AN EXPERT panel of judges, including former Chief Inspector of Social Work Alexis Jay, will select a shortlist for the Herald Society Awards 2014.

Ms Jay, who was chosen to helm the inquiry into child abuse in Rotherham which returned damning findings at the end of last month, is returning for a second year on the judging panel.

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Her fellow judges include Karyn McCluskey, director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, who said she was looking forward to taking part once again in the awards, which recognise achievements in the public and voluntary sector.

"Through the Society awards, I've met the most wonderful people," she said. "I get the rare opportunity to be part of a group that recognises the work of extraordinary people across Scotland."

Brian Boyd, emeritus professor of education at the University of Strathclyde will contribute his expertise and experience to the judging team, while Andrew Horne, of drug and alcohol dependency charity Addaction, is also returning to the panel.

Dr Mary Hepburn, founder of the special needs in pregnancy service SNIPS, has recently retired from practice, but is rejoining the Society Awards judges for a second year.

Last but not least, a new addition to the panel is Foster Evans. Formerly director of Employers in Voluntary Housing (EVH), he is currently chairman of the Renfrew Development Trust, which has recently launched a community action plan for the town.

Mr Evans said: "I am delighted and proud to be asked to help. The Awards are respected and popular, and offer a genuine way to celebrate the exceptional contributions made across Scotland's communities."

Herald social affairs correspondent Stephen Naysmith will chair the judging session, during which our experts will choose the best entries in 12 categories, including education project, health project and unsung hero of the year.

Entries have been flooding in since the launch of the awards last month.

Some of the most imaginative entries each year have come in the Older People's Project of the Year category, which is sponsored this year by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU).

Professor Valerie Webster, executive dean of the School of Health and Life Sciences at GCU, said the partnership was fitting as the school's Healthy Ageing research programme is committed to promoting positive ageing, and improving care and management of age-related conditions and syndromes. She added: "GCU is proud to sponsor the Older People's Project of the Year category and we look forward to celebrating the outstanding work taking place in Scotland to improve the lives or lifestyles of older people."

The new body for leaders in Scottish social work, Social Work Scotland (SWS) is sponsoring the health and social care integration award. SWS president Harry Stevenson said "As leaders of the profession we understand how important it is that the thousands of people who deliver and receive social work services every day are recognised and celebrated and these awards allow us to do just that.

"Health and social care integration is the biggest policy change in social work for a generation.

"We are looking for creative and innovative leadership from applicants in this category."

Karen McGregor, Firstport chief executive, said: "Firstport is supporting Social Entrepreneur of the Year because we are the development agency for Scotland's social entrepreneurs, helping them make their ideas a reality. We want to raise the profile of social enterprise and highlight those motivated, can-do individuals who are tackling social problems and making a difference to Scottish communities."

A spokesman for Youthlink, who are sponsoring the young people's project of the year award, added: "YouthLink Scotland is privileged to sponsor an award that shines a light on work with young people. Youth work changes lives for the better and the winner of this award demonstrates this."

Judging will take place early next month, and while it is often a difficult and challenging task to pick between excellent initiatives, big and small, from all over Scotland, it is also an enjoyable one, as judges attest.

Andrew Horne, director of operations for Addaction Scotland, said: "I am delighted to be asked to judge the Herald society awards again this year.

"It is both humbling and inspiring to see the dedication of individuals and groups to their local communities and people in need. They really are working tirelessly to make Scotland a fairer, safer and greener country."

l The winners will be announced at a gala celebration at Glasgow's Grand Central Hotel on Thursday November 6. Entries are open until Thursday September 25, and can be made online at awards. For more information contact Lynn Kelly on 0141 302 7410.