The great, the good and the grubby of awards shindigs

While awards can inspire, it's also about the hard work of those nominated that really counts, says Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

I love award ceremonies: the gaudy glitz, the gushing gratitude and the things that go gloriously wrong. Indeed, on occasion, I myself have helped to lower the tone of the proceedings.

Recently, Julia's House was a finalist for Best Employer at the Dorset Business Awards, hosted by Nicholas Witchell, the BBC's long-serving and much-fawning royal correspondent.

Witchell kicked off with a well-worn routine about how he had once restrained a lesbian protester during a live studio broadcast. He straddled the lesbian! How we roared.

Anyway, after such mirth, it was time for the awards. When he announced we had won, I stormed the stage, thinking: "I've got to get there before he changes his mind."

As I grabbed the trophy and prepared for the money shot of giving an acceptance speech - doubling as a major fundraising pitch to 600 business leaders - I realised to my horror that Witchell was moving on to the next award.

I had other ideas. Standing rock solid at the lectern, I shot the diminutive host a look that said: "I am bigger than you, and if you try to straddle me, I shall prevail." He realised his place was in the shadows and I duly got my pitch.

By contrast, at another occasion, the Wessex Charity Awards, I was so fixated on not rubbing salt into our fellow finalists' wounds that I grabbed the award and leapt silently off stage so fast that I was berated by the judges for my ingratitude.

And then there's the hardware itself. At the Third Sector Excellence Awards in 2009, I was relieved to win, because I thought the hefty, brick-shaped metal trophy would come in handy if we were confronted by muggers in the dimly lit car park afterwards. Or chuggers, come to think of it ...

But awards can also inspire. When I was part of the judging team for last year's Third Sector Excellence Awards, Volunteer of the Year was won by Rebecca Smith, a brilliant young lady working for the Northamptonshire youth advisory charity Service Six.

She has dedicated herself to the welfare of hundreds of vulnerable and troubled young people, despite a personal history of serious illness and family tragedy.

But let me also tell you about a runner-up in that category, Margaret Lowndes of the children's support and mentoring charity Friendship Works. Margaret mentored one troubled boy who spent much of his childhood in care. Countless professionals came in and out of his life. For 10 years, Margaret was his only consistent adult influence, seeing him every week, taking him swimming, to museums or to the park. She spoke up for him at social services reviews, ensuring his voice did not get lost in the system. She stuck with him even when his behaviour and anger were hard for those around him to take. She showed him a more stable world.

Margaret, I salute you. Awards are not all about the winning, after all.

Martin Edwards is chief executive of the children's hospice Julia's House


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