Behind the Scenes as a Bath Life judge

It’s one of the highlights of Bath’s calendar, a time of feverish excitement and nail-biting nerves for all sorts of local businesses looking for the ultimate recognition – and this year, Taste of Bath MD Helen Rich was a crucial part of making the legendary Bath Life Awards happen, as one of a select panel of eight judges.

Winning a Bath Life Award, as Taste of Bath did in 2019 (in the Business Services category) was one of Helen’s biggest ambitions, but it’s safe to say that when she was asked to be a judge, it was another huge thing to tick off her bucket list! In her own words, here’s a sneaky peek into how things work behind the scenes…

How do you get to be a Bath Life judge? And what did being a judge mean to you?

Growing up in Bath, ever since I was 16 all I wanted was to appear in the glossy social pages of the Bath Life Magazine! Years on, and having started my own business, I saw the Bath Life Awards as the ultimate recognition for businesses in the area. Being a judge, I thought, was reserved for world-beating business leaders and incredible superhuman folk, so it took me 3 years to get over my imposter syndrome and start enthusiastically asking Media Clash if I could be a judge. I think the other judges were approached with a request to be involved… I just kept asking until they said yes. I think being a Bath Life super fan helped – oh, and running a Bath business of course. It was an honour and privilege.

TOB was a finalist for two awards this year – how does that work with you being a judge?

I was super nervous about this before the process started. Would the judging process live up to my expectations? Would it be totally above board and uphold the standards I expected from the process? Hand on heart, Bath Life is totally unbiased, with integrity at its core. I’m known in the Bath business community for my own personal integrity, and I would never compromise that. I was asked to leave the room while the other judges considered the categories in which we were finalists – I had NO idea who had won our category, not even the barest hint. I wasn’t allowed to judge the Winner of Winners category either, as that would give away whether we’d won in our categories.  

How do you prepare for judging day? And do you really read the whole nomination for every single finalist??

Two words – BATH Coffee. My favourite limited-edition brew from Roundhill Roastery got me through it! There are eight key categories to judge, and three judges are specialists in each category – they lead the conversations. However, all the judges were encouraged to read every single one of the finalists’ entries. Personally, I read each entry carefully and made plenty of my own notes, plus I looked at websites, social media platforms, and reviews. This took around 30-45mins per entry, and there were more than 170 finalists in total! It was a huge commitment, but also incredibly enlightening – and I really wanted to do it properly.  

Where does the judging panel start with each category?

The only guidance we got from the Media Clash team was on how to judge: stick to the question at hand, and ask yourself how the entrant is answering that question. You would be amazed how many people go off on a tangent! The winners tended to be those who really focused on answering the questions, backing everything up with facts and evidence.

Of course, in some categories multiple entries have focused brilliantly on answering each question with plenty of convincing evidence – you then have to discuss who has made the biggest contribution or the biggest impact. Most winners this year were businesses that had really gone above and beyond their original mission.

How is the final decision made? What happens if you totally disagree?!

The decision has to be unanimous, which makes for some lengthy debates! We would take votes for each category, and if it wasn’t unanimous, one person from each ‘camp’ would plead the case for their chosen winner to those who were still undecided or to swing others’ votes. We’d keep going until we got down to one winner, which in some cases took four or five rounds of votes and debates!

Were there any nominees that you felt particularly inspired by this year?

I work in the food and drink industry, but fundamentally Taste of Bath is a business service – so I operate in a business environment. I was so worried about judging things like arts, education and charity – I just didn’t feel like I knew enough about those sectors. What I was astonished by was how much I learnt from the most inspiring people, all of whom are working for a cause they are so passionate about. I think I speak not only for myself but for all the judges, when I say that the entries from the charity sector were off the scale! We debated this category for a really long time and I was almost moved to tears by what the incredible people of our city have done to support others during COVID. There really was a silent army of people in Bath mobilising services, resources and support for those in need. They not only gave up so much personally to do it, but they’ve created a legacy of new systems, processes and resources in the city for generations to come. 

TOB has been nominated for the Bath Life Awards plenty of times over the years – has being a judge given you a new insight into the Awards?

If you want to win a Bath Life Award you need to be worthy of it. You need to look at how your business impacts people, the environment and the wider community. You could be exceptional in your field, but if you’re up against another finalist who does charity work, mentoring and invests in its people– they will win. Look outward and inward, and ask yourself how you can be a better Bath business! Taste of Bath seriously stepped up over COVID, but having read the entry from the Retail category winner, Larkhall Butchers, I can say that they absolutely deserved to win – they went above, beyond and beyond again! It doesn’t diminish our contribution, but it really makes me aspire to do more for our community.

What’s one thing you would say to future entrants, or businesses considering entering for the first time?

My first top tip would be – read the question and substantiate your answer!!

I’d also say that just because you’re a new company or start up doesn’t mean you should be afraid to enter. We had several newcomers win this year, purely because they are exceptional and make an outstanding contribution to the wider community.

If you’re an existing business, stop trying to win it for recognition, and win it because you’re worthy. Some of the entries this year were so passionate about what they were doing, they had plenty of evidence of commercial impact but also, crucially, social and environmental impact. Personally, next year, I’m going to review how we can do more… so we really are worthy of this prestigious prize.

Find out more about all of the 2021 Bath Life Awards winners here

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