It was an evening of celebration as the winners of this year’s Barking and Dagenham Chamber of Commerce Business Awards were revealed.

Business of the Year 2024 was named as the London School of Management Education in Cranbrook Road, Gants Hill, which also won the Home Grown Talent award.

The Post is a sponsor of the awards, presenting the Business Growth accolade to Boleyn Recovery and Fleet Services in River Road, Barking.

Business Person of the Year was Peter Harris, of Peter James Motor Group in Rainham Road South, Dagenham.

Employee of the Year was Scott Dunnell from Fix Auto Dagenham, also in Rainham Road South, which also won the Green Business Award.

But in among the entrepreneurs, the Chamber of Commerce found other community heroes — like the teacher running after-school tuition and a couple with a waiting list of children to join their activity group in a church hall.

Mum-of-two Zara Muirhead, a teacher who gave up the regular classroom to run online tutorials during Covid lockdown and raised funds to get computers for children from deprived households, won the Training, Development and Supporting Education title.

She runs her Love Literacy tutorial business at Chadwell Heath Community Centre while busy raising her family.

“Children who face challenges in school really love the learning sessions at the centre,” Zara told the Post. “School can be challenging but on Saturday they can be themselves.”

Zara, who taught at Robert Clack School when she left to set up her business, started with a handful of youngsters needing help with maths and English and it just grew by word of mouth, now with a small staff of teachers helping 50 children every week.

During the pandemic, she started online tutorials and got lottery funding for laptops for disadvantaged children.

Husband Cal-I Jonel, a former teacher himself at Seven Kings School, runs the company with her. He left the profession six years ago to turn playwright and actor, who ironically recently played the role of a teacher in No More Mr Nice Guy.

Sitting at the same table at the awards night, staged at Dagenham and Redbridge Football Club on Thursday (June 6), was a couple who run their own charity in Marks Gate with a waiting list of 48 youngsters wanting to join their after-school activities at St Mark’s church hall.

Luke and Kelly Maxted set up their Urban Promise UK charity, which won the Charity and Community award.

“We were really humbled,” Luke said. “The award shows our work is needed with so much deprivation in Dagenham.

“Marks Gate has among the highest proportion of children in the UK who have social workers and with people out of work.”

The couple, who met at the London College of Theology in Northwood, near Harrow, left 12 years ago for the US to join an Urban Promise programme in organisational fellowship.

“We sold everything we had and moved to Philadelphia,” Luke recalls. “Now we're back we have a waiting list to join us. We can’t keep up.”

They returned in 2022 with their two children, one born in America, to start their work in Dagenham as part of the Urban Promise network but running independently.

They are funded from grant bids and corporate support, but do all the fundraising themselves.

The vicar at St Mark’s, Alexandra Joseph, encouraged the couple by offering a place to do their charity work.

Kelly said: “We have to be flexible as you never know what’s happening in this busy community where there’s a lot going on.”

The Small and Medium-sized Enterprise of the Year title went to Sensor Coating Systems in Yew Tree Avenue, Dagenham.

Its managing director Dr Jörg Feist won the Sominder Panesar commemoration award.

Other awards were:

Innovation through the use of Digital Media: Evoke Classics in Rainham Road South.

Customer Service: Online Lubricants in River Road, Barking.

Business Growth: Boleyn Recovery and Fleet Services in River Road.

Sole Trader/Micro Business: Borthwick Casting in Rainham Road South.

The judges also gave highly commended certificates to Care Optics opticians of Gale Street in Dagenham and The Broadway in Woodford Green and to The Branding Distillery in Rippleside Commercial Estate, Barking.