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, 2020
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 both in Wiltshire for over twenty years. She is now 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 family are all grown up now, except of course her lovely supportive husband Simon.

Ruth Hawley

Ruth spent many years abroad with the Diplomatic Service before settling in Wiltshire in 1981. She has since been much involved in the county: health trusts, St John Ambulance, the Wiltshire Advisory Committee, church and parish and has been the High Sheriff, a Deputy Lieutenant, a Lay Canon of Salisbury Cathedral and governor of the Godolphin School. She remains involved locally with the Harnham Water Meadows Trust, Alabaré, South Wilts Mencap, Wiltshire Community Foundation and is a guide in the Cathedral

Mark Allen

Mark is chairman of the Mark Allen Group, a very successful company employing 300 people in four locations, which he founded 31 years ago. It publishes 65 magazines, both paper and digital, in a broad range of markets, and organises events and exhibitions nationally and internationally. Before starting his company, Mark worked as a journalist on regional and national newspapers, transferring to magazines to become the editor of two award-winners. He has a passion for Wiltshire, opening his Wiltshire office in 1994, when he acquired Wiltshire Life. Wiltshire Life has thrived to become the longest-established monthly county magazine.

Rose Eva

Rose Eva is a sculptor and writer on the arts. She studied history of art at the internationally renowned Courtauld Institute of Art in London, and has since always worked in and around the subject. She 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. Rose regularly writes on the arts for Wiltshire Life, and has published articles in the NADFAS magazine. As a sculptor she has won competitions and awards with her work, including the Discerning Eye Humphreys Prize in 2015.

Nicholas Fogg

Nicholas Fogg, MBE, FRSA is a man of many parts. He is a fellow of Queen’s University, and the most recent of his seven books, a biography of William Shakespeare, has gone into its sixth edition. Nick is a long-standing contributor to Wiltshire Life, and also writes regularly in the national press. He worked on the Middle East Peace Processes and is currently an adviser to the Council for ex-Heads of State and Government. Twice the mayor of Marlborough, he began the renowned Marlborough International Jazz Festival, its Literary Festival and the Open Studios event. As a supporter of Derby County, he jokes that he is inured to life’s disappointments.

Charles Spencer

Born at St Martin’s Farm, Zeals in the south-west corner of Wiltshire, close to the National Trust house and garden of Stourhead, Charles has spent the last 35 years managing the family farm. In addition to expanding the mixed farming business, he has gradually converted old buildings into business premises which have increased employment opportunities in the area. He is involved in the local community and sits on various committees, 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 he continues to enjoy playing both tennis and cricket.

Lynsey Docherty

Lynsey Docherty is an opera singer, producer and vocal animateur. She has sung leading roles for soprano 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, staging world-class opera, jazz, music theatre and folk events, alongside a celebrated community programme. In her spare time, Lynsey loves travel, long walks with her husband, young son and two pointers and is a whizz at table football.

Colin Elwell

Colin and his team manager a wide variety of Discretionary clients including Individuals, Families, Trusts, Pensions and Charities. They also look after a number of clients on an execution only basis. After service in the Regular Army Colin joined NCL Investments in 1998, which merged with Smith & Williamson in 2002. Having gained experience in a number of departments in the investment back office Colin moved to the front office in 1999. He was made a director in 2009 and became a partner in 2013. He served in the Reserve Army for 23 years.

Ram Thiagarajah

Ram Thiagarajah lived in Swindon for nearly 20 yrs. He retired as a Civil Engineer working as consultant for International lending agencies like World, Bank, Asian Development Bank, EEC etc in many countries. Since moving to Swindon Ram has been involved in many charitable organisations including the Breakfast + ( a charity for homeless); Wiltshire and Swindon Community Foundation; Voluntary Action Swindon and Park South Community Centre, Swindon. Ram has been made a Deputy Lord Lieutenant in 2012 and recently retired. Ram recently retired as a Justice of the Peace in the Swindon Bench. Ram founded the Tamil Association in Swindon to promote the culture, heritage, music and dance of Tamils and had been the President since it was formed in 2006. Ram is married to Aruna for 46 yrs and have 3 grown up children.

Caroline Hole-Jones

Caroline founded Splash Communications in 1996 – a boutique communications agency specialising in Food & Hospitality and Employment - which was soon billed as the UK’s fastest growing agency winning many industry accolades for its creative work, and working with former PM, Tony Blair and Kofi Annan for a year across The Africa Progress Panel. Following the acquisition of Splash in 2016, she formed the Canny Group specialising in marketing across Food, Hospitality and public affairs. Caroline has lived in Wiltshire for the last 35 years and in her own words “it’s a magical county packed with entrepreneurial spirit and inspirational talent”.

Neil Henty

Neil became the editor of Wiltshire Life in 2019, having spent many years in London working first at Reuters before retraining as a journalist. He worked briefly as a sports journalist before joining the Mark Allen Group in 2005 as editor of Early Years Educator magazine. Neil gained a psychology degree and followed it with a Master’s in something akin to artificial intelligence. Neil has two young children and so the pull of the countryside and rural living brought him out of the city and to our Dinton offices. Neil has a keen interest in sport, archaeology education, folklore and music and of course family.