Stephen Birdsall 5378 Stephen Birdsall 5378

Inspirational young military ‘heroes’ honoured at inaugural event

A young girl who has endured a series of major operations was among the children honoured in the first ever awards to recognise youngsters in North Yorkshire’s Armed Forces communities.

Lyla O’ Donovan, aged 11. of Catterick, who has undergone 20 operations after being diagnosed with a brain tumour, was crowned “Inspirational Service Child of the Year” at North Yorkshire Council’s first-ever Service Children’s Awards.

The ceremony took place in the Garden Rooms of Tennants Auctioneers in Leyburn, shining a spotlight on the extraordinary achievements and contributions of North Yorkshire’s service children and those everyday heroes who help and inspire them.

Diagnosed with a rare brain tumour at just three years old, Lyla, who attends Le Cateau Community Primary School in Catterick Garrison, has become an inspirational figure despite the challenges she has faced.

After having spent years in and out of hospital for treatment and major surgeries, Lyla has been fundraising and organising treats for seriously ill children all over the country.

Her father, Paul O’Donovan, who is in the Army, claimed his daughter is so deserving of this recognition.

He said: “Lyla is over the moon to win this award. Being a service child is so difficult at the best of times and this award makes that extra special.

“She faces so many challenges but in true Lyla spirit she cracks on and always tries her best.

“We registered as a charity in 2021 so that we can help more families that have been affected the same way we have. We provide special days out, holidays and small wishes to children under 16.

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“We have helped and supported thousands of children over the past few years and I am so proud of what Lyla is doing.”

He added: “It would have been easy for her to be sad and feel sorry for herself, but she didn’t. Instead, she has used her situation to help others and that is something we as a family are super proud of her and I thank North Yorkshire Council for honouring her courage and determination.”

North Yorkshire has a proud history associated with the Armed Forces which dates back more than a century, and there are 10,770 military personnel in the county – one of the largest numbers nationally.

There are currently 3,653 Service children in 223 schools across county. Military children face challenges related to regularly moving home, deployments of serving parents and the impact of these challenges on their emotional well-being.

North Yorkshire Council’s executive member for children and families, Cllr Janet Sanderson, said: “We are proud to launch the first-ever Service Children’s Awards here in North Yorkshire. We feel it’s important that the children, young people and those who support them should be celebrated and that it was important to share their stories to inspire others.

“We had an amazing 92 children, young people and organisations nominated this year and after the difficult job of shortlisting, we had a total of nine outstanding winners. My congratulations to all those who were nominated and the winners.”

Among the other award winners was Stephen Birdsall, a drama and dance teacher at Richmond School and Sixth-Form College.

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He is prominent figure at the school and has developed close links with pupils who are from Armed Forces families. He was crowned “Service Children Advocate”.

Mr Birdsall said: “The award is a testament to the leadership of the school, the amazing teaching and support staff as well as the service students themselves. The opportunities, support and guidance they are given by themselves and the school I would say is second to none.

“I am immensely proud of attaining the award, but I would also like to say that it wouldn’t have been possible without the support and commitment of my colleagues, service students, their parents and the wider Richmond School and Sixth Form College community.”

Meanwhile, the federation of Beckwithshaw and Kettlesing Felliscliffe Primary Schools, near Harrogate, won the “Service Children Friendly School” accolade.

Headteacher Victoria Kirkman said: “Not only does this celebrate all we do for service families, but shows that we are consistent with our approach across the schools in our federation.

“To be awarded this accolade is an honour and I would like to thank the Beckwithshaw and Kettlesing communities for their continued support.”

North Yorkshire Council’s Armed Forces Champion, Cllr Kevin Foster, who was on the judging panel, said: “As a service child I am aware of some of the different challenges the children face. I was honoured to be asked to be part of the judges panel it was not an easy task, but we got there in the end. I would like to thank the organisers who I think did a great job and congratulate all the children nominated for awards not just the winners.”

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The authority’s champion for young people, Cllr Alyson Baker, who was also one of the judges, added: “North Yorkshire has a long and proud history of supporting the Armed Forces community and I feel privileged to have been part of this special ceremony celebrating and honouring service children who face so many challenges in their day to day lives.”

Here is a full list of the award winners:

Inspirational Service Child of the Year – Lyla O’Donovan, Catterick.

Service Children Advocate – Stephen Birdsall, Richmond.

Service Children Friendly School – Beckwithshaw and Kettlesing, Harrogate.

Service Children Friendly Club – e50K Catterick.

Creative Champion – Luke Wagstaff, Bedale.

Community Champion –  Riley Manuel, Catterick.

Musical Champion – Hazel Brittenden, Scorton.

Sporting Champion – Benedict Simpson-Alexander, Richmond.

Caring Champion – Kacey Clark, Catterick.

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