It was an historic launch ahead of a heavenly lunch at a heaving new Hickson’s Point as the 2018 Irish News Workplace & Employment Awards got officially up and running yesterday.
Now in their 12th year and acknowledged as one of the premier awards initiatives anywhere in Ireland, the gongs will be handed out on Thursday June 14 in the lavish Belfast Titanic, named last year as the world’s leading tourist attraction and which currently attracts close to a million visitors every year.
But it was Titanic’s “baby sister” venue which took centre stage for a food-fusioned launch, attended by guests from a number of business organisations including the CBI, NI Chamber of Commerce, Chartered Institute of Public Relations, Hospitality Ulster, Retail NI and the Chartered Institute of Marketing, along with a number of past winners.
When the Irish News moved the Workplace & Employment Awards (WEA) to Titanic Belfast in 2012, it narrowly missed out on being the first major black tie extravaganza at the iconic setting.
But patience paid – and yesterday the paper hosted the very first event at Hickson’s Point, giving guests a unique preview of a venue which builds on the heritage of the Titanic Quarter, one of the world’s largest urban waterfront regeneration schemes
The building, located at the front of the main Titanic Belfast and which won’t officially open until St Patrick’s Day, is inspired by one of the first ship builders in the city, Robert Hickson, who is credited as being the founder in 1853 of what was to become the shipyard which built the Titanic.
Hickson’s Point rolled out the red carpet and the Titanic bell, providing guests with a sumptuous fare which included yardsman breakfast rolls, sour dough bread, smoked salmon and ‘clangers’, a traditional type of roll favoured by shipyard workers in the early 1900s.
Guests were welcomed by Irish News editor Noel Doran, who said the WEA event has grown steadily over the years because organisations both big and small understand its value and want to be associated with it.
He added: “They also know that the standards they have to reach in the course of their entries are exceptionally high and those who are ultimately recognised will be the brightest and best in their fields.”
He commended the Workplace & Employment Awards’ eight key business partners – Ulster University, Phoenix Natural Gas, the Public Health Agency, Mount Charles, Queen’s University, Henderson Group, Carson McDowell and Titanic Belfast.
Guest speaker at the launch was Gareth Chambers, chief executive of Newry-based food-to-go firm Around Noon, which last year won the Entrepreneurial Spirit Award at the WEA.
Around Noon was established in 1989 by his parents Francis and Sheila Chambers from the kitchen table of their family home in Newry and has grown to international prominence, supplying millions of sandwiches and wraps every week to hundreds of clients including the likes of the Henderson Group and Starbucks.
Gareth – who was named Herbert Smith Freehills ‘Young Leader of the Year’ in 2017 – attributed the business’s spectacular grow to the power of its people, and outlined the company’s ethos of passion and enthusiasm in everything it does, allied to honesty, humility and humour.
Around Noon dished up a second food helping at the launch by supplying a complimentary healthy lunch to all of the guests – “free” in so far as recipients were urged to to pay for it by spreading the word about the awards within their wider organisations and client groups.
For 2018 a number of the nine WEA awards categories have been revised (full details at www.irishnews.com/WEA), while a significant addition to the judging panel will be Ellvena Graham, chair of the NI Economic Advisory Group and president of the NI Chamber of Commerce.
She will chair this year’s session on May 16, adding an extra level of scrutiny to the submissions, which are again expected to surpass the three-figure mark.
The Irish News Workplace & Employment Awards take place in Titanic Belfast on Thursday June 14. Entries must be submitted by noon on Friday April 27 and the short-listed companies will be revealed in the Irish News on Thursday May 17.