Here are the worthy winners of a £1,000 party at That Gin & Cocktail Bar in Warwick

Debbie Ellard and Amanda Lothian's friendship is inspirational

Amanda Lothian and Debbie Ellard at That Gin and Cocktail Bar

From special birthdays and anniversaries to wedding receptions, the past 18 months have meant missed celebrations with loved ones.

Now for two Courier readers and their friends and family, it’s finally time to celebrate thanks to a Warwick business owner. Steve Bazell, who runs That Gin & Cocktail Bar in Swan Street, launched the Just The Tonic Campaign to reward someone who has been through a particularly tough time during the pandemic, with a free party, worth more than £1,000.

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The winners have been named as Debbie Ellard and Amanda Lothian who will both be treated like VIPs for the night, receiving exclusive use of the venue’s private hire room.

Amanda and Debbie at That Gin and Cocktail Bar

Steve said: “We have been truly amazed and inspired by all the people that have entered Just the Tonic campaign but are happy to have selected Amanda and Debbie as the main prize winners. To undergo what one of these ladies has endured would be worthy of the prize but after hearing of the challenges they both faced we believe they deserve something special to look forward to and we’ll make sure they have a fantastic time.”

What is their story?

Debbie Ellard, from Radford Semele, and Amanda Lothian, from Warwick, are supporting one another through the shared pain of loss as well as tackling the challenges of a child with learning needs – and all under the cloud of life-limiting illness.

After being diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease ten years ago, Debbie’s future is a frightening one. Her mother’s death last year from the same condition was an agonising reminder of her own fate.

Amanda Lothian and Debbie Ellard with Amanda's husband Alan who nominated them for the prize

But it’s a chapter she is determined to ‘find the positives’ from and, along with Amanda, has raised more than £20,000 for The Huntingdon’s Disease Association. Events and sponsored challenges include Zipwire, skydiving, coffee mornings and, currently in the planning, a spring ball and possible wing-walk.

The condition, which affects one in every 10,000 people, is caused by a faulty gene and leads to progressive degeneration of nerve cells in the brain, affecting movement, emotions and cognitive functions. People are usually given around 15 years from when the first symptoms appear.

For the 48-year-old care nurse and mum of two, the road ahead is a scary one, but, nonetheless, one she’s determined to turn into a positive for others, from fundraising through to participating in ongoing clinical studies.

As well as coming to terms with - and battling early signs of - her illness, Debbie divides her time outside of work as a part-time carer for her 80-year-old father who has early onset dementia - and supporting her two teenage children, of whom has learning needs.

The pressures on her demanding role as a care nurse at Warwick Hospital throughout the pandemic, have also taken their toll.

On hearing the news of her success, Debbie said: “I had to pinch myself when I was told that we’d won. I never expected it, especially considering the other nominees’ stories. But this recognition means so much to me, as though someone understands the challenges I face day to day.”

After encountering more than her own share of adversity, Amanda Lothian can certainly relate to Debbie’s story and, just like her inspirational friend, possesses a dogged determined to overcome and help others in the process.

Amanda experienced challenges in her childhood dealing with domestic abuse and then in later life, despite suffering from Fibromyalgia, Chronic fatigue Syndrome and Hypermobility Syndrome, Amanda, 48, became a carer for her mother who died last spring, after years of recurring breast cancer moved to her brain.

Until recently, Amanda also dedicated years of her life to Special Educational Needs learning, prompted by her own son’s diagnosis with Asperger’s at the age of three.

She gave up an IT career to undergo training with the National Autistic Society and further completed an NVQ for Supporting Teaching and Learning and developing a career in education.

Amanda’s own childhood was more difficult and the family unit that she built with her own son and mother was a huge contrast to living with an abusive and alcoholic stepfather.

More recently Amanda has been a huge support to her husband, Alan whose mental health suffered after twice losing his job during the pandemic. And it was Alan who nominated the ladies for their Just The Tonic award.

Amanda said: “I’m really shocked and surprised to have been selected as a winner for this competition. I read the story of the other finalists and felt they were worthy winners so to win is very unexpected!

“I’m humbled and flattered to be considered as worthy. I always just try to be kind and considerate of others so thank you for this gift.”

Further information about Huntington’s Disease or how to get involved with The Huntington’s Disease Association is available at: https://www.hda.org.uk/

Both Alan and Amanda raise awareness around Autism and funds for The National Autistic Society who can be contacted at: https://www.autism.org.uk/

Steve Bazell was so touched by the other finalists’ story, he has decided to award them a £150 voucher for use in That Gin & Cocktail Bar. All the other nominees will also receive a £50 voucher for the gin bar. visit: http://thatgincompany.co.uk/