FORTY proud award winners celebrated their personal journeys having spent up to 18 months working towards their prize.

The Gateway Awards took place at Firstsite with MP Will Quince being the one to hand recipients from Colchester and Tendring their Gold, Silver and Bronze awards.

Flamenco musician Tahir Burhan, a third year Colchester Institute student, provided some complementary entertainment to the 90 guests at the gallery.

Sally Hargrave, fundraising and project manager at Colchester Gateway Club, said: "People had their hair cut and bought new shirts - they're just really proud of what they've achieved and to have that recognition, not just from their families, but from their MP as well, is really heartwarming.

"It's lovely to have his support, especially as he knows about the charity, and for him to meet our members as they're his constituents as well.

"There was a fantastic atmosphere and a great turnout."

Colchester Gateway Club has run the activity award scheme for adults with learning disabilities since 2012.

It is affiliated with Mencap and modelled on the popular Duke of Edinburgh Awards, encouraging people to gain new skills and experiences, become more independent and active in the community.

The minimum time to achieve a Gold award is 18 months, which includes an hour a week of volunteering for an entire year, and is six months for Silver.

As well as volunteering or doing physical challenges, a lot of the commitment is mental with participants breaking personal milestones.

She said: "It could be planning a trip to London or getting on the train, learning to cook or completing a maths course.

"The biggest change I see in people is their willingness to try new things.

"Even people who don't necessarily want to take part in a group activity we've planned, they get something just from watching and been part of that activity, and making friends as a result.

"When you have a learning disability, it's not always as simple to just ring a friend and arrange to meet for coffee, which is the reason the Gateway Club is so important."

Special thanks were paid to funders the People’s Health Trust and Fowler, Smith and Jones Charitable Trust.

For more information, click here