Sunday, 07 August 2022

Tears and triumph

Tears and triumph

A CHEF whose husband’s battle with terminal cancer made her determined to help others won the top award at this year’s Sue Ryder Women of Achievement Awards.

BECCY HARLEY, who works at the charity’s hospice in Nettlebed, was one of 35 women from the Henley area to be nominated in the 12th annual awards, which were presented at a glittering ceremony at Reading town hall on Friday evening.

Ms Harley was named the winner of the internal award for Sue Ryder staff and volunteers before also collecting the Robyn Jones Award, which is chosen from the winners of the seven category awards.

She was in tears as she took to the stage and had to be held upright by family and friends as she accepted the award. In an emotional speech, she thanked her colleagues at the hospice.

Ms Harley said: “I was absolutely stunned to receive the first award, let alone the overall award. It is a real privilege. I will truly treasure these awards forever.”  

More than 250 people, including many of the 85 nominees and their families and friends as well as sponsors, attended the black-tie dinner, which was hosted by BBC Radio Berkshire presenter Ady Williams, a former Reading FC and Wales footballer. It was preceded by a drinks reception.

The ceremony began with all the nominees standing while everyone else applauded them. This was followed by the three-course meal and a fund-raising auction before the awards were presented.

Ms Harley, 45, who is catering manager at the hospice, has worked for Sue Ryder for 18 years and even gives up Christmas Day each year to cook for patients.

Her husband Neil died in 2010. She cared for him at home with an end-of-life carer but was often disappointed by the quality and variety of food he was offered.

Since then, she has made it her mission to cook anything a patient asks for. Last Christmas she made treacle toffee for one patient after overhearing him talk about how much he enjoyed it in the “good old days”.

The overall award was presented by Mrs Jones’s husband Tim, who runs their Dunsden-based catering company CH&Co.

Mrs Jones founded the company as Charlton House in the Nineties, turning it from a project in her spare bedroom into a multi-million-pound business. She died in 2015 following a long illness, aged 54.

Ms Harley, who used to work for CH&Co, had tears streaming down her face as Mr Jones called her back on stage to receive the overall award and at one point was too emotional to speak. Instead, Mr Jones paid tribute to her work at the hospice.

The education award was presented to GEMMA LEVY, a parent and former pupil of Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common who helped defend it against the threat of closure after it was rated “inadequate” by Ofsted last year.

Mrs Levy, 36, of Hardy Close, Caversham, whose sons Jack and Alex attend the secondary in Reades Lane, founded the Save Our Edge campaign with former schoolmate Charlie Holloway.

More than 1,200 people signed their petition and a similar number joined their Facebook group while scores took part in demonstrations in Caversham.

The threat of closure was formally lifted by Oxfordshire County Council in December following the apopintment of a new headteacher, Moira Green.

Mrs Levy, who was nominated by her sister Sarah Northall, had tears in her eyes as she accepted the award.

She said: “It’s ridiculous, I shouldn’t be here, I’m not important enough to be here. Thank you so much to everyone who voted. I’m amazed, absolutely amazed.

“The award is great but I’m just glad Chiltern Edge is safe. I’ve got two children at the school and if it wasn’t there they would have to take at least two buses across Reading which, for an 11-year-old, is not acceptable.

“The school has got so much potential. It’s a small school and it will give my children the best education, given the opportunity.”

She thanked Mrs Holloway and former Reading East MP Rob Wilson for his support during the campaign.

The services category was won by SUZANNE STICKLEY, who founded First Aid Matters after one of her two sons had an accident involving boiling water in 2012.

The company is based at the Chiltern House Business Centre in Station Road, Henley.

The former paramedic spoke to other mothers at Nettlebed Community School, which her 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 have 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 and the Metropolitan Police but was on a career break when she founded First Aid Matters.

In an animated acceptance speech, she said: “I’m a mum with young children who felt very passionate that first aid matters to everybody.”

She said she wanted to make sure children had the skills to help resuscitate someone who had collapsed.

She added: “I’m surprised and very privileged to received this award. I was inspired by women everywhere.

“It was a bit of a shock because it’s just little old me. Although I feel very passionate about what I do and inspiring people to learn the essential skills of first aid, I never thought that needed gratitude.

“Sue Ryder is an amazing cause and I do as much as I can for them.”

The community category was won by ANN MANNING, from Shiplake, who has run independent insurance broker Manning UK in Reading Road, Henley, since 1984.

The firm started with a single employee but now has 12 staff specialising in motor insurance, commercial policies and cover for high-value items such as jewellery, artworks, boats and aircraft.

Last year Miss Manning helped reverse the ailing fortunes of the Henley 60+ Club, which was facing a £5,000 shortfall in its budget, by donating £10,000.

In the Eighties she volunteered for the Samaritans, supported the Caversham Townswomen’s Guild and Caversham Rotaract Club, with which she took part in a number of fund-raising activities.

She has also served as a magistrate at Reading since 1988 and has sat on a number of committees, including the bench training and development committee, which helps new magistrates ease into their role.

Miss Manning and her late father John played an active role in the restoration of the Chantry House in Henley about eight years ago.

She also supports Henley in Bloom by sponsoring a planter in Thames Side and has sponsored two public benches in the town.

She also makes regular donations to Cancer Research UK and is a supporter of the Marlow Town Band, Dee Road Rangers Football Club in Reading and the Woodley Festival of Music.

Miss Manning, 65, who was nominated by Aspen Weatherburn, of Albert Road, Henley, looked stunned as she took to the stage to receive her award.

She said: “I just want to say thank you very much. There are ladies in this room, in this category and in all of the categories, who are far more worthy than I am but thank you very much.

“I’m absolutely shocked, I didn’t expect it in the slightest but we are all winners.”

The sport category was won by double rowing world champion SARAH WINCKLESS.

She won bronze in the women’s double sculls at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and gold at the world championships in 2005 and 2006 with the GB women’s quad.

Winckless, 44, who grew up in Hamilton Avenue, Henley, and attended Rupert House School, had an interest in athletics as a teenager but didn’t get into rowing until she became a student at Cambridge University.

She was selected for its development crew for the 1995 Boat Race in Henley and became “hooked” on the sport after her crew beat Oxford.

She competed in the double sculls at the 2000 Sydney Olympics but was placed last in her heat due to an earlier injury.

At the Athens Games four years later, she and her partner Elise Laverick recovered from a shaky start to finish third.

After retiring from the sport, Winckless became the first chairwoman of the British Olympic Association’s athletes commission and started umpiring.

She also served as the national chef de mission, running the UK team for the Youth Olympic Games and in 2012 she was asked to become a steward of Henley Royal Regatta, where she won eight times.

She commentates on races and has been working with the regatta’s broadcasting team since live coverage was introduced in 2015.

She served as Team England’s chef de mission for last year’s Commonwealth Youth Games and will take the role again for the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. In 2016, she was made the royal regatta’s first female umpire.

Her achievements came despite being diagnosed in the Nineties with Huntington’s disease, an inherited condition that progressively worsens and causes a range of physical and cognitive impairments.

Winckless, who lives in Hurley, is heavily involved with Huntington’s charities.

She was made an MBE by the Queen in 2015 for services to sport and young people.

She was cheered on to the stage and had a warm embrace with Williams, who said: “I may be biased, but she’s a worthy winner.”

Winckless said: “When I am lucky enough to be invited on to a stage I think of the people who have supported me on my journey and the shoulders I’ve had to stand on. I’ve been incredibly fortunate that so many people have supported me.

“It was my dad who gave me the ability to follow my mum and become a sportswoman myself and sport has become the backbone of my life.

“The people here today have followed a passion and for me that’s extraordinary and that allows you to do extraordinary things.”

Before the dinner, there was an introductory speech by Margaret Thomas, a community fund-raiser at the Nettlebed hospice, whose youngest brother died while in the care of Sue Ryder 17 years ago.

She said: “Two weeks ago I lost another younger brother, who didn’t make it to Sue Ryder and died in a local hospital. Although the staff were so kind, the experience was totally different.

“I’m an ordinary woman but these women are extraordinary and will leave a legacy behind. My legacy will be something in my will to help Sue Ryder continue.”

Williams led a game of “heads or tails” with the audience and there was an auction run by antiques expert and TV presenter Jonty Hearnden, which raised almost £7,000.

Lots included tickets to ITV show Dancing on Ice, a ride on a combine harvester and a tour of Buckingham Palace.

A special late lot of a month’s ironing by Reading business The Ironing Lady sold for £100.

Many guests pledged £500 to pay for patients to receive a day of care at the hospice or £135 for a nurse for a day. The event raised more than £63,000.

Gemma Wise, Sue Ryder senior community fund-raiser, said: “We have been overwhelmed with the support for our 2018 awards and we are just so grateful.

“The event was a resounding success and we couldn’t have done it without all our sponsors, attendees and volunteers.

“It was such an enjoyable experience to recognise and celebrate the contribution so many remarkable women make within this region. Well done to all nominees and, of course, to our brilliant winners.”

Williams said: “It was my pleasure to host and it was such a rewarding event for a great charity. We all had a fantastic evening and I am in awe of the winners’ stories. Congratulations to all the nominees.”

The business category was won by BRENDA LONG, chairwoman of Reading law firm Blandy & Blandy, which has an office in Hart Street, Henley.

In 2015 she became the company’s first ever chairman and senior partner in almost 285 years and in November she gave birth to a baby boy as a surrogate mother at the age of 51.

Mrs Long thanked her colleagues for supporting her during thre pregnancy.

The courage category was won by TARA WINDSOR, who donated a kidney to her friend Rachel Hourigan when she was suffering from a life-threatening illness in 20212.

Mrs Windsor, from Caversham, attended the awards with Mrs Hourigan, her parents and husband Nick. She was presented with her award by Henley Standard editor Simon Bradshaw.

 The other nominees from the Henley area were:

Internal award

KAREN GUY, head of clinical services at Nettlebed hospice.

Mrs Guy, 59, from Peppard Common, has worked in nursing all her life and led the hospice to “outstanding” ratings in three key areas at a Care Quality Commission inspection last year.

SYLVIA THOMAS, who joined the hospice as community nursing team leader last year. Mrs Thomas, who is married with four children and lives in Rotherfield Greys, leads a team of five home care nurses across South Oxfordshire and is also responsible for the hospice’s day services.


JACKY STEELE, the former headteacher of Badgemore Primary School in Hop Gardens, Henley.

Ms Steele, 54, from Lower Earley, joined Badgemore in April 2014 and improved the school’s Ofsted rating from “requires improvement” to “good” during her three-year tenure.

CATHARINE DARNTON, headteacher of Gillotts School in Gillotts Lane, Henley, since 2007.

Ms Darnton, 47, from High Wycombe, has led the academy to consistently high results and has also been a vocal campaigner on the issue of schools funding.


JANICE SMITH, a police community support officer.

Ms Smith is one of three PCSOs who look after Henley and surrounding villages, taking reports of crimes and providing crime prevention and safety advice.


ELIZABETH HODGKIN, who founded the Henley Gardening Buddies group in 2003.

Mr Hodgkin, 66, who lives in Nicholas Road with her husband Richard, helped achieve the town win five consecutive gold awards in Britain in Bloom’s Thames and Chilterns region as well as the best town category in 2015.

She has been mayor of Henley twice.

JODI BUTLER, organiser of the Nettlebed annual summer fete. Mrs Butler, 35, a hair stylist who lives with her husband Michael and their two children, runs Party on the Rec, as well as the village’s website and Christmas fayre.

EMMA LERCHE-THOMSEN, who helped secure the future of the Chiltern Centre for disabled children in Henley.

The former BBC production manager, who lives in Remenham Hill with her husband Kim, spearheaded a £350,000 fund-raising campaign in 2011.

DEBBIE HEMMINS, manager of the Rainbow Corner  community day nursery in Watlington.

Mrs Hemmins co-founded the nursery in 1984 with Maureen Walker. 

In 2000, she led a £65,000 appeal to refurbish the centre and in 2010 she helped raise money for a garden playroom, milk kitchen and more storage.

KELLIE HINTON, Mayor of Henley.

Councillor Hinton, who became a town councillor in 2011, was elected Mayor in May last year and was later named best young councillor in Britain by the National Association of Local Councils. She is also chairwoman of Henley in Bloom.

LAURA REINEKE, a professional violinist who founded Henley Music School in 2010. Mrs Reineke, 45, who lives in Berkshire Road, Henley, with her husband Antony and their three children, provides music tuition and activities for more than 250 children through the school.

WENDY BOWSHER, who was managing director of the Kenton Theatre in New Street, Henley, for 15 years until she stepped down in 2016.

The 50-year-old, who has lived in Henley all her life, first volunteered at the venue in 1983 and was made managing director in 2002, overseeing an increase in audiences from about 10,000 people a year to 40,000.

DIANA PEARMAN was nomiated for her community work in Sonning Common and as chairwoman of the charity committee at Phyllis Court Club in Henley.

The 71-year-old, of Kennylands Road, Sonning Common, is also editor of the village magazine.

She helped write the Sonning Common neighbourhood plan, manages the FISH community bus scheme and runs a Christmas Day lunch.

CHRISSIE PHILLIPS-TILBURY was also nominated for her community work in Sonning Common, where she is a parish councillor.

The 75-year-old, of Woodlands Road, was chairwoman of the village hall committee for 17 years and also hosts community meals, including a Christmas Day lunch for the elderly at the hall.


VICKY THORNLEY, a Team GB rower and the current captain of Leander Club in Henley.

Thornley, 30, won a silver medal in the double sculls with Dame Katherine Grainger at the Olympic Games at Rio in 2016 and won gold at last year’s European championships.

MIRIAM LUKE, chairwoman of Henley Women’s Regatta.

Mrs Luke, who has two children with husband David, has grown the event’s volunteer and leadership team, made more accommodation available for visiting rowers and introduced live video broadcasts.


SARAH GILBERT, JOANNA MCGINN and NICOLA NOTT, who launched networking group The Creative Duck in Henley in March last year.

The company organises workshops for business owners and those looking to start their own ventures as well as providing advice on a range of issues and a forum in which to socialise.

EMMA-JANE TAYLOR, who has been teaching dance and fitness in Henley for more than 20 years.

Miss Taylor, 45, runs performing arts school Stageworks and has also raised thousands of pounds for charity.

CATHERINE ABBOTT, a visual merchandiser who was awarded a silver medal at the WorldSkills championships in Abu Dhabi in November.

Ms Abbott, 21, from Sonning Common, was given 22 hours to create a window display themed around “holidays”.

TARA COLE, who ran a vintage ice cream van service from Daisy, a 1972 Bedford van she bought and restored.

Ms Cole, the daughter of the late actor George Cole and his widow Penny, sold the business in May last year and now runs homemade sign business Tango and Twist.

SALLY HUGHES, managing director of The Mill at Sonning theatre.

Mrs Hughes’s parents Tim and Eileen Richards bought the venue in 1978 and Mrs Hughes took over in 1985.

She  refurbished the 215-seat dinner theatre and it has won the most welcoming theatre in the country for the past two years.

TAMSIN BORLASE, who sells fresh fruit, vegetables and cut flowers grown at Bosley Patch, her market garden at Swiss Farm in Henley.

She also has a weekly market in the town and a vegetable box scheme and supplies local chefs.

JO WISE, a florist who set up Floral Garden and won a silver gilt at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Hampton Court Palace flower show in July.

The 47-year-old, who lives in Swyncombe and works in Benson, has also displayed her designs at the Southbank Centre in London.

LISA ASHFORD, chief executive of Ethex, a non-profit investment company that funds socially responsible projects.

Ms Ashford is also director of Goring and Streatley Community Energy, which wants to build a hydroelectric power plant on the River Thames at Goring.

VICTORIA NEWTON and JANE MACFARLANE DUCKWORTH, organisers of the Chelsea Fringe Henley festival.

The annual event, which began in 2014, is an alternative festival of flowers, gardens and gardening which runs concurrently with the main festival.


FRANCES SHILLITO for her work helping others overcome anorexia.

Miss Shillito, 27, from Rotherfield Greys, has written a booklet and gives talks to young people after suffering from the disease as a teenager.

• The main sponsors of the awards are Invesco Perpetual, CH&Co and Higgs Group, publishers of the Henley Standard. The other category sponsors are Select Car Leasing, the Ironing Lady, Field Seymour Parkes solicitors and estate agent Savills.

To view the photos from the night, click here

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