Yesterday I was completely shocked and honoured to win the Inspiring Young Woman Award at the Inspiring Women Awards 2016 in Manchester.
I knew beforehand that I’d been ‘shortlisted’ after I was nominated by Emma at Young Women’s Trust, and I met Jaqueline – the founder of the awards during a sunny afternoon in April. She arrived at my door along with camera man Tom to film my story, which I was told would be played at the ceremony alongside the other finalists.
About a month after filming the day of the awards arrived.
The ceremony was held in The Midland Hotel Manchester on the afternoon of Friday 13th (now a lucky day for me!) I woke early, dressed up, did my makeup, and made my way to the train station excited about the day ahead. I’d said to my boyfriend that I didn’t think I would win, as I was sure the other finalists were much more inspiring than me. With no expectations other than to have a nice afternoon, eat some yummy food, and meet a lot of inspiring women, I arrived about 45 minutes early at the hotel. Taking a seat in the super fancy lobby (there was a tree in the middle of it!) I distracted myself playing on my phone and listening to music. Actually being there caused some anxiety at going into a large event full of strangers. I always psych myself out over things like that, and yesterday was no different. I did my best to calm down, but there was no denying my emotions. Finally I headed to check in, then found myself at a table covered in name badges. I admitted to the lovely woman manning (or woman-ning!?) the desk that I was a little nervous, and she really kindly offered me her seat, assuring me that everyone was going to be lovely. I waited at the desk until my plus one arrived, during which time several lovely women offered reassurance and kind words (special shout out to the South West Lady from BBC Radio Manchester!) Once Emma got to the drinks reception I felt a lot better having a familiar face with me; before long we’d talked to the photographer and also spoke to a few of the other women in the room.
Eventually we had to head to lunch, and after finding out table I obviously took a few photos of the place setting and pretty centerpiece for Instagram. It was only then that I picked up the programme which had been placed at each seat and flicked through it absentmindedly.
There on page 6, underneath the word ‘winner’ was my picture. I almost cried as I looked around me at the other guests.
Some of them probably knew before I did. Suddenly I realised there had been no ‘other finalists’ – Jaqueline had just done a fantastic job at keeping me in the dark! Checking the awards order I saw I was second, meaning I had a bit of time to compose myself and take it in a little. Host Phil Trow took to the stage to begin the afternoon, then Jaqueline played a fantastic video which was her version of an opening speech. After the starter was served we had the first awards category: Business. We heard from 3 brilliant women, who have all done great things in business to inspire and motivate peers and future generations.
My personal favourite was Catherine Nicholson, who is the Managing Director of Mindful Housing –
an organisation which houses people with a diagnosed mental illness and supports them to retain as much independence as possible. Hearing the work that Catherine and her team do was so incredibly inspiring, and I was secretly rooting for her. She didn’t win, but a very deserving finalist! After a brief interlude the main course was served, which was rather delicious. I began to get a little nervous again knowing it was almost time for me to get my award. I still couldn’t believe that I’d won, and I was trying to figure out what to say when I went up to the stage.
For the Inspiring Young Woman Award they play the film rather than interviewing the winner (I’m very grateful for that – I don’t think I could have talked about everything so openly in front of the room) and I hadn’t actually seen my finished video. Watching the film which Tom had edited together from my story had me very close to tears, and I was told later most of the room was as well. Everything that I wanted to say went out of my head as I walked towards the stage. I was focused on not crying, or worse tripping in my heels. Thankfully I made it to the stage and was handed a gorgeous bouquet of flowers, a stunning trophy, my prize of £1000(!!) and a round of hugs. Stepping up to the microphone all I could talk about was the importance of looking after your mental health, before thanking the room and dedicating the award to my Mum.
There’s so much more I wanted to say, but emotions got the better of me.
It’s probably best I kept it short, but now it’s (almost) sunk in, I want to take the opportunity to share the words that I lost with you all. I have been called inspiring more times than I can count in the past 36 hours, but in actual fact I am the one feeling inspired.
I am inspired to follow in the footsteps of the remarkable women I met and heard from – doing fantastic things in business, in the community, and throughout their lives. I’m inspired by the conversations I had around mental health, and the absolutely vital importance of increasing awareness that all of us have it. I am completely inspired by Jaqueline Hughes-Lundy and her tireless championing of inspiring women in the North West. Her planning and running of such a fantastic event for the past 24 years is truly amazing. Most of all, I am inspired to live up to this title I have been given. To work harder than ever to inspire and speak out for young people everywhere, to use my voice and networks to share the stories that others don’t feel they can. It feels a bit big-headed to say ‘I got the Inspiring Young Woman Award’ so instead I am going to do my best to live it. I can’t thank everyone at the Inspiring Women Awards, and especially Jaqueline enough for what they have given me. I do not take this honour lightly, and I promise to step up to the plate and inspire!
Some pictures from the event: