The Lifetime Achievement Award produced another “first” last night.

Professor Dianne Willcocks, Vice-Chancellor of York St John University became the first woman ever to receive The Press’s special accolade.

She stepped up to receive the award after a tribute to her work that comes to an end when she retires from her post at the end of April, although she does plan to focus on her involvement with other educational, cultural and public service organisations in York and North Yorkshire.

She was described by the judges as “someone who has provided the great and improving education that all businesses need, a woman deeply immersed in the cultural as well as the educational well-being of the region”

Prof Willcocks joined York St John in 1999, originally as principal of Ripon & York St John, then led it through massive changes, including relocation to a single campus in York in 2001; the achievement of Taught Degree Awarding Powers; and the award of university title in 2006.

In 2008, she received a CBE for services to higher education and communities in North Yorkshire.

She oversaw £65 million worth of investment, including new teaching space, arts facilities, student accommodation and learning resources. She also oversaw the creation of the Science City York Phoenix Centre, the incubation unit for 14 creative digital start-up businesses.

A member of the Board of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, she chairs the Action on Access Forum and is a trustee of the Council for Industry and Higher Education and the Higher Education Academy. Locally, she is actively engaged with the Yorkshire Film Archive, York at Large – the York Cultural Partnership – and also chairs the York Theatre Royal Trust and Creative York.

Master of ceremonies Colin Hazelden said: “Luckily for us, she is keen to continue her involvement in higher education and public service beyond York St John, as well as retaining her passionate interest in the cultural life of York and North Yorkshire.

“She has just been appointed as a trustee of York’s famous Joseph Rowntree Foundation – a post which begins when she leaves the university.”