Thursday 13 April was a big day in the IPSE calendar: the judging for the Freelancer of the Year Awards 2017. We gathered together 15 of the most exceptional freelancers from across the country, including five finalists for the under 24 Aspire category and 10 for the main Inspire Award.

We met the finalists at the trendy Trampery co-working space in Shoreditch, where they presented their businesses, their work and their plans for the future to our judges.

There was certainly a broad range of finalists this year – everyone from Rich Daley, a Leeds-based software developer, to Michael Trew, an origami sculptor working out of East London. But however different they were, they had one thing in common: they were all extraordinarily talented leaders in their fields.

On Thursday morning, we started off with the 10 Inspire finalists: graphic artist Yoni Alter, medical copywriter Melissa Holloway, strategist and business coach Chichi Eruchalu, communication and accent coach Luke Nicholson and origami sculptor Michael Trew – all from London – as well as Scarborough graphic designer Mandy Barker, Norfolk surface pattern designer Charlotte Beevor, Leeds software development consultant Rich Daley, Oxfordshire-based deaf professional services provider Alexy Dury and Cheshire-based track design engineer Phil Richardson.

Then in the afternoon, it was on to the five extremely promising Aspire finalists: Manchester videographer and photographer Adam Smith, Hull interior specialist Carl Lonsdale, Southampton photographer Nisha Haq, London hair and makeup artist Charlotte Haldane and Scarborough-based creative design duo Abigail and Chloe Baldwin.

With 15 of the UK’s leading freelancers from a range of industries all gathered under one roof, it was bound to be a brilliant event, but the reality surpassed even our expectations. Our judges, IPSE’s James Gribben and Caroline Morgan, the Mail on Sunday’s Vicki Owen and Emmeline Pidgen, last year’s Inspire winner, enjoyed a day of truly outstanding presentations.

Both the number of submissions and the sheer quality of our finalists’ entries reflect the growing popularity and prominence of freelancing in the UK and beyond. As finalist Mandy Barker said on Thursday, “It’s a great time to be a freelancer!”