BUSINESSES across the region have been commended for their efforts to promote equality and diversity in the workplace through the 2008 North- East Equality Awards.

The awards, now in their fifth year, were created to reward businesses which have led the way in stamping out discrimination and unfair practices.

Since their inception in 2003, the awards – organised by Equality North-East and supported by The Northern Echo – have grown each year with this year yielding another record number of entries.

The ceremony, held last Friday at the Gosforth Marriott Hotel, saw ten organisations and individuals commended for their work in promoting equal opportunities and removing barriers people may face in reaching their full potential.

The overall outstanding practice award went to Tyneside Cyrenians for their efforts in offering skills to homeless people.

The main speaker at the event was Baroness Margaret Prosser, deputy chairwoman of the national Equality and Human Rights Commission, who spoke of her pride at the positive work going on in the North-East to help combat discrimination caused by prejudice and stereotyping.

Liz Reay, chief executive of Equality North-East, said 2008 had been yet another outstanding year for the awards.

“This is the fifth year of the Equality Awards and yet again we have had a record-breaking number of applications,”

she said.

“Employers in the region are recognising that implementing good practice is not just a legislative requirement, but also provides real business benefits. The finalists and winners here are reaping those benefits.”

Each of the winners received award sculptures designed by North- East artists, and each of the shortlisted finalists will receive a certificate in celebration of their achievements.

Performances at the awards were given by singer Anna Reay – one of the event’s sponsors – and rap band The Word, from Thornhill School, in Sunderland, who gave a performance to promote anti-bullying.

The main sponsors of the North- East Equality Awards were One NorthEast, LSC North-East, The North-East Employers Coalition (NEEC), Cummins, the North-East Assembly, TUC Union Learn, Workwise UK North-East and the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

EQUALITY AWARDS WINNERS – Employers of between 51 and 250 staff – Winner: Traidcraft. Shortlist: Tyneside Cyrenians, Three Rivers Housing Group.

Employers of up to 50 staff – Winner: GVOC. Shortlist: AH Property Services Limited, Disability North.

Learning providers of up to 50 staff – Winner: ETEC. Shortlist: Education Business Connections, Tyne and Wear Autistic Society – Thornbeck College (Sunderland).

Learning providers and colleges with more than 50 staff – Winner: Bishop Auckland College. Shortlist: South Tyneside College, Stockton Riverside College, Newcastle College.

Larger organisations that have made an outstanding contribution in promoting equality and diversity – Winner: Gentoo. Shortlist: BT, Grangetown Library (Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council), Frank Haslam Milan.

The TUC – Unionlearn Award – Winner: Kathy Grylls, Live and Learn Northumbria University UCU branch.

Shortlist: John Corbett, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, Michael Dodd, The Deal Project.

Individuals who have made a difference – Winner: Tom Keogan, NRASS.

Shortlist: Barbara McClennan, Education Business Connections, Jim Welch, Blind Life Durham, Sarah Kilner, ESPA.

The Innovative Working Practices Award – Winner: North-East Chamber of Commerce. Shortlist: Gateshead Housing Company, Newcastle City Council.

The Work-Life Balance Achievement Award – Winner: Carol Barwick Associates.

Shortlist: Key Enterprises.

Award for outstanding practice – Winner: Tyneside Cyrenians. Shortlist: Cleveland Police, BT, Tyne and Wear Autistic Society – Thornbeck College, Newcastle City Council, Traidcraft, Bishop Auckland College, South Tyneside College, Newcastle College.