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INSPIRING WOMEN OF CHESHIRE: Our Top Six

Following on from our round-up of local inspiring men, now it’s the ladies’ turn – and they’re showing there’s no doubt at all that sisters are indeed doin’ it for themselves

Amanda Wakeley
Fashion designer

The 25-year history of fashion house ‘Amanda Wakeley’ could be the plot for a gripping film. Starting off as a twenty-something fashion model in 1980s New York, it was in 1990 that she launched her signature line in London with a £20,000 loan from her father. Having built the brand from a single studio in London’s Chelsea into a global fashion label dressing the world’s most famous women, a bitter divorce in 2000 left the Chester-born designer just a minor shareholder in the business that bore her name. Amanda found herself at the mercy of men whose focus was fixed on money not fashion. When the business was sold to a Deutsche Bank distressed debt trader in 2008, she resigned. Not one to sit back and watch her dreams and hard work stripped apart and sold off, she rallied. Just a few months later Amanda acquired the brand name as intellectual property and began the buy-back of her business. She was awarded an OBE in 2010 for services to the fashion industry, and has won numerous accolades – including three British Fashion Awards.

“I realised at a very young age that clothes could be empowering,” she says. “I was lucky to have a full and varied dressing-up box, thanks to two glamorous grandmothers, and it was amazing how different items could ignite different emotions and feelings. A bad hair day or an ill-fitting garment can really affect how you feel about yourself, and I think women understand this better than men. Some men have quite a limited wardrobe – a uniform, if you like, of suits and ties. Women are presented with endless possibilities and their choices have a huge impact.

“Clothes allow you to present the very best version of yourself. When the cut is right and the fabric and colour are flattering, they can give you an amazing confidence. You feel relaxed, you feel good and you walk just that little bit taller.”

Her professional success would be inspiration enough, but more admirable still is Amanda’s vast amount of women-focused charity work, in the course of which she has co-chaired the committee for the Fashion Targets Breast Cancer appeal and become an advocate for international organisation Women for Women, which helps female survivors of war.

It is always intriguing to learn who garners respect from influential figures – and, for Amanda, it is women everywhere. “I think my mother has always inspired me,” she explains. “But I’m also inspired by many of my customers. They’re so varied and I love that – it’s not just one type of woman, yet they all seem to be multi-skilled and multi-talented, super busy women on the run who want to look effortlessly chic.”

(amandawakeley.com)

 

Sarah Collins
Head of Sport at BBC Radio Manchester

Sarah Collins has been at the BBC for over twenty years. It’s her dream job. “I’m not saying it’s not challenging – there’s a story breaking every other day – but it is an amazing job, and an amazing patch to cover. Not bad for a girl!”  

With a love of sport and a desire to be in radio, it’s the perfect combination for success. That, and a lot of hard work. “I began as a broadcast assistant at the lowest level and really got the bug. I spent two years in London for BBC 5Live, returned, and have been sports editor here for nine years, heading up the sport department. I do have a great team around me, for which I’m grateful.”

Clearly proud of her team and her home region, Sarah continues, “As a region we have so much to offer when it comes to sport with seven local football clubs, from Oldham to Man City; Super League; Sale Sharks in Rugby Union; and Lancashire Cricket. I don’t know many other regions that have this much to offer, and I very much believe that we need to celebrate it.”

Away from MediaCity, Sarah coaches at Dominoes Netball Club and has just come back from a trip to Prestatyn with 25 girls. “At the club we’re mentoring the next generation, but also providing a safe environment to empower them. I’m a feminist, and seeing the girls who come to us grow and believe in themselves is what it’s all about.”

Sarah is also responsible for the BBC’s partnership with the North West Football Awards. “We got involved about five years ago after one of our reporters was nominated. I was blown away by it and immediately got in touch with Laura Wolfe to see how we could support it. Today, we’re the broadcast media partner. What I love is that it’s not just about all the fluffy stuff. It’s about the whole region and celebrates all that we are doing at all levels and fields. So, for example, we created an award for the Neville family one year, for their contribution to sport. Most people just think of the brothers, but forget dad Neville Neville, mum Jill who basically runs Bury Football Club and Phil’s twin-sister Tracey, who was capped at 19 for England netball and is now head coach. This is what it’s all about and I feel strongly that we need to celebrate this. I’ll say it again: we live in an amazing region and sometimes we can forget this.”

Back to Sarah though, I have to ask if she has any spare time and what that entails. There’s a knowing laugh. “Beyond radio and netball, I love quality time with my eight god-children. And the odd glass of Prosecco! In the future I’d love to do something with disadvantaged children, too.” For now, though, her passion and pride are directed to inspiring the current and next generation of sports fans and players. 

(bbc.co.uk/radiomanchesternorthwestfootballawards.com; dominoes-netball.co.uk)

 

Sam Quek
Gold medal-winning hockey player

Born in Liverpool, 28 year-old Sam has already achieved more than many sportsmen and women do in a lifetime. Playing for the Great Britain hockey team since the age of 17, and also finding time to study sport and exercise science at Leeds Metropolitan, she’s already racked up an incredible 128 international caps and medals. Among this long list are a bronze medal, three silver medals and gold medals at the 2015 EuroHockey Championships and – her greatest achievement to date – at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. 

But that’s not all – in addition to being a role model and extolling the benefits of hard work, Sam is now also working with charities, clubs and companies with the goal of promoting women through sport. One of these is local hair salon brand Andrew Collinge, for which she fronts the new ‘CO by Andrew Collinge’ range campaign.

“When the opportunity to work with Andrew Collinge arose, I jumped at it, because not only was it local and a quality product, but we also shared similar attitudes towards empowering women,” she explains, adding that she also tries to keep a healthy balance between her personal and professional lives, making time to do things totally separate from work, and having ‘me days’ – “by which I mean days spent in my pyjamas, totally dedicated to what I want to do, watch and eat!” (greatbritainhockey.co.uk; andrewcollinge.com)

 

Jennifer Atkinson
CEO at ITC Travel Group

The week before I interview Jen the company unveils a new look for the luxury tour operation arm of its business and annouces the appointment of Mal Barritt as COO. It’s an exciting time.

Thirteen years ago Jen joined ITC as marketing manager and, aged just 34, became CEO. “I took over at the worst time, in 2009. We were a luxury travel company in a credit crunch and we’d experienced our worst ever trading year. Our chairman and owner, Drew Foster, was also sadly diagnosed with terminal cancer. 

“My attitude has always been to look forward, so I was the first to say ‘I can turn the business around, let me have a go’. I have always been an optimist. In business and in life, I believe it is better to seek forgiveness for something you have done, rather than wait for permission and live with regrets.”

The company has grown ever since, so much so, that in 2014 Jen undertook a management buy-out. 

“I was on holiday with my husband Dave and son Billy, taking some time to reflect. I was toying with the idea, but what I knew about an MBO you could write on the back of a stamp. Fortuitously I met one of our clients out there, Paul Pindar, who’d not long retired from Capita, where he bought and sold companies. He said he’d back me.

“This gave us the means to grow the business, and in 2015 we expanded, bringing Western and Oriental Travel Ltd’s four tour operators under our name, and then in 2016 receiving a multi-million pound investment from NorthEdge Capital in a private equity deal. The investment gave us what we needed to grow sustainably and successfully.

“While all this was going on, the business was being filmed for BBC2 documentary The Millionaires’ Holiday Club and Dave and I had welcomed a daughter, Belle. Believe me, private equity deals and MBOs are a walk in the park, compared to just going for a walk in the park with two toddlers in tow!”

(inspiringtravelcompany.co.uk)

 

Emma Nawaz
Managing director at Blackstone Solicitors

In 2010, Emma set up a law firm with £15,000 and a secretary. Today, Blackstone is a commercial boutique law firm with five salaried partners, an office in Hale and another in Mayfair, boasting countless awards, a record turnover of just over £1million last year and the added accolade of Emma being chosen as the only UK lawyer to join the prestigious Goldman Sachs 10,000 small business programme.

“My vision for Blackstone Solicitors began with two things,” Emma explains. “I was already unhappy in my position as a lawyer in Manchester, but the second push came when my husband received a letter from a local lawyer chasing for a payment (which had already been paid). The letter was so aggressive and peppered with bad grammar, that I thought, ‘If this company can do it, badly, and make a living, what could I achieve?’.”

Determined to keep her life balanced from the start, Emma recalls she and her husband initially “disagreeing on the expense of an office”, but that she remained adamant that “Work is work and home is home” – and it’s clearly an ethos that’s gone hand-in-hand with her success.

“The offices are in Hale because it is home for me, but as soon as I am in the house, it’s all about family,” She says. “I even have a regular hour-long appointment at the local salon where I can just switch off completely and not be rushing to the next class or activity with the kids. We have three – Arabella (10), Felix (7) and Conrad (6) – our little Tasmanian Devil – so although my professional life is demanding, my home life is too!”

(blackstonesolicitorsltd.co.uk)

 

Tracy Lavin
Founder and CEO at Tracy Lavin Events

Born in Manchester before returning to the family’s ancestral home in the west of Ireland at the age of five, Tracy spent her childhood helping out on the family farm, also finding time to be on the county’s basketball team. Having finished her schooling, Tracy trained at one of Ireland’s top catering colleges then – after a stint in France – worked in 4- and 5-star hotels across London and the north, soon rising from restaurant manager to sales manager and, eventually, general manager.

“I started to feel restricted working in just one venue, and wanted to be able to offer corporate and private clients more options, so I decided to set up my own business,” Tracy explains. “Now we have marquees at private houses, book exclusive-use castles and unique venues for weddings and themed parties, organise corporate events and graduations, and attract many high-profile clients.” 

“Kensington Palace and Soho Farmhouse are just some of the venues we’ve used, and one of our greatest challenges recently was organising a Glastonbury-style festival for 650 guests, managing everything from the glamping tents and musicians, bars and food stations to fun fairs, beauty parlours and fireworks. Afterwards I thought: ‘What a great, talented team we have, and I just love my job’.”

“When it comes to balancing work and life, it’s important to make time for family and friends. I have friendships that go back to my school days, and we try to meet up often. Of course it’s hard sometimes, as this industry involves weekend work, long hours and last-minute events, but they know what I’m like – might be the final one to confirm, but I make up for it when I get there!”  

(tracylavinevents.co.uk)