ACTION for Children Scotland’s 14th annual Woman of Influence awards took place on Sunday, celebrating the achievements of truly remarkable women and raising more than £71,000 in aid of our work with vulnerable children, young people and families.
I felt honoured to spend the afternoon in the company of so many inspirational women – from our five award nominees, to the committee of ten dedicated volunteers who organised the event, to the 300 attendees who brought it all the life. The shortlist for this year’s award included Ellie Bird, divisional commander for British Transport Police Scotland; Professor Susan Hart, executive dean of Strathclyde Business School; Dr Jacqueline Mok, former lead paediatrician for child protection at Lothian University Hospitals; and Angela Porter, director of Glasgow School of Sport – all women who have made a real impact on our society through their work.
It was a tough task for the judging panel, which I sat on along with a group of women who themselves are inspiring – Woman of Influence committee members Fiona Sasan, a partner at Morton Fraser, and Marion White, director at fatBuzz; Action for Children Scotland committee member Flora Martin, owner of Flora Martin PR; and Olivia Giles OBE, a charity campaigner and former Woman of Influence Award winner.
After much deliberation, we decided that the prestigious award must go to television journalist Kirsty Wark. We all agreed that Kirsty is one of those women who stands up for the vulnerable in society. She has achieved a huge amount throughout her career – arguably in a male-dominated environment – and is a committed supporter of Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres. Kirsty doesn’t just lend her name to Maggie’s, although that in itself is worthy; she is actively involved and really goes the extra mile. That is why she was chosen as 2014’s Woman of Influence.
Each year we also give a Woman of Influence Community Award to a young woman who has grown in confidence, outlook and ability as a result of support received from Action for Children Scotland. We work with so many determined, talented and brave young women and the competition is always fierce. This year’s Community Award winner, Kimberley Low, stayed in one of our residential services after becoming homeless at the age of 16. Four years on, she has a home of her own, is studying social care at college, and volunteers with Action for Children Scotland. She is a true survivor who is using her experience to help others.
The Woman of Influence Awards is one of the most important events in our social calendar, and not only because it is a very successful fundraiser, raising over £1 million since its launch in 2001. For me, it is so significant because it puts a spotlight on women who have achieved a great deal in their lives, holding them up as role models for the children and young people we support.
When I was young, my role models were largely the women who I perceived as making a difference. Emmeline Pankhurst inspired my interest in promoting the rights of women; the Bronte sisters encouraged my love of literature; and Barbara Castle’s fight for equal pay nurtured my sense of social justice.
My mother is a strong woman who worked hard to raise four children after my father’s death; and I had fantastic teachers, who prompted my first career in teaching. But not everyone is this fortunate. In my work with Action for Children Scotland I meet many children and young people who have no-one to look up to. Young people who are living in homeless accommodation because their parents can’t cope; who get a hard time at school because their teachers don’t understand their caring role; who live in communities where unemployment is endemic. The importance of positive role models to these young people cannot be underestimated.
Action for Children Scotland runs 80 services designed to help vulnerable children, young people and families to deal with the challenges they face. We provide practical support, such as housing advice and employability programmes, but it is also vitally important that we give them something to aspire to. The Woman of Influence Awards does just this. It is the celebration of “ordinary” women who are happy and hardworking that makes the event so important, showing the young people we support that they can transform their lives – anything is possible.
• Carol Iddon is director of children’s services at Action for Children Scotland