A RANGE of youth projects and community groups are to receive a record-breaking £42,000 after a surprise twist at a prestigious awards ceremony.

A total of £21,000 – already a record for the event – had been allocated to 13 County Durham organisations at this year’s High Sheriff Awards.

However, the total was doubled on the night by The Sir Tom Cowie Charitable Trust, set up in honour of one of the region’s most prominent business figures and philanthropists.

Sunderland-born Sir Tom Cowie OBE was Honorary Life President of the Arriva Group, formerly known as Cowie Group plc. He died, aged 89, in 2012.

Organised by County Durham Community Foundation, this year’s High Sheriff Awards took place at Ushaw Historic House, Chapels and Gardens, with an array of organisations celebrated for the enormous difference they make in the community.

Michelle Cooper, chief executive County Durham Community Foundation, paid tribute to those organisations for persevering through difficult times and for “keeping the doors open and the lights on as best they can to provide a safe, trusted space for so many.”

Grants of between £3,000 and £1,000 were awarded to: Investing In Children, Go The Distance CIC, Durham Area Youth, Building Self Belief, Pelton Community Association, Derwentside Detached Youth Project, Jack Drum Arts, Oxhill Youth Club, 1st Burnmoor Scouts Group, Brandon Carrside Youth and Community Project, YMCA North Tyneside, Manilla Cycling, and A Way Out.

Michelle added: “The need is increasing weekly, costs are rising for so many families and young people, and for the community groups that help them.

“That’s why the County Durham Community Foundation will continue to work hard to raise more money and get it into the hands of the brilliant community groups you have heard about tonight, and the many hundreds more across the region that are enriching the lives of young people.”

Michelle also used the event to announce that the Poverty Hurts campaign – launched by the County Durham Community Foundation in December 2022 – had raised more than £800,000, with £611,000 already handed out in grants.

“Our partnership with the High Sheriff means we’re able to make sure the funds we raise from campaigns like Poverty Hurts, can be given to people in County Durham who are doing the incredible and necessary work of supporting our communities,” said Michelle.

Guests attending the ceremony were greeted by fire-eaters, jugglers, high-fliers, balancing acts and magicians, with compere Peter Barron dressed as a circus ringmaster.

The High Sheriff Awards are supported by the Sir James Knott Trust, The Banks Group, Darlington Building Society, UK Steel Enterprise, Durham Constabulary, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, The Willan Charitable Trust, the former Durham Shopping Extravaganza, and the current High Sheriff of County Durham, Shona Harper-Wilkes.

Mrs Harper-Wilkes was unable to attend and was represented by former High Sheriff, Robert Harle. The Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, Sue Snowdon, also attended, along with other civic dignitaries.