Organisers of an annual awards ceremony had to think on their feet to be able to celebrate environmental guardianship and community spirit during the coronavirus pandemic.
County Durham Environment Awards, now in its 31st year, usually gathers its green-minded finalists together for an official ceremony to award the winning entrants for their outstanding conservation work.
However, the event could not go ahead safely in 2020 due to social distancing guidelines and the coronavirus pandemic.
Rather than cancel the awards, which are run by Durham County Council on behalf of the County Durham Environment and Climate Change Partnership and paid for by sponsorship, the team decided to take the ceremony virtual and a celebration video was filmed in November when restrictions were eased.
Last Friday, 19 February, the video was made live on the council’s YouTube channel and entrants and partners were invited to watch the special event from home as the winners were announced.
The winning and highly commended entries for each category included:
• Climate change, Hawthorn Parish Council
• Community Partnership, Castle Chare, Free Meals for the Community, Witton Park
• Craftsmanship, St Hellen’s Church
• Greener Business, Raggy Robin Sewing Room
• Natural Environment, Dalton Moor Farm
• Places and Spaces, West Auckland in Bloom (category winner), Cow Plantation, Friends of Kepier Woods
• Schools and Colleges, DENE, Oakley Park Stanley, The Oaks Coastal Challenge
• Volunteer Group, Burnopfield Gardening Team (category winner), Friends of Pelaw Woods, Green Horizons, West Auckland in Bloom
Judges also praised the number of entrants who had showed real community spirit in the face of the pandemic and looked after the vulnerable during the first national lockdown.
Jim Cokill, chair of the County Durham Environment and Climate Change Partnership, introduced this year’s virtual ceremony and former Durham County Council Chief Executive Terry Collins paid tribute to all of the entrants who have made the awards successful in the last three decades.
Jim said: “I don’t need to explain why this year is very different to the usual awards. There’s no venue, there’s no stage, there’s no speeches. But that doesn’t mean the quality of the applications is any different and that there’s not much to celebrate across County Durham.
“What’s really apparent from this year’s entries is the really strong community spirit across the county. We’ve had organisations doing their bit to tackle climate change, we’ve had individuals working across their local environment, and I think this year we felt, all of us more than ever, entries highlighted how important our environment is.
“We’ve placed a real value on our environment and that really has come across. We really must say thank you to everyone who has taken the time to apply this year.”
Cllr Brian Stephens, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for neighbourhoods and local partnerships, said: “Each year we receive entrants from individuals, groups, and businesses who do outstanding work for their community, but this year our entrants went above and beyond to continue their efforts in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. We are delighted that the awards were able to go ahead virtually so that these actions did not go unrecognised.
“This last year has shown us just how important the natural environment is to our wellbeing and, as we work towards our pledge as a council to tackle climate change and reduce emissions across the county, I would like to thank all of our entrants for their hard work in preserving and creating sustainable environments within their local communities.”
The County Durham Environment Awards celebrate community groups, individuals, businesses, and other organisations from across the county that go the extra mile to improve their local environment in a sustainable way.
Trophies are being posted to the winners directly from the production company to limit the amount of contact they will have with people.