Last night, some of the most influential and inspiring women of the region came together for a night of celebration.
The West Women of the Year Awards, which took place at the Passenger Shed at Temple Meads, was a glamourous event with guests kitted out in all their fineries and welcomed by a sparkling reception.
The evening kicked off with an awe-inspiring speech from Penny Gane, chair of the Bristol Women’s Commission.
Ms Gane explained the work the group has been doing across the city to mark 100 years since the suffragette movement.
She ended her ten minute address to the crowd by saying: “We must make 2018, like 1918, a year of progress – we cannot wait another 100 years.”
Keynote speaker for the evening was Green and Black’s founder Jo Fairly who spoke of her journey from timid aspiring careerwoman to the owner of a multi-million pound company.
She said: “Please – everyone in this room – don’t be shy about trumpeting your achievements.
“Women in the UK find it really hard to showcase their achievements and to accept that they might actually be good at something.
“Shout about your nomination. Use it, communicate it to the media as it will raise the profile of your business, group or charity. Every woman in this room deserves that pat on the back.
“I wish you every success in all of your adventures.”
ut the real stars of the show were the 100 women who had previously been announced in our publications as the South West’s most influential.
These women are charity workers, entrepreneurs, innovators and celebrities, each with a story that has resonated with our readers.
Of these 100 incredible women, our judges – along with a readers’ poll – crowned seven overall winners.
The Most Outstanding Woman in Business Award went to Amy Golding CEO of Opus Talent Solutions.
Amy took up the role last year at the age of 31, making her the youngest UK appointed female CEO of a $100 million company.
In her first year, she has already changed the direction of the company to focus on Opus’ core technology and innovation markets, consolidated the business from 13 brands down into four core brands, opened three new offices, launched a new medical technology brand and grew net profits by 50 per cent.
After receiving the award, Amy said: “I’m so rarely speechless… it’s just such a shock. When I saw the list of names I was so amazed to even be included. I never expected in a million years to actually win.
“It is an amazing feeling as usually you just do what you do every day and don’t stop to think about what you’ve achieved.
“I’ve had amazing support from my team who are here tonight. It is as much for them as it is for me.
“I just want to say thanks to the Bank of Ireland for thinking of doing this.”
Recipient of the Most Outstanding Woman in the Charitable Sector went to Julie Kent of charity Pied Piper.
Since the death of her daughter, Emily, 20 years ago, Julie has been tireless in her charity work – particularly as vice chair of the Pied Piper appeal, a charity started in 1992 to improve the lives of sick children in Gloucestershire.
Julie said: “I’m just overwhelmed really.
“I hope I’m a good role model for the 60 girls I live with. I hope to inspire them to give – if not money, their time.”
The recipient of the People’s Choice Award was revealed as Sara Slee whose selfless efforts during the festive seasons have helped more than 10,000 young people across the BS postcode.
Every year Sara sources and wraps thousands of presents to ensure no child goes without at Christmas.
After the winner was revealed, Sara said: “It’s been a brilliant evening and was very engaging. All the speakers have been really inspiring.
“I’m really surprised to win and very grateful. I’m quite shy so this is really a big deal for me.
“It’s also a big thing for the campaign. We already have people here tonight offering support and companies who want to get involved which is usually very hard to get.”
Next, Most Outstanding BAME Woman was announced as Lord Lieutenant Peaches Golding OBE who currently holds a number of important roles in Bristol.
These include principal consultant at Moon Consulting Ltd and chairwoman of ITV West Country’s Viewer Advisory Council.
She was awarded an OBE in 2009 for her commitment to minority ethnic people. The following year she was made Bristol’s first female black High Sheriff.
She is also a businesswoman and the UK’s first ever black female Lord Lieutenant.
When we caught up with Peaches after the event, she said: “It’s the most incredible thing to win this award bearing in mind the extremely talented and dedicated women in the room tonight.”
“It’s been the most incredible evening. Well done to everyone.”
Most Innovative Woman , which was sponsored by QuoLux, went to Sammie Payne of Open Bionics.
Payne co-founded Open Bionics with Joel Goddard in 2014. The company makes low-cost bionic hands for amputees, researchers and hobbyists.
The Lifetime Achievement accolade, which was sponsored by Lucozade Ribena Suntory, was given to Ann Ramsey.
Inspired by her daughter, Ann formed the Springboard Opportunity Group – a North Somerset charity for children with additional needs and their families – in 1986.
Springboard paved the way and shaped services for children with additional needs and disabilities in North Somerset.
30 years later, Springboard now has four centres and supports around 100 children and families each week across North Somerset.
Ann’s achievements have been described as “absolutely phenomenal – and a lifeline to families in need.”
Ann is now the charity’s honorary president.
Finally, attendees waited with bated breath to find out who of the top 100 women was crowned overall West Woman of the Year.
That title was claimed by Captain Jenni Stephenson.
Captain Stephenson is a Troop Commander at 32nd Regiment, Royal Artillery based in Larkhill, Salisbury.
She is one of six soldiers who this year took part in the British Army’s Ice Maiden expedition. They broke records by becoming the first group of women to trek 1,700km across Antarctica.
When we caught up with her after proceedings she said: “I brought my best friend with me this evening. She was sure I had won, but I had no idea.
“It’s been such a wonderful evening. It is great to be alongside women who just want everything and aren’t afraid to go out and get it.
“The fantastic women at my table were a testament to this evening as a whole.
“I can’t say how proud and humbled I am to be the West Woman of the Year.”