OPINION: The rewards of prize-giving

Peter Stanford

Somewhere, buried deep inside me (and, I suspect, many others) is the desire to win a prize. Years ago, when I used to edit a newspaper called the Catholic Herald, I hired a talented college friend to do a weekly cartoon. Mark Haddon drew it in between writing children's books.

And then, last week, there he was on the news winning the Whitbread Prize for his new novel. Inspiring stuff, I decided, and next day opened that file in my office marked "novel". And then all too quickly I remembered why I had shut it forever two years earlier.

My lot, I fear, is to judge prizes. Better to be a giver than a receiver, the Christian Brothers used to teach us. I'm not sure if I agree, but at least handing out prizes can bring a smile to your face. I once judged a book award and by accident let slip the verdict to the novelist whom we had chosen before the actual ceremony. She should have won an Oscar for her look of surprise on the day.

I'm currently in the middle of judging a social and penal reform prize.

No leaks from the decision-making room this time, I promise. But it entailed spending last weekend reading through the entries and supporting materials.

In the background, meanwhile, the TV, radio and Sunday papers were charting the latest charge and counter-accusation in the wake of the Hutton Report.

Few of us can have absorbed the coverage without ending up feeling cynical about ministers, puzzled by the clarity of the judge's verdict, and generally pessimistic. Yet at the same time, there I was curled up on the sofa, awe-struck as I read nominations about individuals who had shown amazing courage, inspiration and self-sacrifice.

Like many others in the third sector I have occasionally wondered if we have reached saturation point for prizes. After last weekend, I say the more the merrier - they celebrate what is good. They hold up unsung people and projects as empowering examples of good practice. And they act as a wonderful antidote to the mud slinging and spin of the daily news round. Most of all, they can be a timely reminder of what is truly important.

- Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards.

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