. They are both becoming inspirational teachers.
“Chris and Jet are the embodiment of Soldiering On. Their achievement in walking the coastline together for almost two years shows commitment, tenacity, courage, and physical and mental skill.”
Lt Colonel Ren Kapur MBE, CEO of X-Forces Enterprise and Co-Chair of the Soldiering On Awards said:
“Yet another incredible group of winners and finalists, I am humbled and proud to be part of the Armed Forces Family and what we together stand for. The last four weeks of celebration have been so wonderful. It has been especially poignant to gather everyone together and celebrate our amazing community in these challenging times.”
“Next week I will be hosting a livestream event, alongside Jade Callaway, BFBS Broadcaster, live from the BFBS Studio in Chalfont St Peter. Please join us in celebrating all of the finalists, winners, judges and sponsors for 2020 before we unveil the e winner of the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award.”
A word from our Sponsor…
“At Pets at Home, we understand what a positive impact pet ownership can have on people’s lives and wellbeing. This particular category not only goes through the rigorous internal judging process but the chosen four finalists then go through to a public vote. This year the public voted in huge numbers; 6,532 across all the 4 finalists. Roughly a 148% increase on last year. We’re extremely proud to sponsor the Animal Partnership Category in celebration of these exceptional pets, who provide invaluable support to their owners and the wider veteran community.”