‘The Inspiring Women Awards give women the platform they deserve’
PUBLISHED: 09:50 05 October 2020 | UPDATED: 09:50 05 October 2020
The Inspiring Women Awards may be on pause, but there’s no stopping the achievers they recognise
The Inspiring Women Awards (IWA) should be hosting its 28th annual celebration this year – and for an event to have such continuity in these changing times can only be proof of its significance.
The awards, founded in 1992 by Jacqueline Hughes-Lundy, give a platform and a voice to women who do extraordinary things, “but who never really get any public recognition for what they do,” Jacqueline says. “We give women the platform we feel they should have and that they deserve, to keep going and keep inspiring.
“A few of our winners have gone on to get MBEs and OBEs, and suddenly their profile is raised. It’s nice to know we have a hand in that. When I say we find them, we really find them.”
The IWA doesn’t shy away from honouring difficult stories, either, like that of 2009 community winner Gee Walker, mother of Anthony Walker, murdered in 2005 in a racist attack, and 2013 joint community winners, Nicola Graham, founder of Reuben’s Retreat, a charity that supports families bereaved of a child and families of children with a life-limiting and life-threatening illness, and Joanne Thompson of Millie’s Trust, who lost her baby daughter in a choking incident. The trust provides education and training in first aid.
“Every year we get to the day of the awards and these stories come alive,” Jacqueline says. “We interview the finalists at the awards and they tell their story in their own words. I think that is part of the longevity of the awards – it is not just a list of names on the screen – ‘and the winner is’ – you actually get some engagement between the finalists and the audience.”
A new award has just been announced – the extraordinary people in an extraordinary year – a one-off to recognise what is and has been happening this year. It’s the first time an award will be open to males, too.
Jacqueline says: “When we got closed down with Covid, it seemed we should mark the year in some way but without mentioning pandemics or lockdown. It will be a public vote. It’s not about the doctors and nurses, but rather the taxi driver who has been delivering food. It’s those hidden gems.”
To give an idea of the type of people the awards honour, here are three wonderful women who have taken the IWA prizes over the years. Nominations are open until December 31st, 2020, with the 28th Inspiring Women Awards Lunch on May 14th, 2021 at The Lowry Hotel, Salford.
Jennie Johnson, 2011 business winner
In 2011, Kids Allowed was one of the largest female-owned businesses in the region: launched and run by that year’s business winner Jennie Johnson. It was a successful nursery in terms of how it was run, but also for its journey from the ground up and its brand recognition and reputation. Jennie had grown it to 500 colleagues and 2,000 children.
“To this day I don’t know who nominated me, so how I won the award I’ll never know,” Jennie laughs. “The thing with any award – especially one to celebrate the success of women – is that it both creates a highlight for you and your business, and it allows other people to see what you’ve achieved.
“They say that Manchester is a village, and I’d say that is very true. It’s great when we can be aware of who each other is, and be aware of each other’s stories and values. Even to simply have each other’s phone number for when the chips are down, and we need to vent, ask for some support or share an idea. That network of previous winners and shortlisted candidates is really important.”
Jennie sold her business in January this year, after 17 years. It was a number of things, she admits, but nothing more than her life motto of ‘enough-ness’. “There is always more you can do; there’s always more money you can earn and there’s always more value you can create in your business,” she says. “But if you are always looking for more, more, more, next, next, next, life becomes a little bit relentless.”
Then Covid hit. The plan was to take at least 12 months out before considering anything else, and Jennie expected the year to be filled with holidays, getting fit, eating in beautiful restaurants ‘and lots of good stuff.’
“Instead it ended up being lockdown in the house and lots of time for reflection,” Jennie says. “We are just going to take that 12 months and see what shakes from the tree. If it’s something, great, and if it’s nothing, that’s ok too.
“But there’s nothing nicer than winning an award you didn’t put yourself forward for, so look around you at some of the remarkable women and take the time to do an entry. “I do an entry every year for somebody – I don’t tell them I’m doing it – and sometimes they get shortlisted, sometimes they don’t.
“There are so many women doing remarkable things. Or if you know you’ve had a sensational year; if you’ve handled Covid in an exceptional way and your business has thrived, then absolutely celebrate your own success, because the award makes a difference. We need to start celebrating our successes as women instead of just as people; we need to stand up there and show what we’re doing and encourage others to be fearless and follow in our footsteps.”
Christine Ditchfield, 2019 entrepreneur winner
“I’ll take you back to early 2019 – I met Jacqueline at an expo in Manchester: the National Restaurant and Bar Show 2019,” Christine Ditchfield says. It was there that Jacqueline told Christine she must enter herself into the awards for her home-distilled 3 Pugs Gin (aptly named after her three pugs, Pepsi, TuTu and MoJo).
“I said, ‘don’t be daft, I’m just a normal person doing a normal thing’,” Christine laughs. It turned out that a colleague had nominated her for an award, anyway.
“At 60 years old, you don’t expect to be nominated for anything like that,” she adds. “I turned up at the awards after having spent months thinking, ‘I’m a finalist? Don’t be ridiculous.’ I was overwhelmed when I won. Even now, I get all choked up because it’s quite an amazing thing to achieve.”
3 Pugs Gin was launched in 2015 following a gin tasting event at a wine shop in Warrington – and the disappointment Christine and husband Stephen felt on already having 90per cent of the gins. “The last table was with Karl from Forest Gin, and he was telling us the tale of how he’d started six months previously,” Christine says. “And I announced to the world that we’d make our own gin. My husband told me I was away with the fairies.”
But with a lot of hard work, research and trial and error, the duo built a distillery in their Warrington back garden, got their licences and launched their signature blend – a now bronze award-winning gin – in November 2016.
“We’ve never looked back,” Christine says. Since her win, the husband and wife team have survived lockdown (during which they launched a new gin) and employed their daughter, Louise Webb. Stephen suggested the family created a gin for frontline workers: Dark Days, labelled with pugs in masks, gloves, and even loo rolls.
For every batch made, the business donates 10per cent of each bottle sold to charity. It’s one of Christine’s nine products: three gins and six gin liqueurs, one of which is apple crumble, developed specifically for Selfridges. “The IWA is very close to my heart and it’s an occasion I will never, ever forget,” Christine says. “If you know somebody who has done something you are inspired by and in awe of, pick up a pen and put in a nomination for them. Lead by example and be thankful that we have people out there who are so extraordinary.”
Myra Ball, 2016 public sector frontline winner
The year 2016 was a big one for Greater Manchester Police, in that its officers were doing an exceptional amount of work in relation to domestic abuse. Myra Ball was one of three officers nominated together for the award – alongside Estelle Mathieson and Jennifer Burd – for their work putting together a training package on domestic abuse for force staff, from senior leaders to frontline practitioners.
The difference was that it was from the survivors’ perspective – their perspective – survivors who were also in the police. They spoke about why they never reported the full story to the police and the stigma attached, which in turn influenced training, policy decisions, and most importantly, reinforced the survivor’s voice.
“At that point, it was about letting other people within the police family know that we have survivors within our community, too,” says Myra, who at the time was a detective chief inspector. “It was to get the voice of that particular survivor out, and to engage others to talk – maybe to disclose themselves, but also to involve officers with the other domestic abuse work that Greater Manchester Police was doing at that time; to take ourselves out of our comfort zones and be innovative around training. So it wasn’t just one dimensional.”
Myra has since moved to Cheshire Police on promotion to detective superintendent, something she says was in part due to her work on domestic abuse. She heads up the team of staff who deliver across all 14 strands of public protection vulnerability, of which domestic abuse is one.
“I’d not heard of the award until I received an email from Jacqueline to say that we – the three of us – were finalists in the public sector awards, and would we like to come to the event at the Midland Hotel,” Myra says. “Quite simply, you end up being in a room full of equally empowered women. Women who have fought their own little journeys, whether that is through equality, diversity and inclusion, or those women who are inspirational, or entrepreneurs.
“People from all walks of life who have done something amazing, and that recognition makes you realise that there are incredible people out there in our communities.”
The following year Myra nominated her friend, Dee Drake, for her tireless work for The Toy Appeal, a charity Dee founded to provide a Christmas toy sack to thousands of children across Cheshire and Manchester. She won her category.
“Dee was able to use the award as a springboard to network with everybody in that room; to grow her charity,” Myra says. “That, for me, is the empowering side of the awards. I keep saying the word amazing, but it really is.”
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