Thursday, 28 October 2021

Courageous, caring, inspiring, dedicated women

Courageous, caring, inspiring, dedicated women

A WOMAN who overcame anorexia and now helps others to do the same is among the nominees in this year’s women of achievement awards.

FRANCES SHILLITO, from Rotherfield Greys, was nominated for woman of courage by her older sister Holly, with whom she runs a hair and make-up agency for corporate clients and media productions.

Miss Shillito, 27, has written a booklet about her experiences, which is available in GP surgeries, school gyms and hospitals, and is now working on a follow-up.

She regularly gives talks to young people and health professionals about identifying and recovering from eating disorders.

She began showing symptoms when she was 15 and a pupil at Gillotts School in Henley. She progressively reduced her food intake while forcing herself to do punishing amounts of exercise which made her seriously ill. She lost large amounts of muscle mass and bone density and her periods temporarily stopped.

Her mother Lucy realised something was wrong and persuaded doctors to start treating her. At her worst, Miss Shillito had to be supervised to ensure she was eating adequately and not hiding food or skipping meals. She was so malnourished that it was feared her heart could stop.

She recovered when she was 19 and has been in good health since, apart from two relapses.

Her business is thriving and she and her sister have recently worked backstage on The X Factor and The Graham Norton Show. She also runs an Instagram account where she shares inspirational messages and food and fitness advice.

Miss Shillito said: “I’m completely astounded and very humbled because I could never have imagined being nominated just for speaking up about something so close to me but I’m very thankful.

“My work is very rewarding because if someone like me had been around when I was struggling I think I would have recovered more quickly. I get a lot of messages of thanks from people who’ve seen me and that’s really touching because it’s quite hard getting up there and talking about such an intense experience. It’s good to know you’re making a difference.”

Two headteachers are among the nominees in the woman of achievement in education category.

JACKY STEELE was nominated for reviving the fortunes of Badgemore Primary School in Hop Gardens, whose Ofsted rating improved from “requires improvement” to “good” during her three-year tenure.

Ms Steele, 54, from Lower Earley, joined Badgemore from Alfred Sutton Primary School in Reading in April 2014.

She made immediate changes to help children and parents socialise more, like opening the school gate at 8.30am each day and holding regular coffee mornings.

She introduced a new uniform and logo, ensuring children and parents were involved in the process and brought in structured reading and writing programmes as some children were struggling in these areas.

She promoted the idea of the “growth mindset” — the belief that improvement is possible with a little effort — and encouraged outdoor learning as part of a forest school programme with the development of several outdoor areas, including a large wooded patch and an orchard with fruit trees.

She also oversaw the opening of a multi-million pound extension.

Ms Steele, a mother-of-two, stepped down in March last year to take up a new headship at The Ridgeway Primary School in Reading as she wanted to be nearer her home to support her teenage son Louis through his GCSEs.

Badgemore’s chairman of governors Kevin Jacobs said she had played a crucial role in the school’s transformation and was “truly wonderful and inspirational”.

Ms Steele said: “I’m absolutely delighted and wasn’t expecting it at all. When I received an email about the nomination, I thought it was a spoof but then my secretary came in to say Sue Ryder had just called to confirm it.

“Unfortunately I won’t be able to make the ceremony as I will be away but I’m proud that people think I deserve this. There are some fabulous women on the list and it’s an honour to be listed among them.

“I’m really enjoying life at my new school. It’s very busy and there’s lots to do but that’s right up my street and it’s what I enjoy.”

CATHARINE DARNTON has been head of Gillotts School in Gillotts Lane, Henley, since 2007, during which time it has received several “good” Ofsted inspections.

The secondary, which became an academy in 2012, is one of Oxfordshire’s most consistently high-performing schools. Last year, despite the introduction of a tougher marking system, 82 per cent of students achieved grade 4 or above in English and maths, the equivalent of the previous C grade, while 68 per cent achieved grade 5 or above.

Ms Darnton has been a vocal campaigner on the issue of schools funding and was one of dozens of headteachers from around the country who delivered a letter to Chancellor Philip Hammond calling for more cash for schools.

She spoke out against proposed changes to the national schools funding formula, which would have meant Gillotts effectively lost money, and when this was revised she said it wasn’t enough to make up for years of cuts.

Ms Darnton, 47, from High Wycombe, said: “I was really touched that someone thought enough of what we do at Gillotts to put my name forward as it’s not something I’d ever considered.

“It’s really nice that people believe we’re making a difference and although it’s my name on the list this has been very much a team effort. I can’t believe how quickly my time here has gone but in a funny way I almost can’t remember being anywhere else. It becomes a big part of who you are.

“Following one inspection, Ofsted said Gillotts lived in accordance with its motto ‘Non Nobis Solum’, or ‘not solely by ourselves”’, and was a “joyful place”, which is just amazing.

“Parents respect the school and say we’re doing a great job, which is the main thing. This nomination is a bonus.”

Also nominated in the education category is a parent and former pupil of Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common who helped defend it against the threat of closure.

GEMMA LEVY, whose sons Jack and Alex attend the secondary in Reades Lane, was nominated by her sister Sarah Northall.

She founded the Save Our Edge campaign with former schoolmate Charlie Holloway when the school was threatened with closure after being deemed “inadequate” by Ofsted and placed into special measures in April last year.

More than 1,200 people signed the pair’s petition and a similar number joined their Facebook group while scores took part in demonstrations at St Martin’s precinct in Caversham.

Oxfordshire County Council, the education authority, appointed interim headteacher Moira Green in June and inspectors confirmed she and her team were making the required improvements when they visited in November.

The threat of closure was formally lifted the following month and Miss Green accepted a permanent role. Discussions about the school becoming an academy are now being held with the Maiden Erlegh Trust, which is based in Wokingham. Mrs Levy, 36, of Hardy Close, Caversham, and more than a dozen members of her campaign have joined the school association, which helps run events to raise money.

She said: “It was lovely to be nominated but it came as a real shock and I’m not sure I deserve it but my family are very proud.

“In the early days of the campaign I wondered what on earth I’d started because it was just meeting after meeting and endless Facebook messages for weeks on end. Looking back, however, I’m glad I pushed ahead because everyone with a child at the school or looking to send a child was fully supportive.

“Chiltern Edge is now in a much better place and the community is relieved that children have a school to call their own as there would have been huge problems finding places and transport for Gillotts or Highdown in Emmer Green.

“We’ve switched the campaign page on Facebook to a PTA one and have hundreds of followers where before there were only about 19. Everyone’s much more involved now. We help with things like tidying up because the school has enough to deal with.”

The nominees in the services category include a Henley police community support officer and a mother who has set up a first aid training company.

JANICE SMITH has been a police community support officer for Henley and surrounding villages since 2007.

She moved to the area in 2002 and previously worked as a fund-raiser for Child Bereavement, a charity based in High Wycombe.

She applied for the role with Thames Valley Police as she wanted to be a part of the community and says she is still enjoying it.

Ms Smith, a widow and a grandmother, is one of three PCSOs, who look after Henley and an area extending as far as north as as Swyncombe and west to Kidmore End.

As well as taking reports of crimes, gathering information and keeping an eye on suspicious activity, she provides crime prevention and personal safety advice to the public and children.

She said: “I’m very shocked to be nominated but it’s a real honour, especially as I’m in such good company when you look at the other nominees. I’ve spoken with many of them through my work and they’re all highly deserving. 

“People have been congratulating me and don’t seem too surprised, which I’m taking as a good sign!

“My son is an officer in the Metropolitan Police and of course he’s very proud.

“I’ve always enjoyed having that contact with a wide range of people and being able to solve their problems and support them.”

SUZANNE STICKLEY launched First Aid Matters, which is based at the Chiltern House Business Centre in Station Road, Henley, after one of her two sons had an accident involving boiling water in 2012.

The former paramedic spoke to other mothers at Nettlebed Community School, which the children then attended, and realised there was a gap in the market because few of them had any first aid training.

She qualified as a first aid instructor and initially traded by herself but has since recruited fellow trainers Steve Ambler and Yolanda Mates.

The trio has delivered thousands of training courses for individuals, families and corporate clients as well as providing specialist teaching for nannies, teachers and first aiders at sports matches.

They also run the First Aid Theatre Company, a workshop for children who dress as medics, perform hands-on exercises with classmates and dummies and listen to mock 999 calls.

Mrs Stickley, who lives in Preston Crowmarsh, previously worked for the London Ambulance Service before joining the Metropolitan Police as a constable in 2007. She was on a career break when she founded First Aid Matters.

She said: “After my son’s accident I realised that many parents don’t have first aid training unless it has been offered by their workplace. It’s not an opportunity many people take up but it’s really important to know what to do in an emergency because you never know when that kind of situation will arise.

“From our early days we were asked to do more and more corporate courses and it really just grew from there. I’ve always supported Sue Ryder and like to do things for them on a non-profit basis because I feel very passionately about the work they do.”

Mrs Stickley recently turned down an invitation to pitch for funding on the BBC’s Dragon’s Den.

She explained: “I don’t want to get any bigger — I just want to deliver great training with highly experienced instructors. I want to enjoy what I do rather than trying to take over the world.

“I was genuinely shocked to be nominated for this award. I’m friends with Sarah Roberts [founder of the Millie’s Dream appeal], who won last year, and was very proud when I heard her news but I never thought they would think of little old me.”

Two women who work at the Sue Ryder hospice at Nettlebed have been nominated in the colleagues category.

KAREN GUY is the head of clinical services and is responsible for ensuring all patients receive the best possible care.

Her duties include recruiting and training staff, ensuring equipment is up to date and liaising with other bodies that work with the hospice.

She reports to the Care Quality Commission, which praised the hospice as “outstanding” in three key areas and “good” in the remaining two following an unannounced visit a year ago.

The inspectors said: “The hospice is an outstanding service [that] ensures people are supported with palliative and end-of-life care that meets the needs of each unique individual in a genuinely compassionate and caring way.

“Throughout the inspection there was a calm and reassuring atmosphere... people and their relatives were overwhelmingly positive about the medical care, support and guidance that the hospice provided.”

Mrs Guy, 59, from Peppard Common, has worked in nursing all her life and held various senior roles at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, including a period as a cancer nurse and more recently supporting patients with Parkinson’s disease.

She initially joined the hospice on a part-time basis in 2014 before accepting her current position.

The married mother-of-five was nominated by her colleagues Jane Bywater, Maggie Guy, Sylvia Thomas, Jo Morgan and Louisa Nichols, who said she is a “superb manager who… has an ability to hold the patient and their family at the heart of all her decisions and encourages staff to do the same”.

Mrs Guy said: “I retired from the NHS because I wanted something quieter but little did I know what I was in for! It is, of course, an amazing job and a real privilege but it’s very much a 24/7 role.

“My motivation is to provide the best possible care for every single patient that comes to us as well as their families. Although many are at the end of their lives, it’s vital that on any given day they live as fully as they are able.

“I often get comments about how fantastic the staff are and how safe patients feel, which is rewarding.

“This is very much a team effort. My staff are fantastic and I enjoy supporting them to be the best they can be. I was thrilled and overwhelmed to be nominated but we all work closely together and it’s not about any one individual.”

SYLVIA THOMAS joined the hospice as community nursing team leader last year.

She grew up in Reading and trained as a cancer nurse at Charing Cross Hospital in London before deciding to specialise in palliative care.

She worked for several years at the Duchess of Kent Hospice in Reading, which at the time was run by Macmillan but has since been taken over by Sue Ryder. She then spent four years at another hospice in Australia before taking up her current position.

Mrs Thomas, who is married with four children and lives in Rotherfield Greys, leads a team of five nurses who care for patients in their homes across South Oxfordshire and is also responsible for the hospice’s day services.

She said: “I’m obviously very pleased to be nominated for this award. The scheme is a great way of raising awareness of what we do as well as money, which is so important as we get so little funding from the NHS. Without fund-raising we would not be able to provide our services.

“It’s rewarding to care for families and honour people’s wishes to end their life at home. It’s important that it happens in a place where they feel safe and cared for because it’s a very emotional time for everyone involved.”

Mrs Thomas’s nomination, which was submitted anonymously, says: “Often described in patient feedback with many superlatives, Sylvia is calm and organised and always puts the needs of her patients first.”

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