Meet the Judges

The role of the judge:

Being a judge of the Wiltshire Life Awards is a privilege and also enormous fun. There are two highlights in the year. The first is when a huge file of papers arrives with all the nominations. Far from being a chore, I find reading all the stories of endeavour commitment and talent most uplifting, often humbling and always a joy. Everyone on the judging team supplements their reading with ‘secret shopper’ visits and much Google and internet research.

When we meet for our long judging day, which always promises a great deal of passionate discussion and debate, we are sustained by delicious food and drink samples, marvellous feasts for the eye and tummy; and for the accountants among us, lots of statistics and numbers. The second highlight is, of course, our extremely elegant awards dinner. This is a wonderful opportunity for us to meet many of the people we have read so much about and to hear their stories. Wiltshire is a very special county and there are many extraordinarily good and talented people getting on with doing great things, often behind closed doors and little known about. This is a chance to celebrate the brilliant things that happen in Wiltshire and the amazing people that do them.

Helen Birchenough
Chair of the judging panel, 2021
Helen Birchenough, Chairperson

It is the power of both education and the arts to change lives that gets Helen up in the morning and she has championed these in Wiltshire, for over 20 years. She is chair of Arts Council England South West, a trustee of Wiltshire Creative and a non-executive director of Messums. Helen is a proud deputy lieutenant of Wiltshire. Her children are all grown up and she and her husband Simon look forward to the marriage of their eldest son later this summer.

Lady Ruth Hawley

Lady Hawley spent many years in HM Diplomatic Service. She met her husband in Egypt and they came to Wiltshire after her husband retired. Ruth Hawley became involved in many aspects of county life: health trusts, St John Ambulance, the Wiltshire Advisory Committee, church and local government bodies. She has been high sheriff and deputy lieutenant, lay canon of Salisbury Cathedral and a governor of Godolphin School.

Mark Allen

Mark is chairman of the Mark Allen Group, a very successful company employing 500 people in five locations. Founded 35 years ago, it publishes 100 magazines, including its recent acquisition of the 85-year-old Farmers Weekly, and organises events and exhibitions globally. Mark has a passion for Wiltshire, opening his Wiltshire office in 1994 when he acquired Wiltshire Life, which has thrived to become the longest-established monthly county magazine.

Rose Eva

Rose is a sculptor and writer on the arts. She studied history of art at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, and was a specialist at Phillips Fine Art Auctioneers in London and the director of Phillips Germany. She has curated exhibitions and has written catalogues for both galleries and museums. As a sculptor she has won competitions and awards with her work, including the Discerning Eye Humphreys Prize in 2015.

Nicholas Fogg

Nicholas is a Fellow of Queen’s University. He has authored several books; his biography of William Shakespeare, has gone into its sixth edition. Nick is a long-standing contributor to Wiltshire Life, and writes regularly in the national press. He worked on the Middle East Peace Processes and is an adviser to the Council for ex-Heads of State and Government. Twice the mayor of Marlborough, he launched the town’s jazz and literary festivals.

Charles Spencer

Charles has spent the last 35 years managing the family farm. In addition to expanding the mixed farming business he has converted old buildings into business premises, increasing employment opportunities in the area. He sits on various committees in the local community, including chairing the parish council. Charles has recently hung up his rugby boots after playing for a local team for the last 20 years, but continues to enjoy both tennis and cricket.

Lynsey Docherty

Lynsey is an opera singer, producer and vocal animateur. She has sung leading roles for soprano at venues across the UK. She has created singing projects in prisons, orphanages in Tajikistan, for theatres and festivals nationwide, bringing opera and singing to school children and children with special needs. Lynsey is the founder and artistic director of Celebrate Voice, a festival of singing based in Salisbury.

Colin Elwell

Colin is a partner of Smith and Williamson Investment Management and manages private client, trust and charity portfolios. Colin served in the reserve army for 25 years including two years attached to the regular army after university before starting his career in investment management in 1998 at NCL Investments, which merged with Smith and Williamson in 2002. He is chairman of the Yeomanry Benevolent Fund.

Ram Thiagarajah

Ram, a retired civil engineer, is passionate about helping those in need. He has been president of the Swindon Tamil Association since 2006, and has been instrumental in helping the Tamil community integrate in Swindon. He is a trustee of Voluntary Action, Swindon and has been chairman of trustees of Breakfast Plus, a charity for the homeless, and a trustee of Wiltshire Community Foundation. He is a retired justice of the peace and deputy lieutenant.

Caroline Hole-Jones

Caroline founded boutique communications agency Splash Communications in 1996, specialising in food and hospitality, and employment, winning industry accolades. Following its acquisition in 2016, she formed The Word Consultancy, and the Canny Group specialising in food, hospitality and public affairs marketing. She is a ‘hands on’ investor in Spanish fine food company, Mevalco, supplying products to leading UK chefs and restaurants.

Neil Henty

Neil began his career at Reuters, working across a number of departments including the news group. He retrained as a journalist and for a short spell worked in sports journalism before joining the Mark Allen Group in 2005 as editor of Early Years Educator magazine, becoming an associate publisher and advisory board member of an early years training organisation along the way. He has been editor of Wiltshire Life since January 2019.

Nicky Alberry

In 1991 Nicky came to work at GWE in Swindon on secondment from HSBC supposedly for 12 months. Almost 30 years later she is still here and involved in the Company now known as Business west as a Non-Exec. Nicky has sat many Boards and Partnerships, including, Wiltshire Community Foundation and Swindon and Wiltshire Local Economic Partnership and is currently Chair of SWA Swindon Domestic Abuse Support