REDDITCH celebrated the centenary of (some) women getting the vote with a joyful evening marking the achievements of its own women.
Held at St Stephen’s Church in the town centre, guest speakers included former MPs Jacqui Smith; the first woman to be Home Secretary, Karen Lumley, now on the road to recovery and in her first public engagement since suffering a serious illness; multiple cycling champion Beth Crumpton; Unison’s UK head of local government, Heather Wakefield; and career changing curate Allison Davies.
Together with a packed audience, which included current MP Rachel Maclean and former Mayor Madge Tillesley MBE, they celebrated Redditch’s Women of Achievement in this the anniversary year of the Representation of the Peoples Act 1918 which saw property owning women over 30 getting the vote.
However it wasn’t only a celebration of women but of Redditch too, with local firms providing the buffet, prizes, flowers and PA system while entertainment was provided by Redditch’s all singing Indigo Arts and their incredibly successful offshoot The Violettes.
Proceedings were opened by borough Mayor Councillor Juliet Brunner before Beth Crumpton took to the stage to present the Young Persons of Achievement prizes.
Beth was followed by former MP Karen Lumley who spoke of her own battles to win selection to stand as a candidate and the inspiration of meeting her hero, Margaret Thatcher: “She told me, ‘don’t talk about it, do it, you can do whatever you want to do,'” she said.
She presented the award for Achievement in Business.
Assistant curate Allison Davies spoke of her long and tangled journey to the Church from accountancy to human resources before making the leap to become ordained.
She presented the award for Everywoman award for Achievement.
Heather Wakefield reminded the audience that more than three quarters of the staff in teaching, in local government and in the NHS were women and spoke of the struggles to overcome sexism, even in her own union, Unison.
She presented the award for Environmental and Cultural Achievement.
Former MP and Cabinet member Jacqui Smith spoke of the struggle for recognition by many of the early women MPs and how they were often way ahead of their time, battle for equal compensation for war injuries after the Second World War and for equal pay.
She presented the Lifetime Achievement award.
The final, special award, was presented by event organiser Laney Walsh, branch secretary of Unison at the Town Hall, and Redditch Standard editor Ross Crawford.
The Reverend Paul Lawlor, vicar of St Stephens, brought the curtain down on proceedings, longing for the day when the contribution of women would be fully recognised to the extent that they would not longer need to be singled out.
He said: “This town is blessed with strong and massively capable women and together we can ensure that this town of Redditch can truly and fully flourish.”
The event was organised by the Town Hall’s Unison branch secretary Laney Walsh at the request of outgoing Council Leader Councillor Bill Hartnett.
It was sponsored by the Kingfisher Shopping Centre, the Redditch Standard and Unison with flowers provided by Passion for Flowers, the buffet by JJ’s Cafe in Walter Stranz Square and prizes from Top Glass at the Jinney Ring. The MC was James Hollamby of UKentertainmentservice.co.uk on the Enfield Industrial Estate.
All photographs by Andrea Powell.
Young Persons of Achievement:
Keen footballer and student Leah Murray Taylor who has played for England.
Lauren Yeomans, Head Prefect at Trinity High School who is also a carer.
Achievement in Business:
Local solicitor Sobea Irfan who followed her dream to set up her own legal business
Everywoman award for Achievement:
Mary Crawford, a woman who voluntary acts as an advocate and support for people with mental health issues, and set up the Redditch Mental Health Support Group.
Environmental and Cultural Achievement:
The indispensable Sue Yeng, who organises the summer long series of band stand events and works to safeguard and raise funds for refugees who have found a home in Redditch
Lifetime Achievement Award:
The incredible Leanna Horne who only see the ability in disability and who not only went through mainstream school but represents her country in the para world championships and is a world record holder in her chosen sport.
Special Achievement Award:
To a woman who defies categories – called the Maggie Underwood Award it was presented to Maggie who, together with her husband Rob, is the driving force behind the lifesaving charity Charlotte and Craig’s Saving Hearts Foundation.
What they said:
Mayor of Redditch Councillor Juliet Brunner:
”Many Women go about their daily work helping others without fanfare and fuss. It was wonderful to validate and acknowledge their efforts at this ceremony. Our Town is the richer for their contributions.”
Former MP Karen Lumley:
“I remember one question I was asked at a selection panel – someone sat up and asked me how would I manage my child care if I was elected to Parliament?”
Assistant curate Allison Davies:
“I hope that all women everywhere, but especially here in Redditch, will use all the gifts and skills that they undoubtedly possess and will continue to take risks which will allow them to fulfill their potential.”
Heather Wakefield of Unison:
“There is no such thing as just a cleaner, or just a cook, or just a groundsman, every member is vital to that service and you will find that all these people when will go the extra mile to keep our services going.”
Former MP Jacqui Smith:
“Women do not often get the credit for their achievements….and there is a lot of mysogyny and hatred out there for women who want to stand up and campaign to maker a difference.”