It was a glorious gathering of girl power at its best.
Almost 800 ladies packed into New Dock Hall at the Royal Armouries earlier today (Friday) for the Sue Ryder 30th annual Yorkshire Women of Achievement awards, recognising inspirational ladies from across the region who have excelled in their field, shown bravery and strength in adversity, and forged trailblazing paths for others.
Among the big winners was Rotherham grooming scandal whistleblower Jayne Senior, who was named the overall Woman of Achievement 2016 as well as scooping the Community Impact of the Year accolade..
Held in honour of Leeds-born Lady Sue Ryder, the awards have become a highlight of the city’s events calendar, helping raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for the charity over the years.
Guests at yesterday’s gala ceremony included the original Calendar Girls - who were handed a special Yorkshire Rose award - actress Gaynor Faye, Welcome to Yorkshire’s Gary Verity and Mike Tomlinson, the widower of heroic fundraiser Jane.
The ceremony was overseen by BBC Radio Leeds presenter Liz Green, who said: “This is our 30th year recognising the tremendous women of Yorkshire.
“We are going to celebrate some fantastic women and this is the one and only ceremony in Yorkshire which gives women the chance to shine.”
Georgina Abbott, Senior Hospice Fundraiser at Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice, and organiser of the event, said: “This year has been very special for us all on our anniversary celebrating 30 years of inspiring women.
“We are constantly amazed by the achievements of women in the local community and it has been a thoroughly enjoyable and emotional day.
“We would like to thank Ros Jenkins and Barbara Barratt, who received a special recognition award. They founded the awards 30 years ago and since then we have raised over £500,000 for the hospice.”
Award categories included Business, Education, Sport, Young Achiever of the Year, the Jane Tomlinson Award for Courage and the Community Impact Award. See a full list below.
Georgina added: “Across all six categories this year we have seen how much they have contributed to Yorkshire and we are proud to have them representing our county.”
Speaking of Jayne Senior, she added: “Jayne has been an utter inspiration and through all her endeavours she has been courageous and paved the way for a better and brighter future for young girls in Yorkshire.’’
The Yorkshire Women of Achievement awards are held annually to raise money for Wheatfields Hospice in Headingley, Leeds, one of seven hospices run by national charity Sue Ryder. This year, the awards event is expected to help raise more than £40,000.
Each year, it costs Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice £4.4 million to provide vital care in the hospice or their own homes.
The full winners today were:
Yorkshire Woman of Achievement (overall) 2016 and Community Impact awards: Jayne Senior
Jayne was the manager of a project called Risky Business, which works with victims of child sexual exploitation and over the past ten years has dedicated her life to helping children.
She has helped police and the council to try and get justice for the girls who were being groomed and exploited by men in Rotherham. Jayne battled adversity – she was branded racist, Risky Business was shut down, and she even risked arrest by whistleblowing to The Times. The one thing she never did was give in – despite the fact her health was declining due to stress.
Eventually Jayne’s efforts were recognised and MP Sarah Champion asked her to take on a role supporting victims in Rotherham. Jayne is passionate about educating people to recognise signs of child sexual exploitation.
Nowadays, Jayne runs the Swinton Lock charity and continues to support victims of CSE. She remains in contact with many of the girls she has helped over the years and yet to this day Jayne remains modest about her bravery and acts of kindness.
Woman of Achievement in Business: Mary Benson
Mary is a successful fashion designer whose ethereal designs in print and textiles are worn by many celebrities, particularly in the music industry. She left Leeds to study fashion design at the University of Westminster and has worked with some of the top names in the fashion world, including Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and Terry de Havilland.
Woman of Achievement in Education: Christina Gabbitas
Christina has a passion for helping children enjoy and engage with literature. She visits schools and festivals, delivering workshops to children to help them learn about life ‘with fun’, through her own books. She has established her own children’s literature festival and receives backing from the V&A and British Library. Her recent book that helps children understand how and when to speak out about sexual abuse was highly praised by the NSPCC.
Woman of Achievement in Sport: Claire O’Hara Blanchard
Claire is the most successful female freestyle kayaker in history, winning a combined eight World Championships. Claire has pushed the sport to new levels and achieved scores in kayaking that are almost double her nearest competitor and place her side by side with male athletes. Claire is an inspirational role model who travels the world coaching, training and mentoring groups from top athletes through to complete beginners and young children.
Young achiever of the year award: Sarah Sobka
Sarah is a girl with a breadth of genuine intellectual curiosity. Since winning the first prize in the National Science and Engineering Competition at the Big Bang Fair in 2015, she has continued to enthuse and inspire others. Still only 18 years old, she has spoken at the Royal Society of Medicine’s Innovations Summit and appeared on both the BBC and ITV Calendar News highlighting how girls can be successful in Science.
Jane Tomlinson courage award: Jackie Roberts
Jackie is a prominent supporter of the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) UK, becoming a drowning prevention officer last year. Jackie has raised thousands of pounds for the charity following the death of her daughter Megan in 2014 who drowned after falling into the River Ouse while walking home from a night out. Jackie has been instrumental in promoting RLSS UK campaigns, and has helped those who have suffered similar losses.
Highly Commended in Sport: Janine Findlay
Janine and her husband Phil threw their energy into Beeston Juniors Football Club when they became frustrated at the barriers that stopped more local children from participating in the sport. With Janine’s dedication, the team has grown from almost two teams to having nine junior teams, two open teams and a Saturday soccer school. Janine has been committed to creating a club ethos that is focused on inclusivity and has given hundreds of young people a reason to feel proud.
Highly Commended in Business: Sharon Watson
Sharon is the artistic director of Phoenix Dance Theatre and has led the company to now be the UK’s longest standing contemporary dance company outside London. She is an inspirational leader who rewards talent through her trustee positions for Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, The Place, West Yorkshire Playhouse, and Leeds Inspired. Sharon’s commitment to progressing opportunities for Leeds and the wider Yorkshire region has led to her recent appointment as an independent chair of the steering committee bidding for the European Capital Culture of Leeds 2023.
Special recognition award: Ros Jenkins and Barbara Barratt, founders of the Yorkshire Women of Achievement awards
Yorkshire Rose award: The original WI ‘Calendar Girls’
This year the Yorkshire Rose Award was presented to the original ‘Calendar Girls’ for their fundraising efforts, after appearing in calendars for over ten years in order to raise money for Leukaemia and Lymphoma research. Their inspiring journey began back in 1998 when sadly one of the ladies’ husbands lost his life to cancer. They decided to raise money to buy a sofa by appearing nude in a calendar, and to date they have raised over £3million, and become global celebrities in the process. Their story even spawned a hit Hollywood film.