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Merseyside Women of the Year 2023 winners revealed

HEATHER Evans and June Russell, founders of the Halle O’Brien CIC have been jointly crowned Merseyside Woman of the Year 2023.

Heather set up the Halle O’Brien CIC in 2020, in memory of her daughter Halle, who died in 2019 at the age of 19, after contracting a rare form of meningitis.

Halle had ambitions to help children learn and develop socially and academically, so after her death Heather and June established “Halle’s Hub”, a space for the Ford Lane community that focused on supporting young, disadvantaged people, keeping Halle’s dream alive.

The accolade was presented by headline sponsor, Financial Planning Corporation (FPC), at the Merseyside Women of the Year Awards ceremony at the Crowne Plaza Liverpool which was attended by 400 guests.

Heather Evans, Halle’s mum, said: “We’re amazed by the fact we’ve won. We know that we’re legends in our little corner of the world, but when we met all the other finalists, we saw how they were all legends in their own corners and communities too. We were so proud to be involved, but we never in a million years thought we’d be named Merseyside Woman of the Year – but here we are! It’s humbling and amazing.

June Russell, Halle’s nan, said: “I’m quite overwhelmed by it all and it’s a bittersweet win for us, because Halle should be here. But she must be here driving us to do this. We get up every day and do it, with the support of our fantastic volunteers, and we enjoy it.

“People who come to our community space, the charity shop and cafe, all say it’s a welcoming place and I truly believe that’s Halle. She was such a loving, outgoing person who wanted to help people, and this is all for her. We’re carrying on her journey for her and keeping her memory alive.”

The announcement of the overall Merseyside Woman of the Year 2023 award was the climax of an afternoon celebrating incredible women from across the city region who are changing lives and making an impact in arts, culture, communities, and business, with the evening hosted by comedienne, singer, actress and long-standing MWOTY commère Pauline Daniels.

Ahead of the award presentations singer-songwriter, Claire Mooney, performed a piece commissioned especially for the ceremony, and the CEO of the Community Foundation for Merseyside, Rae Brooke hosted a conversation with Sefton-born Cherie Blair CBE, KC, discussing her personal journey and why platforms that celebrate women are so vital.

Winners and runners up

The Arts, Culture & Media award, sponsored by Taylor Wessing, was awarded to Juliana Pinheiro Landim, Leigh-Angel Bevan & Tamasin Dunand from cultural hub and Brazilian drumming band, Katumba, for its positive impact on health, wellbeing, and culture in the local community. The group provides vibrant public performances, inspiring workshops and weekly drumming and movement classes that bring people together in a safe, inclusive, supportive, and uplifting environment.
Arts, Culture & Media Runner-Up: Hayli Kincade, Wavertree Community Gospel Choir

The Business Leader award, sponsored by IoD Liverpool, was presented to Elissa Corrigan, the owner of award-winning female health supplement company Elle Sera. Passionate and vocal about tackling women’s health issues including menopause, PMS, anxiety, depression, weight gain, feeling invisible and sexual health, Elissa’s aim is to break the taboos surrounding women’s health and wellness by educating and inspiring.
Business Leader Runner-Up: Dr Sue Palmer-Conn, The Divorce Doctor

The Community Change award, sponsored by Neo Community and ADDvanced Solutions, was won by Amy Smythe, also known as “The Worry Wizard”. Amy helps children in Merseyside and beyond to move from worries to wellbeing, through “The Worry Wizard” Wellbeing Programme, using proven therapeutic techniques to help support a child’s wellbeing, develop tools to help them manage their worries and build a positive sense of self.
Community Change Runner-Up: Michelle Smith, MPower People

The Entrepreneur award, sponsored by Hill Dickinson, was presented to the founder of Parent Promise, Emma Jarvis. The collective grew from her first business dearbump and works with businesses to support employees throughout pregnancy and parenthood, providing policy review, family friendly benefits, employee assistance and 1-2-1 midwifery access via instant messaging, reaching women in more than 28 countries.
Entrepreneur Runner-Up: Sarah Jackson, Hatters Digital Agency

The Inspirational Women award, sponsored by the Community Foundation for Merseyside, was won by Claire Cathcart of Team 1C, a charity dedicated to children born with congenital heart defects. Claire founded the charity after her oldest child, Jake, was born in 2015 with a very rare heart condition. She decided to turn her situation into a positive by helping others. Named after ward 1C where Jake was supported, she created a community and fundraised more than £100,000 for a range of charities before establishing Team 1C as a charity in its own right, offering support to families both here in the North West and in the developing world
Inspirational Women Runner-Up: Heather Evans & June Russell, The Halle O’Brien CIC

The Women of Courage award, sponsored by Auteur Media, went to Allison Furlong, founder of Alfie’s Squad, a non-profit organisation supporting children who have been bereaved or affected by suicide in Merseyside, with her son Alfie. Alfie lost his dad in May 2017 at the age of eight. Together, they have devised a unique program which will help children feel less isolated and make new friends, while dealing with the after-effects of suicide.
Women of Courage Runner-Up: Jayne O’Gorman, Charity Fundraiser

The Women Making a Difference award, sponsored by the Equality & Employment Law Centre, was won by Ann Coffey, who runs The Sunshine Group breast cancer support group at Liverpool University Hospital Trust, where members meet regularly to offer support and solidarity through their breast cancer journey. Over the past ten years, while in remission herself, Ann has grown the patient-run group from six members to a group of over 350 women. The charity does not get funding and relies solely on donations, so Ann dedicates her life to raising funds by organising a multitude of events.
Women Making a Difference Runner-Up: Pat Shea-Halson, Community Activist

The Women to Watch award, sponsored by Merseyside Women of the Year Awards, was presented to community activist, Lucky Ali, A young woman with an extensive list of achievements. Lucky saved her student loan to open a local business that will have a positive impact on the local community, setting up a family-run business in Birkenhead providing a large variety of British and International food and grocery items and bridging a gap in the local market. Lucky has also participated in an Enterprise in the Life Sciences Challenge, proposing solutions for recruiting diverse talent that have already been implemented by Ashfield Health, and volunteered at Human Appeal on fundraising and events, including for Feed the Fasting 2020 and The Water Charity.
Women to Watch Runner-Up: Dr Chelcie Jewitt, Surviving in Scrubs

Moira O’Shaughnessy, Managing Partner, FPC, said: “I never cease to be amazed by the work and dedication of the finalists and the wider MWOTY community; I know that all those who come across the wonderful world that Ellie and her team have created feel the same. On their behalf I would like to thank them for everything they do.

“At FPC we are passionate about supporting the communities we live in. We do so as a business, with our sponsorship of MWOTY being just one example, and we also aim to help our clients do the same. As everyone involved in MWOTY gives so much to the people and businesses of Merseyside, it gives us great pride to have had the honour of headline sponsor this year.”

For the first time ever, MWOTY also presented a special Fellowship award at the ceremony. The Fellowship Award has been established to celebrate outstanding contribution to the Liverpool City Region and beyond, with the recipient of the award being recognised for enhancing the lives of others through her actions and advocacy, marking her out as a positive role model leading the way in societal transformation for women.

The recipient of the inaugural Fellowship award was revealed as Lesley Martin-Wright JP DL, for her significant contribution to women in business, enabling them to connect to professional advice and information by guiding them to adopt a growth mindset and gain competitive edge in the marketplace. She was also recognised for her work during her tenure as the High Sheriff of Merseyside 2022/23.

Ellie Kerr, MWOTY Founding Director, said: “Lesley has paved the way for many women in business and also been an outstanding and inspiring advocate for groups in every sector, who have devoted their time to improving the communities in which they live and help make Merseyside a better and safer place.

“Throughout her illustrious career Lesley has reinforced the place of women entrepreneurs and has ensured that women at all levels within the Liverpool City Region are acknowledged, valued, and included.

“Today’s celebration has been overwhelmingly beautiful, and I am bursting with pride for all our winners and runners-up. They are what makes our region as wonderful as it is and are an example and inspiration to us all. I am so happy to call them part of our MWOTY family and we look forward to supporting them all in their incredible work.”

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