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Maddy Christopher

Deputy Editor at TrainingZone and HRZone

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2023 Culture Pioneer Awards: Finalists revealed

Who made the shortlist and how did their respective journeys impress our judges? Time to find out…

Our expert panels have had a tough time deciding the shortlist for this year’s awards. We’ve seen some strong contenders in each of the Wellbeing, Inclusion, Learn and Brand categories.

Our finalists have demonstrated determination to address the areas of their category holding back their organisation’s culture – with many having limited resources. They have honestly appraised the issues faced and candidly set about to holistically address systemic obstacles discerned, measuring impact before adjusting.

The team at Culture Pioneers would like to share their gratitude with everyone who has supported the programme – our judges, partners, supporters, but also our entrants who had the courage to share their work with us, wherever they were in their culture journey. It takes courage to do this work, and even more courage to share your work with the culture change community and celebrate yourself for it.

But this is only the beginning of the journey. For our finalists, the grand reveal of our 2023 winners will take place on the evening of 21st March 2024 at our in-person event in central London. Save the date and pre-order your tickets today!

And for those who did not make the shortlist, your journey does not end here. We support the important work you are doing and will reach out to assist you with your journey and entry for next year. This is just the beginning – we look forward to seeing you grow in your journey and return next year.

But for now, here are the finalists for this year’s Culture Pioneer Awards!

Wellbeing Award

It’s been yet another difficult year for employee wellbeing, with financial worries, high absence rates and burnout levels of big concern. This year’s finalists for the Wellbeing Award offered true flexibility, got creative within tight constraints, and showed genuine care for their people.

Mental Health First Aid England®

Training providers Mental Health First Aid England® worked hard to support marginalised employees with their career progression and wellbeing struggles. Flexible working policies and targeted support for struggling colleagues – such as direct support with financial strain and key personal life events – have made a huge impact on the team of under 100 people. 


As a chartered accounting firm, Nordens took a systematic, yet creative approach to holistically supporting the wellbeing of their small workforce. The organisation conducted thorough assessments to confront any shortcomings – engaging multiple stakeholders in the process – before tailoring initiatives that authentically brought their members together and fostered belonging. The effectiveness was held to account by their impressive retention and growth rates over the last year.


Financial, legal and HR consultancy Progeny grew from 12 to almost 600 in 7 years. As the business scaled a huge amount of work was undertaken to support the influx of people. Implementing a thorough, flexible benefits system and hosting its own Learning at Work Week were just a few of the initiatives put in place that wowed the judges.

Venture Ten

Despite being a small organisation of under ten, sales recruitment specialist Venture Ten is committed to offering a high level of flexibility and support to everyone in its team. The company’s wellbeing initiatives show creative flair and the attention paid to employee needs backs up their belief that “People’s physical health, mental health and family come before work. Always.” 


WRAP’s reward framework, employee support groups and wellness action plans show its continued commitment to employee wellbeing, despite the pressure of being a climate action charity. The not-for-profit’s commitment went as far as training employees as dedicated MHFA trainers to cover more ground within its 200+ workforce.

Inclusion Award 

Progress in diversity, inclusion equity and belonging (DEIB) remains notoriously slow, yet our 2023 finalists for the Inclusion Award, sponsored by Culture Amp, showed a meaningful turn of the dial. These organisations and individuals fought stigma, bolstered psychological safety and nurtured a culture of inclusive conversation.

Coventry City Council

Coventry City Council admirably focuses on psychological safety and what to do when things don’t go well – an inevitability in the world of diversity and inclusion. This does not mean that other DEIB areas are neglected. The council has launched a huge number of initiatives, such as anti-racism training and a career programme for minorities, to bolster inclusion among its 4,000+ workforce, despite being constrained by a limited budget.

National Composites Centre

After setting out a clear DEIB roadmap, research and development organisation National Composites Centre got to work with putting it all into action. The organisation launched affinity groups, reviewed policies, created mental health and diversity toolkits and became a Disability Confident employer, among other activities. Demonstrating honesty about NCC’s inclusion maturity level, alongside the significant work done in a short period, the company’s long-term dedication to inclusion is clear.

Washwood Heath Multi Academy Trust

Washwood Heath Multi Academy Trust implemented a plethora of impactful initiatives in line with its robust DEIB action plan. Fighting the stigma within schools around mispronouncing names, the academy launched a campaign and produced a video as part of Race Equality Week to support their dedication to belonging and inclusion.

Yasmine Alani, Media Zoo

After joining communications agency Media Zoo, Head of Creative Learning, DEIB and Culture, Yasmine Alani, realised she needed to pay particular attention to fostering inclusion. Despite the high numbers of talent from marginalised groups, conversations around DEIB were muted. Yasmine took the organisation of over 160 members on an incredible journey with limited resources, working above and beyond her role responsibilities to drive greater DEIB impact despite facing resistance.

Learning Award

Our finalists for the Learning Award can be applauded for their inclusive approach to nurturing homegrown talent. Curiosity, knowledge-sharing, coaching and reflection time are foundational to the learning culture of this year’s shortlist. 

Coleg Sir Gar and Coleg Ceredigion

In 2019, Coleg Sir Gar and Coleg Ceredigion launched an annual action research programme to nurture a culture of curiosity among its teaching staff. By giving employees the opportunity to reflect on and explore new avenues of their specialism, the college is helping to support a culture of lifelong learning that ripples from teachers down to students.


Creative agency DRPG is on a mission to embed a culture of continuous learning among its 400 employees by empowering individuals to learn in a way that suits them. Launching a new learning experience platform, Thrive, has supported this mission, alongside the team philosophy of nurturing homegrown experts and encouraging knowledge-sharing through the agency’s own ‘academy’.

Elton Ron Nathan, Apollo Health and Lifestyle Ltd. 

Heading up the L&D team at Apollo Health and Lifestyle Ltd. (AHLL), Elton Ron Nathan is committed to making the organisation a learning playground for everyone. Leaders, middle managers and employees alike receive customised L&D – as a result, a culture of innovation and competitive edge is felt across the 5000+ workforce.


Seeing learning as an ongoing journey, fintech company Form3 offers an annual £1,000 learning allowance and six paid learning days for employees to use as they wish. Engineers are granted ‘Investment time’ to work on creative projects and one engineer launched weekly coding clubs for non-engineering employees. To give everyone a moment to reflect and celebrate how they’ve developed each year, an annual learning summary is published.


The learning and talent development team at disability charity Scope is on a mission to ‘grow their gamechangers’ through a revitalised people development plan. By ditching annual appraisals and bolstering coaching skills among managers and employees alike, the charity is well on its way to seeing a vibrant coaching culture flourish. 

Venture Ten

Recruitment start-up Venture Ten views holistic personal development as paramount to a harmonious workplace. Reflection sessions, team recognition huddles and peer knowledge-sharing are business as usual at the company. Employees feel inspired to further invest in their personal growth outside of the workplace, suggesting a learning-hungry culture is well in place.

Yorkshire Cancer Research

With ambitious growth plans, Yorkshire Cancer Research is working hard to build a culture of learning among its volunteers to ensure the right skills are embedded across its new (and future) stores. The charity strives to provide an inclusive learning approach that supports the diverse mix of pre-existing skills and knowledge among volunteers through its accessible training programme. It’s rare for volunteers to get an L&D offering as comprehensive and engaging as what this charity provides!

Brand Award

Our Brand Award finalists span numerous challenging industries, including hospitality, retail, and education. But the obstacles these organisations face have not stopped them from developing a compelling brand that is reflective of their thriving workplace culture. 

Brooklands College

With strong historical ties to the 1800s Brooklands Racetrack, Brooklands College was struggling with a culture of blame and non-collaboration. To turn over a fresh leaf, the college worked with employees to create a new set of values that support a more creative and caring culture.

Chivas Brothers

Scotch whisky producer, Chivas Brothers (a Pernod Ricard business), has a rich heritage and a strong culture of conviviality. Working with consultancy scarlettabbott, the organisation brought this culture to life through creating a compelling employee value proposition (EVP) that aims to touch every part of the employee and consumer experience.

Escapism Bars

Alongside the turbulence of Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis, Escapism Bars also had to overcome the challenge of a drinking culture and low motivation levels. The mindset of their teams has now been transformed, all thanks to a renewed focus on their people and culture. There is now less drinking – but still a lot of fun!

James Ferguson, Director of Culture, Wurzack Hotel Group

With the slogan "We Are Wurzak", this hotel group is committed to creating a sense of community across a geographically dispersed team. Director of Culture James Ferguson is proudly leading the charge of Wurzack’s Culture Committee, where innovative ideas to improve their culture are in abundance.


As a globally expanding SaaS company, Simpro recently embarked on a journey to better align its values to business objectives. Leaders have played a pivotal role in strengthening the culture through more transparent communication and active listening sessions. One of the most tangible impacts has been a year-over-year financial growth of 18%.

Congratulations to our 2023 finalists!

A warm congratulations to all the organisations and individuals making this year's Culture Pioneers shortlist. The work you are doing is vital in the mission to change organisational culture and we can’t thank you enough.

We'll be announcing the winners on 21st March 2024 at our in-person event in central London. Pre-order your tickets here!

Author Profile Picture
Maddy Christopher

Deputy Editor at TrainingZone and HRZone

Read more from Maddy Christopher

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