IT was easy to pick a winner at Royal Ascot York as the city's finest community heroes enjoyed a day at the races in honour of their outstanding achievements.

After spending the day at Knavesmire, award winners from the York Community Pride 2004 campaign were given a royal seal of approval at a glittering reception to honour their achievements.

The winners were congratulated for their tireless work for the city when they met His Royal Highness the Duke of York in the Mansion House.

The Duke spent nearly an hour chatting with prize winners and asking them why they had won awards.

He said: "I would like to congratulate everybody for this excellent idea of community pride.

"Listening to the various different things that you have each done that enhance and improve the community is outstanding.

"I'd like to say thank you to the Evening Press for their facilitation of an event and award system such as this. I would like to wish you every success as you continue this process."

Council leader Steve Galloway told the Duke: "We're absolutely delighted that you have been able to join us so we can say thank you to some of the people who were successful in the first round of the awards."

Muriel Allen, 79, who carried off the Volunteer of the Year award after spending 15 years working for transport charity York Wheels, said the Duke had been "really impressed" to hear of her work.

"He was lovely, and so easy," she said.

Elizabeth Richardson, 13, was named winner in the Mother's Pride category for her courage after undergoing a kidney transplant - and then going on to win athletics medals. The plucky teenager managed to attend yesterday's ceremony despite being rushed into hospital earlier this week.

"I still feel a bit tired - but it was a good day," she said.

Eddie Benson, who was named Community Pride Person of the Year after working with young people in Haxby and Wigginton for half a century, said the Duke had been "lovely".

The pair last met just three months ago when the Royal opened the Oaken Grove Community Centre - run by the Haxby and Wigginton Youth and Community Association of which Mr Benson is the chairman. Last week Mr Benson won an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

He said: "He said how much he'd enjoyed his visit, and asked me what I'd won the community award for."

Evening Press editor Kevin Booth said: "In this room there are winners from all walks of life with one common purpose - they will go out of their way to benefit the York community."

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Updated: 11:06 Friday, June 17, 2005