Celebrating Oxford's inspirational women

Claire Lawrence

Claire Lawrence Buy this photo

First published in News

The first Inspiring Women Award has attracted a host of submissions, highlighting ordinary yet inspirational women of all ages and backgrounds. Debbie Waite reports

THE Inspiring Women Award was launched as part of last month’s Oxford International Women’s Festival 2014 to recognise the many ordinary, but inspirational, women living or working in and around the city.

With no criteria in age, job, background or culture, the nominations were always going to be diverse.

And organiser Debbie Hollingsworth, Women’s Officer for Oxfordshire Unison, has not been disappointed.

She said: “I am so pleased with the response to the first Oxford International Women’s Festival Inspiring Women Award.

“We received 16 wonderful submissions, nominating a wide range of different women, which goes to prove what we knew all along; that Oxford has an array of outstanding women, who in their everyday lives inspire others.”

Among the women nominated are a young youth worker, a woman who saw her family murdered in Uganda, a substance abuse worker and a vicar – plus Debbie Hollingsworth herself.

She added: “It has been great to see a number of young women either nominating or nominated and men have contacted us to nominate too.

“For my own part, I really didn’t expect to be nominated. But it is a real boost to my self-esteem.”

The submissions will be read by a panel of three judges – Andrew Smith, project director of the Oxford homeless charity The Gatehouse, Kate Clayton Hathway, from the Oxford Brookes Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice, and Mazz Image, a photographer and former chairwoman of Oxford Pride.

An overall winner will then be announced at a special awards ceremony tomorrow, from 7pm to 9.30pm at the Long Room in the Town Hall, Oxford. And all the other nominees will receive certificates of merit.

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Judge Ms Image said: “I’m really looking forward to reading all about the fabulous women who have inspired their friends to nominate them.

“But I am not looking forward to what will be a very difficult task of helping to choose a winner.”

Ms Hollingsworth added: “It’s been great to have so many nominations.

“But the awards will be repeated in 2015 and we look forward to putting more inspirational women into the spotlight then.”

THE MINISTER

THE Rev Jane Sherwood, the Non-Stipendiary Minister of St Luke’s Church, Oxford, has been nominated by Susie Mayhew, who said: “Jane is committed to her community, having lived in her parish for more than 20 years, and always being available to her neighbours, especially at times of need or crisis.

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  • The Rev Jane Sherwood

“She has worked for, and overseen, the transformation of St Luke’s, which is the only community facility in the area, and has seen the plans through in times of great frustration and disappointment.

“During the recent floods, she also kept a door open to her neighbours, allowing St Luke’s to be used as a place of refuge 24 hours a day.

“She fully deserves recognition of herself, and of her work.”

Ms Sherwood said: “This has come as a complete surprise to me and from an unexpected source. But it’s a lovely surprise and very encouraging.”

THE MENTOR

ONE of the youngest women nominated, Roxy Elford, 24, recently completed a Youth and Community degree and has been a leading light in developing a mentoring scheme called Big Sister, through the Abingdon DAMASCUS youth project.

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  • Roxy Elford, right

DAMASCUS is an acronym for Drayton, Appleford, Milton, Sutton Courtenay and Steventon), the villages whose young people it supports.

She was nominated by her manager Gary Hibbins, who said: “I have seen Roxy grow in confidence so much over the years. And she has inspired so many young people across South Oxfordshire.

“She worked with 20 young girls to improve their self-worth by running team-building events, setting up a mentoring programme and getting over 100 young people involved with community activities.

“She has also influenced our other groups we run – especially the young men – whom she has challenged to think about how their actions affect others’ feelings.

“Roxy really has brought so much to the lives of our young people and the communities they live in.”

Miss Elford, from Abingdon, said: “I was amazed, but then really chuffed to hear I had been nominated.”

THE FESTIVAL SAVIOUR

A VETERAN of the county’s public events scene, Anne Mobbs from Jericho, set up the Oxford International Women’s Festival in 1990 when she worked for Oxford City Council and took on its huge responsibility when it lost its local authority funding.

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  • Anne Mobbs

Her nominator Yasmin Robson said: “I first worked alongside Anne in 2008 when she returned to steer the Oxford International Women’s Festival through a turbulent period.

“The festival faced the prospect of collapse due to lack of funds and no-one was willing to take up the chairman”s position.

“Anne proved to be a tour-de-force, providing sound leadership and focus and guiding us through intensive fundraising that year amounting to an unprecedented £25,000 in sponsor money and donations and allowing us to put on a spectacular 20th anniversary festival in 2009.”

THE 'GODMOTHER'

CHINTA Kallie has been nominated by Prabha Ramdoo.

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  • Chinta Kallie

Mrs Ramdoo said: “I first met Chinta in 1983 when she was arranging a fashion show at the Old Fire Station in George Street. I was new to Oxford and quite shy, but she managed to gently persuade me and some friends to show off our latent modelling skills.

“Chinta has become an icon for many of us in the community and she is ‘Dhidhi’, which means ‘sister’ in Hindi and Punjabi, also ‘Aunty Chinta’ to dozens of young men and women and honorary ‘godmother’ to many children.

“She has worked tirelessly on lots of issues, fighting always for equality, justice, peace and getting people together.”

THE SURVIVOR

FILDA Abelkec-Lukonymoi has been nominated by Catherine Gundry, chairwoman of the Oxford-based women’s organisation BKLUWO.

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  • Filda Abelkec-Lukonymoi

Ms Gundry said: “I am very pleased to nominate Filda on behalf of BKLUWO, the organisation which she founded to empower women.

“The eldest in a family of 22 children in rural Acholi (Uganda), Filda’s life has been one of indefatigable service to others and continues unabated with extensive family responsibilities in Oxford and across four continents.

“With her homeland terrorised by Idi Amin’s regime from just across the river, then by local terrorists who abducted, tortured and killed members of their own community, Filda nursed those with gunshot wounds around the clock until her husband, Lukonymoi, was killed and her only son disappeared.

“Filda was forced to flee with her five young daughters and they eventually arrived in this strange land in 1989.

“Filda’s capacity to inspire others and give compassion a good name was summed up by a student at D’Overbroek’s College after hearing her talk on their Enrichment Programme: “She managed somehow to tell her story with humour and compassion and the strength of her character to survive through all these atrocities is amazing.”

THE PROJECT WORKER

CLAIRE Lawrence, a mum-of-five, grandmother-of-four and project worker at Howard House Drug and Alcohol Detox in Iffley, Oxford, is described as a “Survivor, always going the extra mile for others” by her nominator Jen Marks.

Ms Marks wrote: “Brought up in a series of children’s homes and foster placements, Claire did not enjoy a happy childhood.

“But this shaped the resilient and remarkable woman she has become.

“Around her five children, Claire has devoted the last 12 years to providing support and helping to turn around the lives of countless individuals who have fallen into the cruel clutches of substance abuse.

“This is an emotional field of work that requires immense patience and understanding. For the residents who face incredibly difficult challenges, Claire is always present, totally absorbing herself in facilitating a successful recovery for them.”

Mrs Lawrence, 49, from Rose Hill, said: “I heard about my nomination a week ago and I’m still absorbing it.

“It came completely out of the blue and while I don’t do what I do for awards, I feel very proud to have been nominated.”

NOMINEES WITH OWN INDIVIDUAL QUALITIES

A LACK of space means we cannot feature all the women nominated in full, but here are details of the equally worthy, 10 other nominees.

1 The foodbank pioneer Jane Benyon has been nominated by Judith Condor-Vidal, director of Trading for Development, for her work in helping the needy.

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  • Jane Benyon

Former social worker Mrs Benyon, 67, from Bladon, near Woodstock, is chairman of Cowley-based Community Emergency Foodbank, which handed out 3,000 food parcels last year and has seen its clients increase by 70 per cent since 2012.

2 Debbie Hollingsworth from Oxford, has organised the Inspiring Women Award and has also been nominated for the award, by Anna Hobson.

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  • Debbie Hollingsworth

In her submission, Ms Hobson wrote: “Debbie is down to earth, honest, funny, and takes no nonsense.

“On top of her demanding, emotionally stressful and physically draining day job, she tirelessly works as a volunteer in the community. She is tenacious, has an unwavering moral compass, and is always striving to make things better for people.”

3 The youngest nominee, Alicia Brand, 17, has been nominated by her best friend Frances Ballaster.

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  • Alicia Brand and Frances Ballaster, right

Ms Ballaster, a pupil at Lord Williams’s School in Thame wrote: “My best friend Alicia inspires me. I have known her since I was 11 years old and we are both now 17.

“Alicia was a young carer for her mother, who has a mental illness, and she herself has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals in the last year.

“After leaving the Warneford Hospital in Oxford last month Alicia enrolled in college to study English Literature, History and Law with the vision of joining her friends in going to university and I couldn’t be more proud of her achievements.”

Ms Brand, who is currently living in care in Buckinghamshire said: “When Frances messaged me to tell me she’s nominated me for this, I cried. I couldn’t thank her enough.”

4 Bette Jones has been nominated by Debbie Hollingsworth.

She wrote: “I came to Oxford in 2002 and Bette was one of the first active community group members and campaigning women I met.

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  • Bette Jones

“Before long she had introduced me to the Oxford City Levellers committee where I was greatly impressed by her chairing skills and the ability to keep things on track.

“I have also had great pleasure in working alongside Bette for a number of years on the Oxford International Women’s Festival Committee.

“She never sought acknowledgement for her work and I hope that this award achieves just that.”

5 Dr Louise Livesey a programme convener at Ruskin College, Oxford, has been nominated by her parents Pam and Keith Livesey, who wrote: “Louise works tirelessly for her students.

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  • Dr Louise Livesey

“Despite her own health and disabilities, she carries on working for the good of others and retains a sense of humour whilst doing it.”

Nominated anonymously, Michelle Feller (not pictured) is the ‘daughter’ in M. Feller, Son & Daughter, specialists in organic meats in Oxford’s Covered Market and has been nominated for doing “a great job in a very male environment”.

6 Nominated for her many community and political roles is Jasminder Kaur Love a brain tumour survivor, mother-of-one, documentary film maker, political activist, social worker, and Nuneham Courtney parish councillor.

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  • Jasminder Kaur Love

7 Karen Richardson, from Oxford, has been nominated by a friend, who wrote: “Karen supports every breathing, living creature which needs her love, a great business woman, mother and supporter of Katie Richardson, the four-time British young ice-skating champion.”

Mrs Richardson, who runs her own events company, said: “It was wonderful to find out I had been nominated.”

8 Artist and student Elena Brovtsyna (picture 8) was born in St Petersburg, Russia, but has lived in Oxford for many years.

She has been nominated anonymously for being “a great artist, a great friend and a single, wise loving mother”. She said: “I have never experienced anything like this nomination before and am very curious, a little embarrassed, but very happy I have inspired someone.”

9 Dr Lucy Ford is a senior lecturer in International Relations at Oxford Brookes University.

Her nominator said: “A wonderfully clear-headed, loving, hard-working woman who is a pillar of support to her boys and to her friends, and to many good causes.

“Lucy is a multi-talented, great soul, involved in many national and international good causes.”

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