The great and the good of County Durham were last night celebrated for their incredible contributions to our region.

The Northern Echo’s County Durham Together Awards recognised a host of inspiring individuals and outstanding organisations for their achievements.

A glitzy award ceremony was held at Hardwick Hall Hotel with tears, laughter and stories of remarkable acts and achievements in equal measure.

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Held each year, in partnership with Durham County Council, the awards give the Echo the chance to shine a spotlight on some of the inspirational, selfless, dedicated people who go the extra mile on our patch.

Tears and standing ovations came in equal measure as 12 winners took home prizes ranging from unsung hero to large company of the year.

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There was not a dry eye in the house as Gavin Bestford received the Special Recognition Award for his work as chair of the North East Autism Society.

Mr Bestford, 73, stepped down from his role in April after spending decades working to improve the lives of autistic and neurodivergent people.

The Northern Echo: Gavin Bestford with North East Autism Society patron Pam Royle at a Walk For Autism event in Sunderland earlier this year.Gavin Bestford with North East Autism Society patron Pam Royle at a Walk For Autism event in Sunderland earlier this year. (Image: North East Autism Society)

His fight started when he and his wife Denise were told by a consultant their then-three-year-old-son Alex had “real problems” that would have a lifelong impact. The news was “like a dagger through the heart”, Gavin said, but inspired his personal mission to make life better not just for Alex, but for other children and their families.

Northern Echo editor Gavin Foster said: “What a fantastic night! It was wonderful to hear so many inspirational stories of those who beat the odds, overcome adversity, go the extra mile and selflessly help others.

"And it is great to recognise and celebrate the incredible contribution they all make to our community.”

The Northern Echo: Northern Echo editor Gavin Foster speaks at the County Durham Together Awards.Northern Echo editor Gavin Foster speaks at the County Durham Together Awards. (Image: Chris Booth)

Children from the Hurworth Primary School Choir opened the evening with a performance of Nena's 99 red balloons.

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Also among the winners was Carer of the Year Jamie Richardson who cared for his grandfather while battling his own challenges at a young age, and now cares for people across the county making a huge difference to their lives.

The Northern Echo: Carer of the Year: Jamie RichardsonCarer of the Year: Jamie Richardson (Image: NORTHERN ECHO)

The Little Refill Shop in Seaham was recognised for its environmental contribution and promoting sustainable living while Raby Castle was celebrated for its part in the county’s visitor and tourism economy.

The Northern Echo: Environment Award winner The Little Refill Shop.Environment Award winner The Little Refill Shop. (Image: NORTHERN ECHO)

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Event host and ex-Echo editor Peter Barron MBE said: “It was again an honour to host the County Durham Together Awards, and to celebrate so many amazing people and organisations that are making a difference in the county.

The Northern Echo: Peter Barron MBE hosted the event.Peter Barron MBE hosted the event. (Image: CHRIS BOOTH)

“The event always strikes me as the perfect way to build up to Christmas because it is so heartwarming and positive at a time when there is so much bad news around the world.

“I was especially pleased to see the evening come to a moving climax with Gavin Bestford receiving the Special Recognition Award for his decades of dedication to the North East Autism Society

"Having known Gavin for several years, I’ve seen first-hand how his passion for caring for some of the most vulnerable people in our region has changed countless lives for the better. He typifies what the awards are all about.”

Durham County Council leader Cllr Amanda Hopgood added: "I have always believed that our greatest strength in County Durham is our ability to come together as a community to help and support others.

"The County Durham Together Awards proved this, with countless inspiring stories of the kindness and generosity shown by individuals and groups. The awards give us the opportunity to say a big thank you to those who are going above and beyond to support those in need."

Find out more about all of this year’s winners in our special supplement in this Saturday’s Northern Echo.

Full list of County Durham Together Awards winners and runners-up

The Northern Echo: All the winners of The Northern Echo County Durham Together Awards 2023All the winners of The Northern Echo County Durham Together Awards 2023 (Image: CHRIS BOOTH)

Volunteer of the Year

Winner - Jane and Simon Day, Junction 7
Shortlist - John Little
Shortlist - Nancy Spencer

Carer of the Year

Winner - Jamie Richardson
Shortlist - Ajisope D Akintola
Shortlist -  Lisa Johnson

Environment Award

Winner - The Little Refill Shop
Shortlist - Peterlee Community Garden Group at Woodhouse
Shortlist - St John's Hall Meadowfield

Public Service Award

Winner - Just for Women CIC
Shortlist - Cllr Cathy Hunt
Shortlist - Ben Tinkler, Bridge Creative 

Key Worker of the Year

Winner - Rachel Leavis
Shortlist - Susan Anderson
Shortlist - Lisa Green

Community/Voluntary Group of the Year

Winner - Five Acres Community Garden2
Shortlist - Friends Together
Shortlist - Consett Girlguiding

Unsung Hero Award

Winner - Stephen Davison
Shortlist - Ken Longstaff
Shortlist - Claire Wilmer, Voices of Darlington

Health and Wellbeing Award

Winner - Bob Marshall and The Viking Boat Company
Shortlist - Durham Mental Wellbeing Alliance
Shortlist - The Ferryhill Ladder Centre

Visitor Economy Award

Winner - Raby Castle
Shortlist - Ushaw: Historic House, Chapel and Gardens
Shortlist - Kynren

Business of the Year

Winner - Durham University
Shortlist - Securicorp NE Ltd
Shortlist - AAA Caring Caretaker

Sports Team or Person of the Year

Winner - Deerness Men's Four Acrobatic Gymnastics Partnership
Shortlist - Jessica Hall, Bishop Auckland Golf Club
Shortlist - Hurworth School Under-15s Girls' Football Team

Special Recognition Award

Winner - Gavin Bestford