Same old same old that adds up to good business for someone

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Industry awards have a reputation for self-congratulatory bun-fights. At £120 a ticket at this year’s Croydon event, DAVID CALLAM’s happy to give it a miss. He’s seen it all before, anyway

It’s that time again. The Croydon Business Awards are back. The finals take place on May 15 at Fairfield Halls.

Fairfield Halls wood for the treesAnd with them, for me, come memories of what degenerated into an annual chore, trying to find a fresh way to present the same old same old.

The awards began as a fishing expedition, trawling for new clients, run jointly by a solicitor and an accountant in the town. The first awards were presented at a reception in the solicitor’s offices.

Then Croydon Council became involved, ever keen to present itself as a friend of the business community, and the reception became a black-tie dinner at Fairfield; the first one generously hosted by borough tax-payers.

In those days the finalists – just three per category – were determined at a judging day at Selsdon Park Hotel, where the judges also decided the winners of each category and were thereafter sworn to secrecy until the evening of a gala dinner, also held at the hotel.

Then the annual event was handed to Croydon Marketing and Development, later Croydon Business, which renamed it the Best of Business Awards (BOBs) and commercialised it.

They moved it to a marquee at Addington Palace, seeking sponsors for each of the categories and an overall sponsor for the event. And they widened the nomination area to almost anywhere in the south-east, upsetting other local authority awards organisers in the process.

There ensued an annual battle of interests: sponsors wanted to address a captive business audience at length; organisers wanted to keep sponsors’ speeches to a minimum.

The result was inevitably a tedious evening, where laid-back (horizontal) service of the meal was followed by ponderous presentations of each award. The event usually finished too late for informal networking to follow, which was, or should have been, an important aspect of the evening.

Croydon Business awardsThere was always a speaker: I can’t remember any really entertaining ones, but I do recall being bored rigid by Jennie Bond, the BBC reporter who had recently been on I’m a [has-been/never-was] Celebrity; Get Me Out of Here (and back to the BBC). She banged-on, it seemed forever, about bush-tucker trials and the perils of living in the outback.

It is almost a decade since I was involved with the Croydon awards: I note they are now being run by Prospects, a training quango I last came across as organiser of the South London Business Awards in another marquee, this time on the pitch at Selhurst Park during the closed season.

That event was much better-run than the Croydon bun-fight, with better food, promptly served, and the awards ceremony kept moving smartly along by an excellent master of ceremonies, radio presenter, David Jensen.

South London has always seemed to me a more meaningful area for which to win an award, more prestigious regionally, nationally or internationally than just a borough gong, but Croydon was never keen on the south London awards. The Establishment didn’t like sharing the limelight with other boroughs.

Prospects organise similar events in Bexley, Bromley and Sutton, and also London-wide. If you fancy mingling with Croydon’s business movers and shakers on May 15, an individual ticket will set you back £120 (including VAT).

It was always difficult to encourage enough entrants of a high calibre to come forward for the Croydon awards. That seems still to be a problem: among this year’s 43 finalists I note there are 17 who have been chosen in two or more of the 11 categories. And I’m disappointed to see no less than 15 finalists that I remember as regular participants from my time covering the awards.

As I said: same old same old.


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