The musician who ensured Boro legend Juninho immediately felt right at home in Middlesbrough has been handed a Teesside Hero Award after helping asylum-seekers settle into their new surroundings.
Mike McGrother put together the samba band that so memorably gave the Brazilian a rousing reception when he made his first Riverside appearance in 1995.
Now he has been honoured for making sure other new arrivals enjoy a warm reception on Teesside.
Mike wins a trophy and £1,000 from charitable movement Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation, which he is donating to community interest group Element 1 to buy gifts for needy Stockton families this Christmas.
The Boro fan, who lives in Grangefield, Stockton, is best known for being the frontman of popular local band, The Wildcats of Kilkenny, but now he is becoming increasingly well-known as a community champion.
Among an amazing range of community work, he is putting his love of football, music, food and his hometown to good use to make sure that refugees from around the world can adapt to their new surroundings.
He has done so by launching Diaspora Vocal Collective and the Arrivals Lounge, where displaced people gather once a week to have a hot meal and a sing-song.
And Mike has also helped set up Diaspora Football Club which also aims to help asylum-seekers and refugees settle in.
“I’m honestly thrilled and very humbled to win this award,” said the father-of-two. “I do what I can to bring people together and break down barriers.
“It’s a labour of love and I’m deeply honoured to have had my work recognised by the Philanthropic Foundation.”
The Diaspora Vocal Collective now includes some 40 nationalities and the Arrivals Lounge has also developed into a more diverse Town Choir which now has more than 100 members.
Mike is also behind Infant Hercules, an all-male choir who meet once a week in Stockton’s Storytellers pub and regularly perform at events across Teesside.
Mike’s Teesside Hero Award also recognises his other community work including the 1245 Sunflower Project, which saw the whole of the borough commemorating the start of the Great War by growing sunflowers and cutting them down on the 100th anniversary of the start of World War 1.
Alongside top local chef Matty Brown, he also developed ‘Matty’s Bistro’ which takes cohorts of up to 15 young people who are not in employment or education and trains them in the art of catering – from working in the kitchen and bar to front of house staff.
“I do all sorts of things but mainly ones that hopefully make the town a bit more gelled and break down a few barriers,” Mike said.
“On Teesside, we like our football and we like music and food. The more ways you can bring people together by using these the better. The singing itself isn’t important but what is important to me is the breaking down of barriers, so I thought why don’t I form a football club along the same lines.
“The basic rule among the football club was that we all tried to speak English so basic language skills could be improved.”
Mike was also a staunch defender of his hometown when it came under attack from London-based media.
“You can talk things up and people will start to believe that or you can talk things down and people will start to believe that,” he said. “We’ve got to constantly stress the positives. What you add to your community is really important.”
Paying tribute to Mike, Stockton Council chief executive Neil Schneider said: “I’m happy to say that Mike’s continued belief, support and work in his home borough and across the Teesside area is a huge asset, which has seen him receive formal mayoral recognition last year. It is fabulous to see this further endorsement and help to local good causes.”
After presenting the award, Ken Devereux, of Foundation patrons Devereux Transport and Distribution, added: “Mike is a very worthy winner of a Teesside Hero Award. His energy and skills are clearly a real asset to Stockton and Teesside as a whole.”