THE founder of the Henley Literary Festival was honoured at this year’s Sue Ryder women of achievement awards.
Sue Ryan was one of 10 women to be honoured at the awards ceremony and dinner at the Hilton Hotel in Reading on Wednesday last week.
The annual awards, now in their fifth year, raise money for the Sue Ryder hospice in Nettlebed and salute women in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire who have made significant achievements in the fields of business, sport, the arts and community.
Three of this year’s 10 awards were won by women from the Henley area.
Mrs Ryan, who lives in Peppard, won the creator of the year award for her initiative and willingness to put herself at financial risk by creating the literary festival, which is now one of the most successful in the country.
The former Daily Telegraph managing editor said: “This award is definitely for the team — all of those people who come up with the ideas and make it happen.
“The whole premise behind the festival was to have fun and we do, so I feel a bit of a fraud here.
“Not to be pompous, but it would be nice to think that it enriches life a bit. This year we were sitting with Michael Palin and it was just lovely. The whole of the festival is great, we just love it.”
The idea of the festival was dreamed up over a glass of wine six years ago when Mrs Ryan and some friends wondered if they might invite their favourite authors and personalities to talk about their books in Henley.
In its first year, the festival was held over three days and had 30 events, selling about 3,000 tickets. This year, there were 95 events in the space of a week and 12,500 tickets were sold.
The awards ceremony was hosted by actress Jenny Hanley and attended by 170 people, including the award nominees, sponsors and their guests. None of the diners knew in advance who had won.
Six women from the Henley area were nominated for awards.
Julie Perigo, who chairs the business and retail group of the Henley Partnership, was named corporate social responsibility champion of the year.
She is credited with reviving the partnership over the past two years and she founded the Henley Young Partnership, which aims to link businesses and young people.
Mrs Perigo, of Station Road, Henley, also introduced the Living Advent Calendar to Henley, raising more than £2,000 for the Regatta for the Disabled, the Chiltern Centre for disabled children, the Over-60s Club, Sue Ryder, Kenton for Keeps, Henley Youth Club and the Face of Henley.
Throughout December, 24 shops and businesses hosted performances by musicians, actors, dancers, singers and other entertainers.
The initiative, which is sponsored by the Standard, will return this year.
Ms Perigo said it felt “wonderful” to win the award.
“I want to say thank you to market towns in general and in particular to Henley because I have never lived in a market town and it has been brilliant meeting the wonderful people there,” she said.
“They have helped us all to join up business, community and the arts and it has been a wonderful experience.”
Community carer of the year was Emma Lerche-Thomsen, a fund-raiser for the Chiltern Centre in Greys Road, Henley, which is trying to raise £350,000 with its jubilee appeal.
Mrs Lerche-Thomsen, from Remenham, also runs the Henley Festival patrons’ club and raises money for the Riverside Counselling Service in Henley.
Her son Sam collected the award on her behalf and read out a statement she had written in the event of winning.
She said: “I am deeply touched on behalf of the community of Henley and the Chiltern Centre. The centre gives the children special care and friendship and I hope I have inspired others. It is the best choice I have ever made.”
Sam added: “Thank you so much, it really means a lot to her.”
Liz Smith, who founded Henley Good Neighbours a year ago, was a runner-up in the category.
Her befriending service matches clients who may be elderly or lonely with volunteers who have similar interests.
The event raised about £45,000 from a “hit or miss” song game, an auction and a raffle.
Fund-raiser Emma Harpaul said: “The event was a great success. Jenny Hanley did a great job of making everyone feel welcome and you could hear a pin drop as all the guests listened to the nominees’ inspirational stories.
“There are so many truly remarkable women out there and it was so great to celebrate so many of them and their achievements.”
The event sponsors were Invesco Perpetual, business caterers Charlton House and Higgs Group, publishers of the Henley Standard.