October 21, 2011
When the late Tony Lothian was planning the very first Women of the Year lunch, she saw it as a fantastic opportunity to bring together women from all walks of life to celebrate their contribution to society. Many of them were unsung heroines but what united all of them was that they were ordinary women who had achieved extraordinary things.
That vision remains the motivating factor behind the lunch. The invitees all come from diverse backgrounds and have followed a wide range of career paths. Take veteran anti-war campaigner Hetty Bower. She became a pacifist after seeing young men return from the trenches in the first world war. Now aged 106, she is still campaigning and was there in Trafalgar Square at the Antiwar Mass Assembly on 8 October. What a fantastic role model to us all.
From the eldest to the youngest: Holly Watson was just 16 when her brother was stabbed to death. To prevent other families going through the suffering her family experienced, she started the ‘I don’t carry a knife campaign’ to promote public awareness of the dangers of carrying knives and improve education in schools. Now 17, she was awarded a Rotary International GB Young Citizen Award this year for her efforts. Some use their own experiences to help others. Karen Sorab fought to set up the Rainbow, a special needs school in Wandsworth, after being told that her severely autistic daughter would never be able to communicate and was ineducable. The charity she founded, BeyondAutism, has recently opened its second school catering for up to 60 pupils aged 4-17 which is regarded as a centre of excellence.
Emma Parry co-founded Help for Heroes with husband Bryn after a visit to Birmingham’s Selly Oak Hospital where they met wounded soldiers. Inspired, they took on the challenge of raising £8m to build a rehabilitation complex at Headley Court. The public’s imagination was caught: a charity bike ride past the French battlefields raised a staggering £1.4m, and within eight months they had already reached their target. But the money kept pouring in and Help for Heroes was born.
Other women are pioneers. In May, councillor Naveeda Ikram became the first female British Muslim Lord Mayor. She presides over the council in Bradford where she has lived for most of her life. In April, Nicola Mendelsohn, chairman of Karmarama, became the first woman president of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising in its 94-year history. And in September, Rabbi Deborah Kahn-Harris became one of the first women to be appointed to head up a rabbinic college anywhere in the world.
You may think that British women’s tennis continues to languish in the doldrums but you’d be wrong: another 2011 woman of the year is Lucy Shuker, Britain’s number one – and seventh in the world – in wheelchair tennis. Paralysed from the chest down after a motorcycle accident in 2001, Lucy has risen through the ranks and is hoping for a medal in the Paralympics. And in another sporting first, Deborah Griffin became the first ever women’s rugby representative to be appointed to the RFU council in recognition of the growth in popularity of the women’s game. Also at the lunch is Elaine Vassie, holding her own in a man’s world as director of rugby at Manchester RC.
Women are the mainstay of the world’s longest running soap opera, The Archers, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. We are delighted that so many of the team could be at the lunch.
These are just a few of the amazing women in the room. Each of you has a story to tell and you are all ‘women of the year’ in your own right.