The awards will be judged by a panel of industry leaders and experts. The judging is a rigorous two stage process including pre-scoring to determine shortlists and a judging meeting where entries are discussed and evaluated in detail to decide the winning entries.

From a transparency perspective, we may video aspects of the judging session to show on the evening and to give entrants an insight into why our winners were chosen. Take a look at the confirmed judging panel below.

Helen Nugent

Founder & Editor, Northern Soul |

Helen Nugent is the Founder and Editor of Northern Soul. After working in London for 14 years, many of which were spent at The Times, Helen has been back in her home town of Manchester for seven years. As well as editing Northern Soul, Helen is also the Money Editor of The Spectator. In addition, she freelances for a number of publications, arts organisations and businesses.

You can find articles by Helen in, among others, The GuardianThe Mail on SundayThe Times, the i newspaper, The ObserverThe Big Issue in the North, the Yorkshire Post, the Daily StarCreative Tourist, and Manchester Salon. Previous roles include producing and presenting at BBC Radio 5 Live and freelancing for The Daily Telegraph, The Independent on SundayThe Sunday Times and the Financial Times.

During ten years at The Times, she had a number of roles including News Reporter, News Editor, Lobby Correspondent in the House of Commons, Business Reporter and Financial Writer. In addition, Helen runs her own media training and consultancy firm. She is currently a Media Consultant and Corporate Writer for a number of high-profile businesses including two Manchester-based digital agencies, a London PR firm, a global property company, and a leading trade body.

Helen is a multi-award-winning journalist who has appeared on Sky News, BBC Radio 2BBC Radio 3BBC 6 MusicBBC Radio ManchesterBBC Radio MerseysideBBC Radio LancashireBBC World Service and talkRadio. She regularly chairs arts conferences in the North West including events for HOMECityCo, and The Lowry. Helen is a regular panellist at events around Manchester and the wider region and regularly hosts Google Hangouts for arts companies. She is also a Guest Lecturer at Westminster University in the Department of Journalism & Mass Communication.

David Agnew

Artistic Director, The Met |

David Agnew has worked in the arts sector for over 15 years. As director of The Met in Bury 2005-2014, the organization developed to promote Ramsbottom Festival, open its own recording studio and undertake a £4.6M refurbishment.

In 2014 David established his own producing company, So It Is, which works in partnership to develop new audiences for new work between festivals and venues, music and theatre. In 2015 and 2016 So It Is co produced The Lost Carnival with Wild Rumpus – a touring outdoor immersive festival for families of the north.

As artistic director of The Met David programmes over 200 events a year including touring theatre, music, comedy into The Met and local events. 2017 will see Ramsbottom festival’s 7th anniversary and the inaugural Manchester Folk Festival in October welcoming industry delegates from throughout the world.

David has always maintained an unhealthy obsession with audience development and how that might unlock and sustain new opportunities for artists.

Alongside The Met, David has been a board member for The Audience Agency, a national agency working strategically to develop audiences for arts and Horse and Bamboo, a visual theatre company based in Waterfoot. David sits on the Cultural Economy Group in Bury, working in partnership with Bury Council and other partners to develop the borough culturally and economically through the support of high quality and inspiring cultural events.

So it is exists to try new things and test the impact of innovative and exciting projects working across the arts and music industry, connecting and sustaining audiences.

Photography © Chris Payne

Kevin Bourke

Theatre Editor, Northern Soul |

Now a freelance writer and broadcaster for BBC national television and local radio, as well as international music and arts magazines, plus some of the best websites, obviously including Northern Soul, self-styled “Art Blokey” Kevin spent twenty years as arts writer for the UK’s biggest regional newspaper.

His many years of proud adventures in music, film and theatre include seeing one of his articles torn up on stage by Robbie Williams in front of a few thousand angry fans. He can also quite happily bang on about getting drunk with Leonard Cohen; writing and presenting the first-ever radio documentary on Gram Parsons; discussing flamenco guitar with Jackson Browne on a crowded main street in central Manchester; and embarrassingly over-estimate his significance in the careers of Danny Boyle and Peter Kay.

He is one of the founders of the Manchester Theatre Awards and has recently spent a lot of time savoring blues music in unlikely locations, including on a blisteringly hot beach in the Virgin Islands and at the world’s Northernmost habitation, where the polar bears far outnumber human residents.


Laura Brown

Presenter and Producer of The Northern Soul Podcast |

Laura Brown is a freelance journalist and digital consultant specialising in arts and culture. Starting at the BBC - first paying job working for John Peel! - she moved into the arts when Liverpool became European Capital of Culture, based at FACT. She set up her consultancy in 2010 and now splits her time between various social media sites, PR clients and feature writing. Laura also produces the Northern Soul podcast. 

Marissa Burgess

Comedy Editor, Northern Soul |

Marissa Burgess is Northern Soul‘s Comedy Editor. She was born in Crewe but got a train out to Manchester 20 years ago and has been there ever since. She has been a freelance journalist since 1997 covering the arts, mostly, in the North West of England. Her specialised area is comedy and it’s probably quicker to ask her which comics from Joan Rivers to Johnny Vegas to whom she hasn’t asked nosy questions.

Previously comedy editor at City Life magazine and the main comedy writer at the Manchester Evening News for a number of years, she has written for publications such as The Guardian, The Times, Time Out, Chortle comedy website, The Big Issue in the North, Manchester Confidential and The List. In addition, she has made many TV and radio appearances.

She is also a versatile copywriter and PR and is currently completing her debut novel November and a graphic novel The Amazing Maisie. She gets regularly drawn into a variety of ill-advised oddball projects with the comedian Arthur Smith.

Cathy Crabb

Playwright |

Cathy is an award-winning playwright. She has two collections of poetry by Flapjack Press- Beside the See-side and Mumb. Her poetry appears on public art sculptures by Emma Hunter in Oldham. This year is the premiere of her co-written musical (with Lindsay Williams and Carol Donaldson) Meat Pie, Sausage Roll at Oldham Coliseum.

Rachel Crewes

Head of Business Development, Hepworth Wakefield |

Rachel is an experienced and dedicated professional in commercial development, events and catering within the arts sector, with experience at both nationally funded and self-funding organisations.

Her main experience to date has been in business development, commercial events and catering. Currently Head of Business Development at The Hepworth Wakefield (voted as 'one of the top 50 galleries in the world'), she has also successfully managed the venue hire business at a number of regional organisations, including Magna, the National Railway Museum and the National Media Museum.

Rob Ellis

Marketing & Business Development Manager, ODEON Cinemas |

Rob is the Marketing and Business Development Manager of ODEON Cinemas, focusing specifically on content in the North of England.

Rob is “dead Northern”. He was born and raised in Blackpool, before studying in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and settled as a resident of Manchester six years ago. He is passionate about film and the cultural impact of cinema in the community. His favourite film of all time is Hook, a childhood favourite that teaches the lesson to not take life too seriously. In his role with ODEON, Rob is passionate about giving the public the opportunity to use its auditoriums for their own projects and entertainment, whether that is to re-watch their all-time favourite film, host a premiere for their own independent film, entertain clients, unveil a new product or reward employees.

Over the past 12 months, working and networking with Northern Soul has given Rob the opportunity to meet key influencers across many different business areas in the North and discuss all things Northern.

Damon Fairclough

Liverpool Correspondent, Northern Soul |

Damon is a freelance writer based in Liverpool. As a copywriter, he has written for global brands including Adidas, Motorola and Toyota, and spent four years as a creative writer for Sony working on their early PlayStation games. A number of his short plays have appeared at the Sheffield Crucible and in the Liverpool Everyman’s Everyword season, and he once served time as resident artist at the Curfew Tower in Cushendall, County Antrim. He also writes about the arts and other subjects for a range of publications, and is the Liverpool correspondent for Northern Soul. 

Bernard Ginns

Contributor, Northern Soul |

Bernard Ginns is founding director of Branksome Partners Ltd, a communications advisory firm working with individuals, businesses and organisations to promote and protect their interests.

He was previously Business Editor of the Yorkshire Post (2008-16) and led the editorial and commercial development of prestigious title’s business brand. He chaired its flagship Excellence in Business Awards, attracting speakers including David Cameron, George Osborne and Ed Balls and blue-chip sponsors such as Aviva, Goldman Sachs and PwC.

Bernard Ginns has extensive experience in the UK media industry, working as editor of the award-winning media start-up Kent on Sunday (2005-07), and as a reporter at The Mail on Sunday (2002-05), covering major stories from across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

He started his journalism career at the London Newspaper Group and is a philosophy graduate of the University of Manchester.

Outside of work, Bernard Ginns is a member of the regional leadership group of Mosaic, a Prince’s Trust charity which inspires young people from deprived communities to realise their talents and potential.

Yvonne Goldsmith-Rybka

Food & Drink Writer |

Yvonne worked in the food and drink industry for over twenty years, including managing and helping set up venues Reform, Restaurant Bar & Grill, Lounge 10 and One Central Street. She also co-owned Soup Kitchen, Thomas Restaurant & Bar, and The Bay Horse. 

Her love of food and wine kick-started her writing career three years ago, when she launched her own website My Manchester Diary. She worked as Food Editor at Viva magazine in 2015, both online and in print, which included her own monthly Find Me column. And since 2016 has been writing for I Love Manchester where she is now Assistant Editor - covering food & drink, her weekly interview 12 Questions for Manchester Bees, MancBook Reviews, and just about anything of interest that's happening in Manchester!

Chris Hawkins

Radio Presenter, BBC Radio 6 Music |

Chris presents the Early Breakfast show on BBC Radio 6 Music and is a regular on Radio 2 and Radio 5 Live. He often appears on BBC Breakfast TV, The BBC News Channel and has presented films on BBC Inside Out. Chris is an experienced festival and awards show host as well as a successful voice over artist. He also writes blogs for the BBC website and written pieces for Huffington Post, Music Week and UK Music.

Lucy McNamara

Contributor, Northern Soul |

Lucy McNamara is a freelance radio presenter, podcaster and voiceover. Until recently Lucy was the Weekend Breakfast presenter at 2BR, Lancashire's local commercial station. Lucy started out as a journalist 10 years ago and has worked for BBC Radio Leicester, Norfolk, Cambridge and Stoke, presenting, news reading and reporting.

Prior to 2BR she was BBC 6 Music's regular cover for Elizabeth Alker's music news on Radcliffe and Maconie. During her time at 6 Music she presented the music news on the Shaun Keaveny breakfast show and also took part in BBC Music Day appearing with Craig Charles. She has also assistant produced for Guy Garvey and Marc Riley.

During her time covering music festivals for radio she has interviewed Nile Rodgers, Everything Everything, Jean Michel Jarre, Tim Burgess and many more musicians both national and international.

For many years Lucy was the presenter and producer of The Northern Soul new music podcast. Lucy has made Manchester or perhaps more correctly 'Stockport' her home along with her family and continues to be a big champion of all things Northern.

Mary-Ellen McTague

Chef |

Mary-Ellen McTague was head chef at Aumbry in Prestwich, which opened in 2009. 

She grew up north of Bury, in Lancashire, and left university to cook for touring bands at Manchester’s Roadhouse. Keen to gain more experience, she became the first female chef at Michelin-starred country house hotel Sharrow Bay. 

She joined The Fat Duck in 2002 and progressed from the pastry section to become sous chef under Heston Blumenthal and Ashley Palmer-Watts. She then worked on historical research and development at The Hind’s Head, contributing dishes to The Fat Duck’s menu. 

In 2006 she left The Fat Duck and worked for Lancashire restaurateur Paul Heathcote before moving on to Ramsons, the award-winning restaurant in Ramsbottom. 

Aumbry opened in Prestwich on a shoestring, and has evolved to serve a thoughtful, contemporary British menu – starting with bread and warm dripping – which draws on historical influences and the best and most unusual of British seasonal produce. Mary-Ellen appeared on BBC2’s Great British Menu in 2013 and reached the North West finals.

Aumbry closed in August 2014 and she now works as Head Chef for the Real Junk Food Project Manchester whilst looking for a city centre premises for a future project.

Andy Murray

Film Editor, Northern Soul |

Andy Murray is Northern Soul's Film Editor. He has written about many aspects of popular arts and culture for publications including Big Issue in the North and City Life. He has also had non-fiction work published by Headpress, Comma Press and Reynolds & Hearn.

Helen Palmer

Co-Director Creative Tourist & Co-Director Palmer Squared |

Helen is based in Manchester, but works across the UK and internationally. Her background was originally in theatre, before becoming a marketing consultant in 1999, then creating Palmer Squared Marketing & Audience Development Agency in 2005 with her twin brother Andrew.

Helen has been part of the founding management teams of Manchester International Festival, Asia Triennial Manchester, British Ceramics Biennial, Cultureshock (Commonwealth Games Cultural Programme, Manchester 2002) and The Lowry.  Helen and Andrew have developed a particular specialism in festivals marketing.

From 2007-9 Helen also led Marketing Manchester’s Marketing Coordination Unit as the Director of Strategic Marketing.

Creative Tourist (cultural tourism communications agency) provides strategic advice and tactical support for cultural tourism initiatives across the UK.

Helen holds a Masters with Distinction in Humanities (Film History) Open University; B.A.(Hons) Tourism Studies, Bournemouth University; Diploma in Marketing, Chartered Institute of Marketing, and is now studying part-time for a PhD in Film Studies at the University of Warwick. @palmersquared @creativetourist @ctconsults

Sarah Perks

Professor of Visual Art, Manchester School of Art & Artistic Director (Visual Art), HOME Manchester |

Sarah’s practice looks at contemporary cross art form curation, with a focus on artist film and performance, and what this means for producers, curators, artists, audiences and beyond in the international and post-digital arena.

How is contemporary visual art responding to the new mediums and spaces of interaction as established borders and terrains evolve, collapse and reposition? How does technology and the socio-political climate both react and influence cross art form curation?

Sarah weaves together contemporary curation, commissioning, producing and programming, creative writing and academia to move across traditional terrains of history of art, visual studies, film studies, cultural studies, museum management, curatorial studies and production from fine art to film to theatre, expanding the possibilities of each with both audiences and artists.

Sarah Perks set up the internationally acclaimed HOME Artist Film in 2011, and Feature Expanded in 2014 – an innovative EU training programme for visual artists making their first feature film. She has curated and published extensively, working with artists including Al & Al, Phil Collins, Jeremy Deller, Stanya Kahn, Rosa Barba, Rachel Maclean, Rashid Rana, and Clifford Owens. Recent exhibitions include Imitation of Life: Race and Melodrama in the 21st Century (including new publication Fear Eats the Soul) and The heart is deceitful above all things (including new publication Transactions of Desire), both with Omar Kholeif.



Darren Pih

Exhibitions and Displays Curator, Tate Liverpool |

Darren has been part of the exhibitions team at Tate Liverpool since 2006. His curated exhibitions include ‘Yves Klein: Theatre of the Void’ (2016-7, touring to BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels), ‘Transmitting Andy Warhol’ and ‘Gretchen Bender’ (2014-5), ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’ (2013-4, touring to Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt and Lentos Kunstmuseum Linz); René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle’ (2011-2, touring to the Albertina, Vienna). Commissioned exhibitions including ‘Richard Hawkins: Hijikata Twist’ (2014) and ‘Moyra Davey: Hangmen of England’ (2013). Other exhibitions include ‘Gustav Klimt: Painting, Design and Modern Life, Vienna 1900’ (2008); and ‘Turner Prize ‘07’; and ‘Centre of the Creative Universe: Liverpool and the Avant-Garde’ (2007). Darren has published numerous essays for exhibition catalogues and online, and is part of a small team curating the rolling programme of Tate collection displays. He previously worked at The Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester, and at Camden Arts Centre, London.

Photography © Tate Liverpool, Laura Deveney

Iain Scott

Owner, Canal St Online |

Iain is the owner/operator of Canal St Online, a series of digital platforms providing information, reviews and features for the LGBT community and their friends across the region.

Additionally, he is the co-owner of newly established Unlock Manchester, an annual printed guide now present in over 33 hotels across Greater Manchester which provides information for visitors to the city about attractions, things to do and hospitality. Three further pocket size versions provide similar information for the resident population, and extensive social media is part of the Unlock media offering.

Iain has previously been involved in both the advertising and hospitality industries, with some 20 years plus in each. He is delighted to be a part of the inaugural Northern Soul awards and looks forward to the event itself.

Alfred Searls

Contributor, Northern Soul |

Alfred Searls was born, bred and buttered in the city of Manchester. After a grimly successful career in PR and marketing, which left him with a nagging suspicion he was becoming a character in a Kafka novel, he branched out into writing things he actually wanted to write. Consequently he now writes for Northern Soul on a range of subjects from literature and music to architecture and the theatre.

Elsewhere he writes for the Catholic Herald and his short stories have been published in Jupiter magazine.

Fran Yeoman

Contributor, Northern Soul |

Fran Yeoman spent over a decade on national newspapers before returning to her native Liverpool in 2016 to join John Moores University as a senior lecturer in journalism. Before that, she was Assistant Editor of i, where she oversaw the paper’s news output. She previously worked for the Independent and The Times, as a news editor and reporter, and spent a year as a political reporter based at Westminster. She has reported from countries including Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Greece and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and co-authored a Rough Guide to South America.