Goodbye 2011 - the year that changed these Norwich people’s lives

Love or hate her ideas, Tania Sidney-Roberts set up a free school – encouraged by education secretary Michael Gove and hailed by prime minister David Cameron on a visit to see pupils in class. She will always remember 2011 as the year she became principal of the first school to sit outside local authority control – Norwich Free School on Surrey Street, which opened in September.

Mrs Sidney-Roberts said: 'The defining moment of my 2011 is the opening ceremony in August. It was at that point it really sank in I had succeeded. The local community was largely supportive of what we were doing.'

Josie Phillips, who circum-navigated Britain in 2010 whilst battling a malignant brain tumour, was singled out in January as one of the world's most inspiring sailors.

She was named in the top ten most inspirational sailors by She raised more than �16,000 for Brain Tumour Research and The Big C.

The junior doctor from Newmarket Street said: 'I was quite surprised to be up against famous sailors. It re-emphasises what I've done is a good challenge. It reminds us of how proud I am of what I did last year.'

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Twenty-nine-year-old Dudley Garner, from Cringleford, was forced to leave his job as a financial advisor due to brain damage suffered when a car struck him in Norwich city centre. What resulted was his record label turned from a hobby into a career, and he now has a portfolio of acts attached to All Sorted!?! Records.

'I hope 2012 will bring my ongoing claim to an end and allow me to get on with my life, whilst helping my acts take steps towards bigger successes,' he said.

'My overiding memory of 2011 is my wedding. My wife Cat has been amazing in supporting me and giving me the chance to feel worthwhile in pushing forward.'

Then there was the story of the regular guy striking lucky. Twenty-seven-year-old call centre manager Kevin Thurston, from Taverham Road, Dereham, won �50,000 in a poker competition in Spain when lady luck dealt him pocket aces – the best cards you can have at the beginning of a game – in the final in April.

Mr Thurston did live in Threescore, Colney, but his winnings – including �15,000 three weeks later in Coventry – led to him buying his Dereham home outright.

He is now getting ready to play in the World Series in Las Vegas.

The Evening News came in for thanks when Norman Sandell won his personal battle. The 72-year-old suffers from a leaking heart valve and was told his only hope of improvement was a MitraClip device which needed special approval, and he was refused funding.

Following an appeal by his doctor and coverage in the Evening News, Mr Sandell, of Wycliffe Road, near Eaton Park in Norwich, was referred to Hammersmith Hospital where a consultant said he would be happy to do the procedure in February.

What better time is there to reflect on a miracle birth than at Christmas? That is exactly what one Norwich mum has been doing after her new-born son defy all expectations.

Twenty-year-old Laura Hill, from Anchor Street, near Barrack Street, Norwich, gave birth prematurely to Charlie in the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital in March after he was given a one per cent chance of survival.

Ms Hill said: 'Miracles can happen – go by your heart and what you believe in. If I had not believed in Charlie I would have given up and he would not be here today.'

For 26-year-old Rachel Lane, from Wymondham, 2011 was about realising her dreams in the face of extreme hardship.

The marketing accounts executive has battled cancer for three years and this year was inspired by a Hollywood movie to grab life by the scruff of the neck, drawing up a list of things she always wanted to do.

By September 3 she had met Jools Holland, sipped champagne and eaten strawberries on centre court at Wimbledon and seen Rod Stewart play live. Now she plans to go to Las Vegas.

Inspirational Alex Symington took to the catwalk to help raise half a million pounds for Breast Cancer Care, despite suffering from the disease herself. The 28-year-old from Taverham wore designs by top designers such as Vivienne Westwood and took to the stage with 23 other models at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane on October 5.

Brave Thorpe St Andrew mum-of-two Mel San Horton, n�e Curtis, 2011 was a year of mixed emotions.

The 46-year-old received news that her bowel cancer had spread and took the decision to marry her partner, Kristian.

What followed was an overwhelming example of human compassion and generosity, as a simple message posted by her mum on an online forum lead to a photographer, hair stylist, manicurist, chauffeur, wedding planner and a hotel in Cyprus offering their services free of charge, to give her the wedding she always dreamed of in September.

For the trio of heroic young Virgin Active staff who first appeared in the Evening News on October 4 was about finding qualities they never knew they had. For Helen Barnes, David Loughman and Luke Matthew, all of whom work at Norfolk Health and Racquets Club in Drayton Road, became life savers in October when 44-year-old father Lyndon Green's heart stopped beating while exercising.

A month later Mr Green shocked his heroes by showing up at a Virgin Active awards ceremony to present them with an award for bravery.

They don't come much more inspiring than the New Costessey swimmer aiming for London 2012, despite having no limbs. Helen Dolphin swam all her life until she contracted meningitis age 22. Now 36, she has rediscovered her passion for the pool and is in with a shot at the Paralympic Games, having won four gold medals at November's National Short Course Swimming Championships in Sheffield.

She said: 'I've upped my training, not got much of a break over Christmas. A very busy year but very enjoyable.

'Everyone should try and keep fit, that is why I do it. Plus it's the only sport I can do!'

The story of Grace Matthews touched many hearts. The four-year-old from Bacton Road, Mile Cross, lost her legs through meningitis.

But this year has seen the youngster take giant steps. She has travelled to Parliament as part of a campaign, met a 'bionic man' to see his prosthetic leg and had a neighbour's Christmas lights display raise money for her.

And in the past month her parents told of the overwhelming moment when they saw her walk again, using her prosthetic legs unaided for the first time. 'We are really, really proud of her. She is unbelievable, how she gets through everything, like there is nothing wrong.'

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