Special feature: Third Sector Excellence Awards - Freud acclaims a night of 'terrific winners'

The second annual Third Sector Excellence Awards, held at a Park Lane hotel last week, honoured the very best in voluntary sector achievements in the past year - and introduced 500 guests to the art of heckling in sign language.

Many of the glittering awards ceremonies held in top London hotels consist of the more privileged classes of society patting themselves on the back, writer and broadaster Emma Freud told 500 guests at the Third Sector Excellence Awards last week.

The Excellence Awards, by contrast, recognise the achievements of people who have done much more for others than for themselves, she said - people she had got to know and admire during her involvement with Make Poverty History.

Freud made the remarks as she introduced the awards for "some terrific winners" during a celebration dinner at the Grosvenor House hotel in Park Lane. As well as charity staff and suppliers, the guests included chief executives, Dame Suzi Leather, chair of the Charity Commission, and voluntary sector champion Baroness Pitkeathley.

Freud introduced a string of sponsors, from HSBC to Everyclick.com, to present 14 awards to organisations ranging from the tiny KitAid (Small Charity, Big Achiever) and the Children's Trust (HR Strategy) to such big players as Comic Relief (Digital Media Campaign) and the British Heart Foundation (Fundraising Team of the Year).

The top accolades of the evening went to the RNID, which won the Overall Excellence award, and Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, who received the Lifetime Achievement award for her work as executive director of Community Service Volunteers. Hoodless has worked tirelessly to promote volunteering since she became CSV's first member of staff more than 40 years ago and has been particularly tenacious and effective in influencing opinion formers and government to improve the national climate for volunteering.

Susan Osborne, director of RNID's Breaking the Sound Barrier campaign, was on stage twice - first to collect the award for Integrated Campaign award, then to collect the Overall Excellence award on behalf of the charity.

Had there been a category for 'most enthusiastic response on hearing you've won an award', she would have won that too: she punched the air, kissed Freud and made a point of thanking the stage-side signer profusely.

Another signer had featured in the warm-up act of comedian and magician John Lenahan. First he tested her vocabulary by dropping the word 'antidisestablishmentarianism' into his patter, then various risque remarks prompted one guest to heckle him in sign language, which included gestures that even those with little knowledge of signing would comprehend - they would have been understood by anyone who had ever been the victim of road rage.

Good humour and a sense of fun ran through the entire event: the fact that it was a Monday didn't prevent many of the guests enjoying the disco and staying on the dance floor beyond 1am.

This was the second year of the Third Sector Excellence Awards, which will be expanded and repeated next year.

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