Touching tribute to John Hays as Sunderland Echo Business Excellence Awards winners revealed on emotional night

An emotional tribute was paid to the ‘irreplaceable’ John Hays after the company he founded was declared Sunderland’s business of the year.

Hays Travel, a Sunderland business mainstay for 42 years, won the double honour of Business of the Year and Employer of the Year at the Sunderland Echo Business Excellence Awards.

Its overjoyed workers shouted ‘go on!’ as they celebrated the win which came almost two years to the day after John died aged 71.

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The company’s group finance director Ken Campling led the tributes. “John Hays is irreplaceable. He is one of those rare entrepreneurs that lived the region, and loved the people he worked with.”

A night to remember at the Sunderland Echo Business Excellence Awards.

He also praised the company’s chair and owner Dame Irene Hays and said: “She supports everybody in the business. She is a fantastic leader.”

The Hays Travel double victory was only one of the highlights on a night of champions at the Stadium of Light.

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Sean Thompson, the man who founded Ashford Orthodontics and turned it into a UK leader, got a standing ovation as he collected the Lifetime Achievement honour.

It was a deserved reward for his 40 years of dedication to orthodontics in the city. Afterwards, he admitted he was ‘gobsmacked’ to win.

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A big night for the Business of the Year Awards winners Hays Travel, who received their award from Coun Kevin Johnston (left).

He remembered listening to the citation and thinking: “This sounds familiar! But I had absolutely no idea I had won so thank you to whoever did this.”

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What a year it has been for Stack Seaburn which is pulling in 80,000 visitors a month, and now has a Special Recognition Award to boast of.

There were lots of other winners as well. We have a full rundown on them below.

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Hundreds of guests attended this year’s finale at the Stadium of Light for a glitzy night presented by awards host Jeff Brown, a BBC sports and news presenter for almost 20 years.

Sean Thompson, winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, with host Jeff Brown at the Sunderland Echo Business Excellence Awards.
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Sunderland Echo editor Gary Oliver told the audience that the excellent entries were ‘an indication that Sunderland's business future is in safe hands. Give yourselves a round of applause.”

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Councillor Kevin Johnston, Cabinet Member for Dynamic City at Sunderland City Council, said he was ‘amazed at how many forward-thinking businesses’ the city had.

He said the Sunderland businesses and workers of today were showing the same mettle as the shipyard workers, glass blowers and miners before them.

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The team from The Stack Seaburn proudly hold the trophy they won for the Special Recognition Award.

Judges admitted the standard in this year’s awards had been exceptionally high, especially from the record number of first-time entrants.

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The judging panel had a message for all the finalists – ‘you have done Sunderland and County Durham proud’.

A night of real highs also included;

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Lucas Foulk of Canford Audio in Washington winning the Apprentice category after judges heard he was a genius with electronic engineering.

Clixifix Customer Care, from Houghton, was the winner of the brand new category Best Independent Business for taking the headache out of the customer experience in house construction.

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Ocado Retail, a household name and online grocery firm, won the Best Large Business for making its headquarters at The Beam a place full of fun and encouragement for its 400 Sunderland workers.

All of the winners at the Sunderland Echo Business Excellence Awards.
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Congratulations to Active Families North East which took the Business in the Community crown for working tirelessly to help people in the pandemic and beyond.

Neil Hart was a placement student when he started at chartered surveyors and estate agents Bradley Hall in 2000. Now he is managing director and the newly crowned Entrepreneur of the Year.

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Project Fitness GB won the Retail Hospitality & Leisure section after judges heard this gym looks after its customers’ mental well being as well as their physical health.

The SME Business of the Year was Building Design (Northern) Ltd. It specialises in regenerating sustainable buildings.

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Social Enterprise of the Year was Weights & Cakes CIC, a Southwick-based gym with a great youth section and a warm welcome for people with special needs.

And the Sustainable Initiative of the Year Award went to The Encore Group, an envelope and packaging manufacturer which aims to reduce its CO2 use by 46 per cent by 2027.

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The awards could not have happened without the support of its sponsors.

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They included Sunderland City Council, our partners in the competition and the headline sponsors.

Also on board were the North East BIC, Chilli Mangoes, Marelli, Wilf Husband, Harrison and Brown, Thompson Waste, Gentoo, Sunderland University, The Stack, BGL, Audi, North East Ambition and Sunderland College.

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We thank them all.

Watch out for a post awards supplement filled with interviews and photos with all of the winners. Make sure you get your copy which will be in the Sunderland Echo on Friday, November 25.

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SCROLL OF HONOUR

Apprentice of the Year (sponsored by The University of Sunderland) – Winner: Lucas Foulk, Canford Audio.

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Best Independent Business of the Year (sponsored by Sunderland Council) – Winner: Clixifix Customer Care. Highly commended: Oculus HR.

Best Large Business of the Year (sponsored by Chilli Mangoes) – Winner: Ocado Retail.

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Business in the Community (sponsored by Gentoo) – Winner: Active Families North East.

Employer of the Year (sponsored by Sunderland College) – Winner: Hays Travel.

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Entrepreneur of the Year (sponsored by Wilf Husband) – Winner: Neil Hart, Bradley Hall; Highly commended: Mark Catterall, Smart Media Group.

Retail Hospitality & Leisure Business of the Year (sponsored by North East Ambition) – Winner: Project Fitness GB.

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SME Business of the Year (sponsored by North East Bic) – Winner: Building Design (Northern) Ltd.

Social Enterprise of the Year (sponsored by North East Bic) – Winner: Weights & Cakes CIC; Highly commended: Media Savvy.

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Sustainable Initiative of the Year (sponsored by Marelli) – Winner: The Encore Group.

Special Recognition Award (sponsored by Thompson Waste) – Winner: STACK Seaburn.

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Lifetime Achievement (sponsored by Wearside Audi/ Lookers) – Winner – Sean Thompson.

Business of the Year (sponsored by Sunderland Council) – Hays Travel.

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The Sunderland Echo Business Excellence Awards.
Tributes were paid to John Hays whose company Hays Travel won the Business of the Year Awards in 2022 - almost exactly two years after he died.