THE countdown has begun to one of the most prestigious nights in Darlington’s calendar as the search gets underway for this year’s community champions.

Nominations open on Monday February 3 for the 14th Best of Darlington Awards, which will be presented at a glittering ceremony at the Dolphin Centre on June 12.

This year’s event comprises 15 categories, covering all aspects of life in Darlington, including business, education, health, the environment, the arts, sport, public service, and volunteering.

Seth Pearson, Director of Darlington Partnership, said: “There is so much to celebrate in Darlington and these awards are designed to bring together all those who enrich the local community.

“We want to hear about people – young and old – who are out there making a difference in all kinds of spheres and who might otherwise go unrecognised. This is all about putting the stars of Darlington on a pedestal so please send in your nominations.”

An overall Citizen of the Year will be chosen from the category winners. Last year’s Citizen of the Year was Stephen Hopper for his invaluable efforts in maintaining green spaces, including Geneva Wood, Brankin Moor, West Park, and Rockwell Pastures.

The categories are as follows:

PUBLIC SERVICE HERO:  The judges are looking for an individual or individuals who have gone far above and beyond their duty, either in a one-off exceptional incident, or consistently in their line of work. Anyone working in a public service role can be nominated.

EXCEPTIONAL VOLUNTEER: The judges award this to an individual or group showning outstanding commitment in their voluntary field without expectation of reward or recognition. This might be the length of time someone has volunteered, the breadth of responsibility they have undertaken, or the sacrifice they have made.

EXCEPTIONAL YOUNG VOLUNTEER: The judges will award this to a young person (under the age of 18) or group of young people who have shown outstanding commitment in their voluntary field without expectation of reward or recognition. This might be the length of time someone has volunteered, the breadth of responsibility they have undertaken, or the sacrifice they have made.

CONTRIBUTION TO THE ARTS: This award will be given to an individual or group who has made a major contribution to the arts in Darlington, either by the excellence of their own performance, commitment to organising activities, or by being role models to others in their attitude to the arts.

CONTRIBUTION TO THE ENVIRONMENT: The judges are looking for an individual, community group or business that is having a positive impact on the environment through projects or particular initiatives – e.g. improving wildlife habitats, reducing carbon footprint, or enhancing open spaces.

CONTRIBUTION TO THE COMMUNITY: The judges are looking for an individual or group involved in activities aimed at improving where they live.

BUSINESS CONTRIBUTION TO THE COMMUNITY: This award recognises business with a passion and commitment to giving something back.  Whether it’s helping a voluntary or community organisation, fundraising for a good cause, or donating time and resources to local communities.

BRINGING SUCCESS TO DARLINGTON: The judges will award this to a business whose extraordinary achievement has been recognised on the regional, national or international stage, adding to Darlington’s reputation. This might be through an innovation, or reputation in business, public service, academia or the arts that has put Darlington on the map.

ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT: The judges are looking to recognise those business-minded individuals or groups who demonstrate a true passion for building something great from nothing and are willing to push themselves to the limits to achieve big goals. This could be creativity/innovation demonstrated in a new business product or service or innovation in an existing business.

VOCATIONAL EXCELLENCE: The judges are looking for an individual (of any age) who has engaged in vocational learning such as a course or apprenticeship that has specialised in a particular trade or discipline and whose achievement has been outstanding.

ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE: The award will be presented to an individual who has demonstrated outstanding academic achievement that deserves wider recognition.

EXCEPTIONAL STUDENT: The judges will award this to a student who doesn’t fall into either previous categories but who deserves recognition for the extraordinary effort they have made, or for remaining committed to their learning in the face of adversity.

EXCEPTIONAL CARE:  This category recognises teams in Darlington which have provided care in a way that has made a real difference to your life or someone you care for and the people of Darlington. It might well be a team whose work doesn’t normally have a high profile but who should be recognised for the great care they provide.

CONTRIBUTION TO SPORT: The judges are looking for groups or individuals who have made a major contribution to sport in Darlington through commitment to organising activities, volunteering, or by being role models to others in their attitude to sport.

PERFORMANCE IN SPORT This award will be presented to an individual or group that the judges see have excelled in their chosen sport.