Thursday, 17 June 2021
AN RAF servicewoman who has raised more than £40,000 for charity despite battling terminal cancer picked up the top award at this year’s Sue Ryder Women of Achievement Awards.
FLIGHT SERGEANT ANNA IRWIN, who is based at RAF Benson, was one of 14 nominees from the Henley area in the annual awards, which were presented on Friday.
She couldn’t attend the ceremony as she was taking part in her latest fund-raising challenge but in an emotional video filmed beforehand, she said: “I’m totally shocked and completely humbled to receive this, it’s unbelievable.”
More than 200 people attended the ceremony at Trunkwell House, near Reading, which was hosted by antiques expert and TV presenter Jonty Hearnden.
It was held in a marquee in the grounds of the country house, which was decorated with floral displays and fairy lights.
Flt Sgt Irwin, who is 37, was named winner of the services category as well as the Robyn Jones Award, which is chosen from the winners of all seven categories.
She is a Chinook helicopter crewman and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who has completed 11 tours and now trains crewmen.
She also competes in biathlon and kite surfing for the RAF and has completed a number of challenges for charity, including an ironman event.
She was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer in April last year but for several months kept the terrible news to herself and her family and a few close friends.
She has continued to work and has taken on a series of challenges to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust and the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, where she receives treatment.
Her nomination said: “This is the courageous, adventurous Anna who laughs in the face of people who say something can’t be done.”
Flt Sgt Irwin couldn’t collect her award in person as she was travelling to Scotland for her latest challenge to climb Ben Nevis unaided.
But in the video message played to the guests she said: “It’s been a complete rollercoaster since I was diagnosed and what’s kept me going is my friends, family and colleagues.
“Their strength and their help is what made me decide to do this series of challenges this year. It’s also given me something to stay active for and look forward to.
“I’d like to say a big thank-you to Sue Ryder for even considering me for this award and all the work they do helping me and people in my situation to deal with their illnesses.
“The care they give to people and their families is just outstanding.”
The overall award was presented by Mrs Jones’s husband Tim, who still runs their Dunsden-based industry catering company CH&Co, which now has 5,000 employees.
When Flt Sgt Irwin was announced as the winner, a second video message was played in which she said: “This is totally overwhelming, I’m sure by now you are sick of seeing my face! I’m sorry I can’t be there but thank you for this award.”
Her RAF colleague Staff Sergeant Stuart Martin collected the awards on her behalf.
In an emotional speech, he said: “She’s gutted she couldn’t be in the room today. She doesn’t know how long she’s got left so she’s attacking every day as she goes. She’s a real inspiration to all of us.”
Flt Sgt Irwin was one of three local winners at the awards.
VAL STONER, 78, of Station Road, Henley, collected the award in the community category after spending more than 50 years volunteering for charities in and around the town.
She has volunteered at Henley’s Over-60s Club, Meals on Wheels and the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service as well as raising money to build the green room at the Kenton Theatre.
In 1996 she travelled to Romania with the Women’s Institute and helped send an ultrasound machine from the Royal Berkshire Hospital to a hospital in the country.
The reiki and crystal healing therapist also started a meditation group at Henley town hall, arranged healing and spiritual lectures at the YMCA and founded the weekly Be Well Centre in King’s Arms Barn offering free therapies.
She also helped plant a healing glade in Marsh Meadows in 2014.
She ran guided tours of Henley and, along with her husband Jim, founded Eco-Henley, a group which aims to tackle air pollution in the town.
Mrs Stoner said: “There are so many amazing people here and such amazing energy in this room.
“It’s incredible and fantastic to be here with such inspiring people. I looked at the other nominees and thought they would definitely win so it was a real surprise to win.”
Also nominated in the community category was DIANA ELMS, who volunteers at the Sue Ryder hospice in Nettlebed.
She supports numerous charities in the area and is a keen recycler, even using old bath water for the plants in her garden.
Mrs Elms, 60, grows her own produce, which she shares with the community, and cooks “meals on wheels” for less able locals.
Another nominee was ANNE BUCKINGHAM, who moved to England from America 12 years ago and is now a committee member at Leander Club in Henley.
She offers assistance to international crews at the Henley Masters Regatta and the Henley Women’s Regatta, organising accommodation for hundreds of rowers every year as well as meals, tours and any other requests.
At Leander, she is involved in ensuring that the achievements of the club’s female rowers are prominently displayed in the clubhouse.
She was chosen to assist the Team GB rowers at the London Paralympics in 2012.
HAZEL PATTISON, who lives near Benson, was nominated for helping to set up the Chiltern Centre for disabled children and young people in Henley in 2004.
Mrs Pattison, 65, and her husband Bill are also trustees of the Pathways Workshop, which offers paid employment to people in Oxford as well as regularly volunteering at their local toy library in Wallingford.
She has created a children’s character, Rainbow the Tortoise, to raise money for disability charities.
The winner of the young woman of achievement award was 18-year-old EMILY WILKINSON.
Her mother Helen died from brain cancer when she was just eight but Emily’s academic excellence led her to join Shiplake College where she became the first girl to serve as head of the college.
Despite battling Crohn’s disease, a bowel condition which led her to have a major operation to remove her large intestine and part of her small intestine, she bagged the headmaster’s award in her first year at the college.
She has also achieved Grade 7 ballet, been a national drill champion with the air cadets and is a young ambassador for Twyford bereavement charity Daisy’s Dream.
She recently completed her Duke of Edinburgh’s gold award. Emily, who was in tears as her name was announced, said: “I’m overwhelmed, amazed and very honoured to even be considered for the award, let alone winning it. I’m never going to forget this.
“I’ll take the award into college to parade it around a bit and then it will be going on the mantelpiece.”
Emily’s father Ian Wilkinson, who accompanied her to the ceremony, said: “We are gobsmacked, we don’t even know who nominated her.
“She has achieved so much in her first 18 years and I hope she can do the same in the next 18 too.
“It has been a wonderful day and really positive to take part in.”
Also nominated in the young women category was the GORING ROBINS UNDER-13S TEAM, which despite only starting four years ago has quickly become one of the most successful sides in the region.
The team finished third in the top division in their first season and also won a regional football festival the same year, while inspiring other girls in the area to take part in football.
Eight members of the side attended the ceremony with their parents, dressed in their full kit of red shirts, black shorts and red socks.
In the business category, Time for Tea founder CHARLOTTE CAVANAGH was nominated for the success of the company.
The business, which has nine part-time workers and is based at the Fawley Hill estate, provides teas, buffets and vintage china hire for events.
ASPEN WEATHERBURN was nominated for Henley dog grooming business Naughty Mutt Nice, which she founded in 2009 and sold earlier this year.
Also nominated was photographer KATHRYN FELL, who travels around Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, taking pictures of weddings, family parties and commercial events.
She also founded the Sonning Common Business Collaboration group and is a member of the Henley Business Partnership and a director of the new Henley-on-Thames Food and Drink Festival, which will take place in September.
Another nominee was PATRICIA JORDAN-EVANS, who opened the Bohun Gallery in Reading Road, Henley, in 1973.
The fine art gallery has exhibited work by artists including Dame Elizabeth Frink, Maggi Hambling, Donald Hamilton Fraser, Sir Peter Blake, David Hockney, Sir Terry Frost and Sandra Blow.
Also nominated was LIZ DIMMOCK, who founded Women Ahead, a social enterprise company designed to improve the prospects of women seeking careers in business and sport.
The category was won by MARY FLAVELLE, who has worked for businesses across the Thames Valley for the last 20 years and founded Ladies Who Latte, a female-only networking initiative.
In the sport category, mother and daughter KAREN AND MIKKI BENNETT were nominated after racking up almost 70 years of service at Henley’s synchronised swimming club between them.
As well as competing and coaching at the club, the duo also make costumes for the club’s competitions and created the outfits for Team GB at last year’s Rio Olympics.
Also nominated was Henley jockey DAISY SMITH, who after her career in the saddle was ended after a fall in 2014, switched to teaching.
The award was won by England rugby player ROCHELLE “ROCKY” CLARK, a former Henley Hawks player who was part of the England team which won the World Cup in 2014.
In the courage category, KELLY WILLIAMS was nominated after she lost both her parents within two months of each other.
Steve and Kay Landau, from Shiplake, spent their final days at the Sue Ryder hospice in Nettlebed.
Mrs Williams now regularly visits the hospice and organised a Seventies-themed fund-raising ball to celebrate what would have been her parents’ 40th wedding anniversary.
BEVERLEY DALLIMORE, from Caversham, was nominated by her daughter Zoe after caring for her husband Darren when he was diagnosed with lung cancer last year.
Mrs Dallimore looked after him until he died in November as well as holding down a job as a cleaner.
The category was won by ISOBEL KENNERLEY, who despite being born with cerebral palsy and being extremely shy as a youngster, was determined to live her life to the fullest.
As she arrived on the stage in a wheelchair to accept the award, it was revealed that she is also suffering from terminal brain cancer which has left her hardly able to talk.
Mrs Kennerley was given a standing ovation by the audience, many of whom were moved to tears by her story.
The education category was won by PAULINE HARPER, who gives up her free time to mentor young people.
There was also a new category for staff and volunteers at the Sue Ryder hospices, which was won by CELIA REUTER and the Finchampstead Support Group.
Among the other nominees was LISA TYLEE, who decided to volunteer at Joyce Grove in Nettlebed after losing both her father and best friend at the hospice.
Mrs Tylee, from Caversham, also works at the office and represents the hospice at public engagements.
JENNIE NUNNEY, reception co-ordinator at the Nettlebed hospice, was also nominated.
She has worked there since 2012 and often provides cover at weekends or evenings.
Mrs Nunney, from Crocker End, also regularly takes part in activities including the hospice’s Lights of Love service and the Christmas fair, as well as organising a weekly cake baking rota for staff.
Ward manager JO MORGAN was nominated jointly with her colleague LOUISA NICOLL.
Mrs Morgan, from Aston, is responsible for making sure patients and their families feel at home at the Nettlebed hospice.
She has worked there for two years and last year stepped up to ward manager. Before that she was a district nurse in the area.
Each of the nominees at the awards was given a floral corsage to distinguish them and entered the marquee to Here Come The Girls by Ernie K-Doe. Mr Hearnden introduced the ceremony before the guests enjoyed a three-course meal.
Speakers Liz Hopkins and Rosina Lilley, who work at the Duchess of Kent hospice, talked about their fund-raising walk up Mount Kilimanjaro on Boxing Day last year, which raised almost £20,000 for the charity.
Chrissie Phillips-Tilbury, from Sonning Common, also gave a speech in which she praised the staff at the Sue Ryder hospices.
She said: “They treat you as if you are the only person they have to see that day and nobody else is more important. I’m very pleased to be a very small part of that team.”
There was entertainment from singer Hollie de Villier, who sang a range of pop songs in a classical jazz style, while an auction run by Mr Hearnden raised almost £2,500.
Lots included afternoon tea at Buckingham Palace, tickets to this year’s Henley Royal Regatta and a ukulele signed by Sam Brown, of the International Ukulele Club of Sonning Common.
An additional late lot of a regatta poster signed by rowers including Sir Steve Redgrave, Alex Gregory and Dame Katherine Grainger was donated by Mrs Buckingham.
Three guests donated £500 each to pay for a nurse for a day at the hospice, while dozens more donated £100 for a day of care for a patient.
A raffle was also held, with tickets drawn by members of the Goring Robins team.
Tracey Hancock, head of fund-raising for Sue Ryder’s Duchess of Kent and Nettlebed hospices, said: “We were delighted to welcome so many people to the 11th Women of Achievement Awards and felt very humbled by the amazing women who were nominated and delighted to honour the winners.
“We are also very grateful to our sponsors, Invesco Perpetual, CH&Co and Higgs Group for their support of the event and our individual award sponsors, the Ironing Lady, RAF Benson, and Field Seymour Parkes and to our compere Jonty Hearnden.”
20 March 2017
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