FIVE teenage girls from Henley who set a rowing record were the toast of this year’s Sue Ryder Women of Achievement Awards.
Click here to view our video of the event, and here to view our picture gallery of some of the winners.
They were named young achievers of the year at the seventh annual awards ceremony held at the Madejski Stadium in Reading.
It capped a year in which their coxed four was unbeaten, winning 24 races and breaking the course record at the Junior National Rowing Championships in Nottingham in July.
The 15-year-old girls make up the women’s junior 15 quad at Henley Rowing Club. They are twin sisters Hattie and Maddie Orr, from Checkendon, Ellie Thompson, from Benson, Lauren Edwards, from Binfield Heath, and cox Emma Lister, from Dorney.
They were nominated for the award by Toni Aitken, winner of the first ever woman of achievement award in 2007.
The girls, who were accompanied to the ceremony by their families, went up on stage to collect their award from Sir John Madejski.
Lauren said: “We feel very honoured. It was a big surprise to win. We have been very lucky to have such a great year. We’ve had lots of success and lots of fun.
“Thanks to Sue Ryder, Toni Aitken and, above all, our coaches. Also we couldn’t have done any of it without our parents. This last year has shown us that if you work hard enough you can achieve your dreams.”
Henley singer Naomi Vallance was named performer of the year.
Miss Vallance, 34, a member of Sam Brown’s International Ukelele Club of Sonning Common, hosted a pop-up dinner for the Chiltern Centre for disabled children in May and performed at the Last Night of the Proms concert at St Mary’s Church in September.
Inbetween she was hospitalised with meningitis. Miss Vallance, who works as a personal assistant, said: “I’m completely bowled over. I was just really happy to be nominated and to be part of this wonderful evening.
“When I had meningitis in June it really knocked my confidence but I’m back now — it takes more than that to get rid of me!
“You’ve just got to keep believing in yourself and never give up.”
Louise Rapple, Shiplake College’s careers and music administrator and founder of the Shiplake Community Choir, was named creative woman of the year.
She was nominated by members of her Tamesis Chamber Choir, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Ms Rapple told the audience: “I encourage people to sing and we are on the crest of a wave nationally. It’s great to be able to help and encourage people to do something so good that gives everybody so much.
“Thanks to all the people in the choirs who have helped me and my family who have supported me so well.”
After receiving her award, she said: “No one was more surprised than me when my name was called. Thank you, Sue Ryder, for all that you do for so many people. I feel inspired to go on and achieve even greater things.”
The evening was compered by Olympic rowing gold medallist Katherine Grainger, who was named sportswoman of the year in 2012, and Reading 107 FM presenter Robert Kenny.
Grainger said: “I’ve been an ambassador for the awards this year and it has been great. These people are doing fantastic things for fantastic causes, going out and changing things for the better. It’s one of those life-affirming things.”
Around 200 guests attended the black-tie event, which marked the 60th anniversary of the Sue Ryder charity.
The evening began with a 1953-themed quiz and the tables were adorned in vintage style with candelabra and pearls, each one named after a woman of achievement, including Queen Victoria.
More than £4,000 was raised at a charity auction with lots including a week for six people at a Lake District cottage.
Emma Harpaul, Sue Ryder’s regional fund-raiser, said: “It was a great night and everyone enjoyed themselves. There was a great vibe throughout and everyone was very generous.
“I’m always amazed by the phenomenal work that so many women are doing in their everyday lives. It’s so nice to give something back to them as we celebrate their remarkable achievements with them and their friends and families.
“I would like to congratulate not only all of the winners but all of the shortlisted nominees, sponsors and all of the companies and individuals who have supported Sue Ryder with PR or donating their time, goody bag items, raffle or auction prizes.”
The awards are sponsored by Invesco Perpetual, Higgs Group, publisher of the Henley Standard, catering company Charlton House and Reading 107 FM.
* The Shiplake Community Choir will be performing at the Royal British Legion dinner at Shiplake College tonight (Friday).