Britain's Most Admired Charities 2011: Introduction

Juliet Lyons, Help for Heroes, Chance UK and Terry Pratchett were the winners at this year's Britain's Most Admired Charities awards, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

Britain's Most Admired Charities, now in its eighth year, is always an exciting set of awards. It's somehow less predictable than other contests because people and organisations don't enter themselves for the four categories. Instead, we seek a long list of candidates from an expert panel of advisers, refine that to a shortlist and ask charity chief executives to vote. In that sense, it's the people's choice.

The results always seem to be a blend of the established and the new, and this year was no exception. Juliet Lyon, voted Most Admired Chief Executive, has been director of the Prison Reform Trust, founded in 1981, for 11 years. She+s a well-known figure in a part of the sector that doesn't always attract a great deal of support. But this year, as the prison system comes under pressure from cuts, her nomination reminded voters of the sterling work she has done.

Help for Heroes, which took the Most Admired Charity title, is, by contrast, something of a newcomer: it was founded only four years ago, but is already one of the country's most recognisable names. It has attracted a huge groundswell of support by being apolitical, charitable in the truest sense and populist in the best sense. Co-founders Bryn and Emma Parry are modest, sincere and straightforward, and the charity+s fundraising events are outstanding, if sometimes rather scary. It's no surprise they won.

The Most Innovative Charity award attracted the most intriguing batch of nominations and a shortlist of six young charities that would all have been worthy winners. In the end, it was the youth mentoring charity Chance UK, led by the ebullient Gracia McGrath, that came out top of a close-run vote.

But in the Celebrity Charity Champion category there was a runaway winner and, again, a more established figure - the fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett. Since being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's four years ago, he has made a huge contribution to research and turned the full force of his quirky and questioning intellect on the illness and the services provided for sufferers. He's not going anywhere quietly, and his support for Dignity in Dying may well have something to do with his success. He's not keen on the 'celebrity' tag, which is understandable, but he can't really dispute that he+s a charity champion.

Stephen Cook, editor, Third Sector

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