AN inspirational volunteer who supports disadvantaged young people through fishing has enjoyed the glitz and glamour of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards.
Graham Cridland, from Burns Road, in Pound Hill, was named this year's BBC South East Sports Unsung Hero for his dedication to the West Sussex Angling Academy.
Mr Cridland set up the academy six years ago to prevent children and young adults, from the unemployed to anyone with learning difficulties, from being socially excluded.
He said: "I have been asked many times why fishing works. We are removing these students from the classroom where people know what buttons to press to get the worst out of them.
"We get them out into the countryside and for some of them it is the first time they see real wildlife.
"It amazes them and with the relaxing nature of fishing we have a 95 per cent success rate."
The academy helped one student who was struggling with physics at school and as soon as he was able to relate the subject to his interest in fishing, by comparing weight and power ratios to casting a rod, for example, his results improved.
Since 2006 Mr Cridland has had 515 students complete the course he runs.
Half of these went onto further education and are now in full-time employment, 48 have left in the last two years and are now in further education and the rest are still in school and expected to get improved GCSE grades.
Although Mr Cridland discovered at the ceremony on December 16 that he hadn't won the national unsung hero award, he still had a night to remember -partying until 4.15am with some of the country's best-known sports stars.
The 58-year-old said: "I was sat six rows from the front surrounded by my sporting heroes.
"After the success we have had this year with the Olympics it was truly an honour to be there.
"There were Paralympians sat in front of me and I got autographs and photographs with, among others, Colin Jackson, Sharron Davies and rugby legend Brian Moore."
However, getting to meet one of 2012's Olympic idols proved to be the highlight.
Mr Cridland added: "I had my photograph taken with the stunning Jessica Ennis. There is not one ounce of ego in her body, she came over and congratulated me on the regional award.
"The whole night was an overwhelming experience. I even had four people come up and ask me for my autograph and photograph."
The academy has also been working with returning servicemen and women to help their rehabilitation from mental and physical injuries, and elderly people in care homes.
Mr Cridland said: "I am ex-forces myself so I can understand what they have gone through.
"It is hard for them to talk about what they have seen but we do help them by getting them to relax.
"We went to a care home and took three elderly gentleman, from ages 76 to 94, out fishing.
"I get the most satisfaction out of seeing someone achieve something. We took photographs of the 76-year-old catching fish, which were put up on his wall, and the night before he died he told a nurse he could not wait to go fishing again."