BusinessesÂ large and small came together last week at the Royal Tunbridge Wells Business Awards 2016.
And it was an event that on the evening was described on social media by those who attended as a ‘fun night’ that was ‘great for local businesses’.
Around 200 people, representing 40 companies, went along to Salomons and enjoyed a champagne reception and a gala dinner at the Decimus Burton country home.
The atmosphere was one of excitement and anticipation as nominees for the awards mingled with sponsors and organisers – swapping stories and socialising.
They were finalists in a process that kicked off last year when plans for the awards, organised by this newspaper, were unveiled.
Prior to the start of the awards dinner the audience heard from Editorial Director Richard Moore, who was also one of the six judges on the panel.
Mr Moore said he had been ‘taken aback’ by the enthusiastic response to the idea of the awards from local business and congratulated all those companies and entrepreneurs whoÂ had been nominated for the awards.
He said: “Just the fact you have made it this far is a real achievement.”
Explaining why the paper had decided to host its own awards, he said: “Before we launched the newspaper just over a year ago, we had taken the decision that in order to set us apart and fill a void in the printed media we needed to be business orientated.
“Every week we feature stories on localÂ companies and individuals and it was a natural stepÂ for us to follow through on that commitment and recognise the business community withÂ its own awards.
“What we had not expected was the fantastic response the idea has received and the enthusiasm with which people right across the business spectrum have embraced the initiative.”
Following the meal Mr Moore introduced the guest of honour for the evening and the person invited to present the actualÂ awards, Edwina Currie. Â Addressing the audience, the former Junior Health Minister during the Thatcher government recalled her experiences as a politician, then spoke of her life after politics and of the importance of entrepreneurism.
She used an example ofÂ Toyota setting up a new factory in her constituency of South Derbyshire during the 1980’s, after the collapse of the coal industry, as an example of how business drives progress.
She said: “If I had said, upon being elected, that within ten years there would be no coal mines and those workers would be making Japanese cars and selling them to Germany, they would have thought I was mad.
“But almost overnight, due to the educational requirements to work at the Toyota factory, the rate at which young people stayed on after 16 at school rose from 30 per cent to over 70 per cent, as everyone wanted to work there.
“Likewise, if we had said five years ago there would be a million more businesses set up in this country and we would have record numbers inÂ employment, everyone would have thought we were mad.”
Mrs Currie said the lesson from all this is that you can never predict what the future might hold, but: “If you do your best, be optimistic, take a chance and make the effort almost anything is possible. That is why IÂ have such admiration for those gathered here tonight.”
Chair of the panel of judges for the awards wasÂ Jo James, Chief Executive of the Kent Invicta Chamber Of Commerce, who took to the stage to introduce the categories and those on the shortlist.
Mrs James spoke of her ‘delight’ at being asked to host the event, adding: “The calibre of entries has been exceptionally high, which further enforces the entrepreneurial reputation of the local business community.
“Of course, this made our job on the judging panel exceptionally difficult. We had a number of very good potential finalists for each category and selecting the eventual winners was not an easy choice.
“All awards have to have a winner. But to be selected as a finalist is itself worthyÂ of congratulations, because in our minds all the finalists are winners.”
After Mrs James read out the three names on the shortlist it was left to Edwina Currie to open the traditional envelope and declare the winners.
To much fanfare and applause, each was invited on stage together with the category sponsor to receive the award itself.
The evening ended in celebratory style, with the band Violet Jive providing entertainment late into the night.
Photos by David Bartholomew