A SOUTH Lakes firm took centre stage at the CN Group Business Awards last night, scooping two prestigious awards.

Playdale Playgrounds in Haverthwaite was named exporter of the year, and the firm's Stephanie Tootill was named the "rising star". 

 Around 250 of the county’s movers and shakers attended the dinner and presentation at Carlisle Racecourse. CN Group, publisher of the Evening Mail, stages the annual awards, which celebrate the achievements of Cumbrian businesses and the people behind them.

 They are sponsored by Cumbria Business Growth Hub and Rural Growth Network. Judging took place at the end of August but the results were kept a closely-guarded secret until last night. 

The judges were Paul Ashley, chairman of Clark Door in Carlisle; Rob Johnston, chief executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce; Danny Martin, head of brand and communications at Westmorland Ltd; and Julian Whittle, business editor of the News & Star. 

Marie Whitehead, director of CN Events, chaired the judging panel. 

She said: “Once again the task of judging has been both rewarding and challenging as the quality of entries rises each year.

 “It is highly encouraging to see so many businesses investing in their products, their staff and their premises to make sure the business offer in Cumbria remains strong and vibrant.” 

The coveted title of businessperson of the year went to Mark Telford of Forth Engineering in Flimby, and Innovia Films in  Wigton was named manufacturing business of the year for the second year running. 

Iggesund Paperboard of Workington, Chimney Sheep of Maryport, the Lakes Distillery at Bassenthwaite, Livingstone Surface Treatments at Haile, Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake and West House in Workington all picked up awards. 

Other winners included AWS Power at Linstock, North Associates and World of Ukes in Carlisle, Wild River of Calthwaite and the accountancy firm Armstrong Watson.

Innovia’s win seals an eventful year the business, which manufactures polypropylene and cellulose film primarily for use in packaging and labelling. It has invested £40m at Wigton to boost production of polypropylene film and to build a bank note opacification plant.

The firm will supply the base material for the Bank of England’s first polymer £5 and £10 notes, which will start to enter circulation next year. 

The judges described it as “an exemplar business....a truly global organisation operating to world standards”. 

Iggesund won the environmental and energy awareness award following a £108m investment, which means its mill is self-sufficient for renewable electricity and thermal energy. Still on a green theme, Chimney Sheep won the innovation category for its ingenious draught excluders for chimneys made from Cumbrian Herdwick wool. 

The judges made a one-off "highly commended" award to Sally’s Cottages of Keswick in the customer service category, where it was narrowly beaten by Wild River. 

Robin Burgess, who is about to retire as chief executive of CN Group, received a lifetime contribution award from Cumbria Chamber of Commerce. He has overseen a transformation of the 200-year-old firm from being solely a newspaper publisher into a multi-media business with newspapers, magazines, web sites and radio stations operating in Cumbria, Lancashire, Northumberland and south-west Scotland. 

The guest speaker was Ellis Watson, chief executive of DC Thomson Publishing, and the evening was hosted by former BBC Radio Cumbria presenter Julie Clayton.