Durham County Council has won national recognition for its excellent work engaging with communities.

The council was recognised at The MJ Achievement Awards 2017 in the ‘excellence in community engagement’ category, for its life-saving water safety work in particular the Dying to be Cool campaign and riverside safety improvements in Durham City.

Local authorities from across Britain enter the awards which celebrate the very best in local government.

The council was shortlisted along with five others in the community engagement category, with all finalists required to make a presentation to judges in April.

The authority was named the winner at a ceremony in London on Thursday night.

Council chief executive Terry Collins said: “We are really proud to have won such a prestigious national award – especially one that recognises the excellence of the work we do in partnership with our communities.

“We have worked tirelessly with both our partners and residents to make the county’s rivers and lakes safer places to be and also to educate people on the risks they pose and how to behave when in or beside open water.

“This work has reduced numbers of fatalities and injuries and we are very pleased that The MJ Awards judges have recognised this.”

Leader of the council Cllr Simon Henig added: “This award is testament to the hard work of our staff, all of whom are committed to working with communities and our partners to make this county as safe it can be.

“I’d particularly like to thank Mrs Gosling whose work with us on Dying to be Cool has played a key role.”

Judges said: “The winner showed successful engagement with local schools, businesses, the university, voluntary organisations, and local people to reduce the high incidences of drowning tragedies in its area.”

Judge Andy Cook, new business and marketing director with the Pinnacle Group, said: “Durham County Council’s engagement with all areas of the local community used a wide range of innovative and age-appropriate techniques, focusing on long-term behaviour change to prevent drowning incidents.

“Their work has been so successful it is now used as an exemplar model for police and fire services across the UK.”

Awards presenter actress Joanna Lumley described them as “a key part of the local government calendar, recognising cutting edge services that are helping millions of people right across the UK.”

The council was recognised by judges for its work leading the Safe Durham Partnership’s Dying to be Cool campaign, which seeks to educate ten to sixteen year olds on ‘cold water shock.’

The authority teamed up with Crook water safety campaigner Fiona Gosling, whose 14 year old son Cameron died of cold water shock, to create an awareness raising video which has reached one million people on Facebook alone.

The council and Mrs Gosling have also delivered assemblies to 10,000 schoolchildren as well as water safety sessions for pupils.

The award was also in recognition of the authority’s role in the Durham City Safety Group, through which it has introduced new barriers and lighting on the riverside in response to a series of deaths in the river.

It also acknowledged the council’s work with the Royal Life Saving Society in support of the charity’s Don’t Drink and Drown campaign, which involved working with sixth form students and licensed premises in Durham City and Chester-le-Street.

Judges had been told how the work in all areas has contributed to a reduction in deaths, injuries and near misses in the county’s rivers and other open water sites.

Safe Durham Partnership figures show that in 2015/16, there were two fatalities, five people injured and nine near misses. By 2016/17, there was one fatality, two injuries and four near misses.

There was further success for the council at the awards with its economic development company Business Durham also a finalist in the innovation in finance category.

Council chairman Cllr Bill Kellett is to make a presentation to Mrs Gosling and the staff who have developed and delivered Dying to be Cool, at a full meeting of the authority on Wednesday 21 June.