Women Who Inspire – Celebrating International Women’s Day

Published: Wednesday 9th Mar 2016

Written by: Leah Smith

This year I attended the Women Who Inspire event hosted by Southwold Rotary Club. This event has taken place annually since 2014 and has celebrated women’s achievements and discussed difficulties and challenges women have had to overcome in their lives.

The speakers of the evening included Libby Purves – author, journalist and radio presenter who grew up in Walberswick, Claire Barnard (supported by her sister Becky) - mother of Henry Barnard who was diagnosed at the age of 13 months with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (known as SMA), Sinead Mackenzie whose colourful career ranges from Civil Engineering to working for Carillion, and finally Adele Bellis who suffered years of domestic abuse which resulted in an acid attack.

Adele showed her courage after years of abuse and an appalling acid attack by her ex-boyfriend and explained how she has rebuilt her life. Adele was so upbeat and honest in how the changes in her looks had changed her life. Adele is now focused on campaigning for domestic violence to be discussed in schools and with youth groups.

Sisters Claire and Becky told us the moving story about Henry. Claire explained how she went through multiple emotions and Becky supported her by sharing how as family they have ensured positivity in bringing up young Henry, but also raising the profile of SMA and the need for research.

Sinead Mackenzie is a retired army captain and spoke of life in the army as well as life beyond. Sinead commanded a battalion of men in Iraq, responsible for bomb disposal and training of young soldiers. After leaving the army she became a ski instructor and then joined the company Carillion as an engineer, building iconic buildings in the UK and juggling this second career as well as being a mum of two small children.

Libby Purves was the final speaker and made us all laugh with her fascinating stories from her career. She was the first woman presenter of the Today programme. Libby made us laugh with anecdotes of her life in journalism and broadcasting and how 'being sacked' from jobs opened many more doors for her. Libby also discussed how as a family they learned to live with the death of her son.

All five women gave incredible insights into their lives and the struggles they’ve faced; I think many of the guests were close to tears hearing the stories of the speakers. There were approximately 50 guests who attended this event and even a few men came along and showed their support.

Southwold Rotary Club helped raise money for over 50 charities last year which is really incredible. This year the club will have an additional focus on the SMA Trust, a charity close to President Cathy Ryan’s heart, and organiser of Women Who Inspire. Cathy Ryan worked in the area for 10 years, where she holds the position of Community Matron for Sole Bay Health. She moved to the village of Reydon 3 years ago in order to develop the Sole Bay Care Fund, of which she is both the founder and chair. Cathy is a committed charity worker and annually undergoes a personal fundraising challenge. Over the past few years Cathy has cycled along the South West Coast of India, Climbed Kilimanjaro and took part in the London Marathon. This year she is taking part in the Coast to Coast challenge to raise money for The SMA Trust and the Sole Bay Care Fund.

All proceeds from the Women Who Inspire evening were donated to The SMA trust.

Photo from left to right: Claire Barnard, Becky Smith, Cathy Ryan, Adele Bellis, Libby Purves and Sinead Mackenzie.

Leah Smith



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