Two County Durham men have received a prestigious award for their selfless contribution to their communities.

Barry Cook and Dr Robert McManners were granted the Chairman’s Medal, the highest accolade that Durham County Council can award to individuals and organisations for outstanding voluntary contribution to County Durham.

Sixty-five year old Barry accepted his medal in recognition of his long-term service to Consett Rugby Club and the Consett community. In his fifty-year association with the club, Barry, who was born, brought up and still lives in Consett, has held a variety of roles, including chairman, secretary and captain. He also strategically developed the club’s Mini and Junior section, providing the town’s young people with a structured environment in which they could thrive and develop.

In 2012/13, Barry was awarded both the ‘Derwentside, Contribution to Sport Award’ by Derwentside Leisure Services and the ‘Durham Sport, Contribution to Sport Award’ by Durham County Sport, for the development of sports within the community.

His work at the club has all been undertaken on an unpaid basis, with his love for the game, a passion for making sport accessible and commitment to providing opportunities for young people, inspiring him to volunteer his time and energy.

As a former PE teacher and school sports coordinator, Barry enjoyed a long career at the school he attended as a youth, the former Blackfyne School, now Consett Academy, where he introduced thousands of youngsters into sport.

Barry Cook receiving the Chairman’s Medal from Cllr Watts Stelling

Barry said: “Growing up, my parents encouraged me to take part in and try a wide variety of activities, including sporting and cultural ones. I found them to be very positive and rewarding experiences and was keen to offer similar opportunities to local young people. I think the world of sport can help children to develop and lead a happier and fulfilling life. I’m extremely happy to receive this award and I hope it inspires even more community and child-development focused activities in the community.”

Dr Robert McManners OBE received his Chairman’s Medal for his proud and passionate efforts in helping to improve both the wellbeing of people in Bishop Auckland and the environment of the town.

As a well-loved and respected former GP, Ferryhill-born Robert cared for Bishop Auckland residents, trained fellow GPs and held clinics in the local hospital but also extended his duty to caring for the community, as well as its individuals.

As a result, he became involved in a number of medical, social, historical and environmental projects, giving an incredible amount of time to the development of Bishop Auckland and always going the extra mile to enhance and promote the town.

Robert gives his time to many wide-ranging groups, including The Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Appeal andnumerous fundraising cycle rides for local charities and organisations.He chairs Bishop Auckland’s Civic Society, Choral Society, Operatic Society, Drama Society, The Felons’ Society in Coundon, and the Bishop Auckland Heritage Action Zone. Robert was also a founder trustee of Bishop Auckland Rugby Club and of Auckland Castle Trust and The Auckland Project.

As a member of the Bishop Auckland in Bloom Committee and Brighter Bishop Auckland Partnership, Robert has been influential in shaping the regeneration and transformation of the town.

Working with writing partner, Gillian Wales, the pair, in partnership with The Auckland Project, created the first designated Mining Art Gallery nationally when Robert and Gillian donated their Gemini Collection of almost five hundred paintings of mining art to form the gallery.

These efforts are attracting visitors to the area, supporting employment opportunities for local people, raising the profile of Bishop Auckland and helping to boost the town’s economy.

Robert said: “I have always been fascinated by our locality, by its landscapes, its industries, its traditions and its people. I have been fortunate, working with excellent people, to have been able to combine all these interests into my profession and hobbies – none has been a chore – all have been a very rewarding pleasure for me.”

Presenting Barry and Robert with their medals, the council’s Chairman, Cllr Watts Stelling, said: “Barry is a very worthy recipient of this award. During his career he has given so many youngsters a chance to get involved in sport and experience the benefits it can bring, such as improved physical and mental wellbeing, a chance to make friends, learn new skills and boost their confidence. It’s fantastic that Barry is still working as a volunteer for Consett RFC at 65.

“Robert’s award reflects the appreciation of his tireless work in Bishop Auckland over the years, which has been welcomed and valued by his local community. The time he gives to all these activities is given voluntarily and enthusiastically and is an excellent and inspiring example to others.”

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