BURNLEY'S local hero was recognised once again for his service in the town, picking up a gong at The Pride of Manchester Awards yesterday.

The Awards were back and in person to honour Lancashire and Greater Manchester's unsung heroes, and to celebrate the ordinary people who have done extraordinary things.

Hosted by actor Kym Marsh, the Awards were presented at a prestigious and star-studded event last night at The Kimpton ClockTower Hotel in Manchester.

The last two years have shown it is more important than ever to acknowledge and reward the people who go the extra mile to make a difference.

This year, plumbing boss James Anderson, 52, from Burnley, has been announced as the winner of a Pride of Manchester Special Recognition Award, for providing £1.2million of support to vulnerable people to help keep them warm.

James was a successful heating engineer when he came across an elderly customer who had been scammed.

The gentleman had been left without heating or hot water by a con artist trying to charge him £5,000 for a new boiler. 

Incensed, James arranged for his heating to be fixed, and then set out to protect other vulnerable people, and to provide help for those who can’t afford it.

He founded community interest company Depher, which provides free or heavily subsidised services to keep people warm and safe. 

Since 2017, he and his team have helped more than 39,000 families, especially with free boilers, plumbing and heating emergency services, free bathrooms, funeral costs, and children's surprise birthday parties in and around his hometown of Burnley.

James’ wife Babs also often pitches in to help.

Between 2020 and 2021 they supplied £60,000 of PPE and food to families, care homes, front line workers and emergency services at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He’s now closed his own profitable plumbing and heating business to work on the project full-time.

James recalls one family that inspired him, a young couple with two small sons.

“They were freezing cold,” he said.

“Two engineers had already charged £40 each without fixing the problem. The family couldn’t afford more repairs.”

James fixed the boiler for free. “The mum sat there crying,” he added.

“She said to me, ‘All I want is to keep my children warm'. It made me realise that you can walk past a house and it can look normal.

"But you don’t know what’s going on inside. Of the people we help, 90 per cent are living on the poverty line without telling anyone.”

James has another, personal motivation. He and Babs lost their baby son William in 2011 when he was just 16 weeks old.

“I promised him, that day we turned off the machine, that I would be the man he would not grow up to be. I know he is up there, on a cloud, kicking his feet and saying, ‘nice one dad’.”

Charlie Briggs, former mayor of Burnley, said: “James is an amazing person, I wish there were more people like him around.

"He is not interested in medals, all he is interested in is helping the community.”

Ann-Marie Holliday, manager at Depher, added: “James is very well known in Burnley. He loves to help people and has a big heart.”

Previously, some Pride of Manchester winners have gone on to be recognised on the national stage at the Pride of Britain Awards, which is aired on ITV in the Autumn.

Since the first Pride of Britain Awards in 1999, royalty, prime ministers, and hundreds of leading figures from show business, sport, politics, and the arts have all taken part.

Last year Pride of Britain honoured 2021 Pride of Manchester winners, Burnley boys Freddie Xavi and Hughie Higginson.

Best pals Hughie and Freddie won the hearts of the nation and served up two of 2021’s most unforgettable TV moments when they were surprised by Ant and Dec and then stole the show at Pride of Britain with singing sensation KSI.

The pair received the Good Morning Britain Young Fundraiser of the Year Award for raising more than £200,000 after Hughie was diagnosed with Leukaemia and Freddie vowed to help him thank his doctors and nurses.

Kym Marsh said of the winners: “It's such a thrill to be back in Manchester for a full live awards show for the first time since 2019.

"The winners are amazing - they really embody all the qualities that make us so proud to be from this incredible region.

"They are so selfless and courageous, and of course the kids will melt your heart. I can't wait to meet them all.”