THE Benarty Citizens of the Year Award for 2018 was presented to a couple who have been at the heart of the community for almost 50 years.

Stephen and Mary Nardone were nominated by the Benarty Heritage Preservation Group with members Jim Christie and Ann Hay listing just some of the improvements they've brought to the area.

In more than 46 years of community involvement within Benarty, the couple set up the community council in the 1970's, established the civic week, created the citizen of the year awards, arranged the war memorial and the Armistice Day Ceremony, set up Benarty Cares and re-started the gala for the Millennium in 2000.

The Nardones also volunteer at Benarty Foodbank and Benarty Credit Union, they helped bring life-saving defibrillators to the area after Stephen's cardiac arrest in 2017, and they still assist with Lochore Welfare FC.

The trophy was awarded to Stephen and Mary Nardone to huge applause from a packed hall in Lochore.

Mr Nardone, who will be 72 next week, told the Times: "I've got to watch what I'm doing now with my health, that's one of the reasons I came off the community council as it was getting stressful, so it's nice just to be able to hand it on and let them get on with it.

"All we ever wanted to do was make sure there were things happening for the people to enjoy.

"We started the gala back up, it was Mary's idea for the Millennium Gala and it's improved from there, they've got the pipe band competition now, and you've got the Rockore music festival now too.

"We were pioneers, along with Karen Hunter, for the Christmas festivities which have just got bigger and better, so I'm more than pleased to see the progress."

In accepting the Ann McCallum Citizen of the Year Trophy, Stephen thanked Jim and Ann for their kind words and the group for their nomination.

He added: "We're also honoured to receive the award especially given the background to the Citizen of the Year awards.

"About 30-35 years ago, there was a company in East Kilbride that produced Skoal Bandits, a sachet of chewing tobacco that was proved to cause mouth ulcers that were cancerous.

"Kids were buying them so two women from this area, Ann McCallum and Betty Martin, took on the powers-that-be to get them banned, even taking the fight to Westminster.

"They eventually succeeded but, sadly, Ann died not long after from cancer.

"That's why the citizen of the year award is named after her and I'll never tire of telling people that."

The Benarty Young Citizens of the Year Award 2018 went to the Benarty Kids Community club.

It is a new organisation set up to give parents and young children an opportunity to come together and take on projects for the benefit of the area.

This year they raised money for flower beds in the wee bike park, the kids were involved in choosing the flowers, and then planting them around the park.

The group went on to volunteer their services with Santa Benarty, taking on responsibility for the Christmas Toy Appeal, and with the help of the staff at BRAG in Crosshill they ensured that the mountain of gifts donated from the local community were wrapped and tagged for Santa to deliver on the big day.

Founding members Diane Crosbie, Hannah Kinnaird and Claire Graham collected the award to warm applause from everyone in attendance.