A woman called HOPE: Their achievements are extraordinary – and their stories truly uplifting. Meet our Inspirational Women Of The Year
They are extraordinary women who achieved the incredible — and refused to give up despite hardship, tragedy and appalling odds. At a gala dinner last night, the Daily Mail proudly saluted our Inspirational Women of the Year, in association with Bhs and the charity Wellbeing of Women.
Earlier in the day, the five finalists — selected from the hundreds of amazing women who were nominated by the Daily Mail’s readers — were invited to Downing Street to meet Samantha Cameron.
‘It’s been an honour to celebrate the achievements of these inspirational women here in Downing Street,’ said Mrs Cameron.
Honoured: Juliet Hope (second from right) with Samantha Cameron and the other finalists (from left), Julie Jones, Kathy Coe, Angela Lee and Joy O'Neill at 10 Downing Street
‘I’m delighted that the Daily Mail shines a light on their efforts and experiences. They have such brave and heart-warming stories to tell and I have nothing but awe and admiration for what each of them has accomplished. They are an example to us all.’
From the mother who gave love and a home to five bewildered orphans to the nurse who crusades to save children’s lives, here are their truly humbling and inspiring stories, starting with our winner, Juliet Hope.
Woman of the year
Hope for the hopeless
Juliet Hope’s name could not be more fitting — for her tireless efforts have given hope to more than 1,000 men and women who would otherwise face bleak futures. A modest but dynamic mother of two, her innovative work helping former prisoners build law-abiding and useful lives for themselves, despite a recent tragedy of her own, is truly inspirational.
While 65 per cent of former prisoners go on to re-offend, just 5 per cent of those supported by Startup, the charity Juliet founded, go back to crime. Incredibly, none of the women prisoners she has helped has re-offended. They are women like Sarah, who, on the surface, is just like any other middle-class mum. She juggles a thriving decorating business with raising her daughter, but not so many years ago, her life was desperate and would have remained so if she had not had the good fortune to meet Juliet.
Before that day, Sarah’s life was on a depressing spiral of drug use and spells in jail. An appalling childhood of neglect saw her expelled from school at 14. /01/18/article-0-0F80F80B00000578-350_634x954.jpg” width=”634″ height=”954″ alt=”So proud: Winner Juliet Hope with her twin daughters Charlotte and Lucy” class=”blkBorder” />
So proud: Winner Juliet Hope, with her twin daughters Charlotte and Lucy, is helping former prisoners build law-abiding and useful lives for themselves
Alone and scared, she tried to find work, but there were no jobs on offer for a teenage mother with no qualifications. She started dealing in drugs. Then, when her daughter was ten, she was sentenced to four years in jail.
‘Going to prison was a major wake-up call,’ says Sarah. ‘Once inside, I wanted to remain clean and I gave drugs a wide berth, but that can make you unpopular. My time in prison was not easy.’
But then Sarah met the remarkable Juliet. In HMP Send in Surrey, she had studied for an Art A-level as well as qualifications in maths and English. She also completed courses in painting and decorating — and as a result came to the attention of Juliet’s charity Startup, which helps ex-offenders become self-employed. Juliet and her team helped Sarah form a business plan, buy equipment, and paid for insurance and driving lessons to realise her dream of starting a decorating business.
‘Without Startup, I wouldn’t be standing on my own two feet. The help they gave me was invaluable. It’s one thing having an idea, but without a vehicle or tools, qualifications are useless,’ says Sarah.
Life-changer: Across the country, men and women who had lost their families, dignity and hope have been given a chance, thanks to Juliet's tireless work,
She is far from alone. Across the
country, men and women who had lost their families, dignity and hope
have been given a chance, thanks to Juliet’s tireless work.
than 1,000 ex-offenders have been helped since she launched Startup in
2006. Of those, 250 have won funding and support from the charity to
launch their own businesses, while the rest have been given help with
courses, information and business contacts.
who works as a successful web designer, is another former offender who
would have lost everything if it weren’t for Juliet.
He was jailed for three-and-a-half years for drugs-related offences after becoming addicted to crack and heroin.
He says: ‘Before being inside, I spent all my time and effort getting drugs.’
a result, he lost contact with his partner and young daughter. But in
jail, Lloyd vowed to change his life. He took further education
courses, gave up drugs and started to dream of launching an internet
Lloyd met Juliet at an Entrepreneur Day she held at Brixton Prison in 2006.
Juliet invited industry bosses to meet inmates who had ideas for businesses. ‘Lloyd told us how tough his past had been. When he said: “I’d love to get my old life back as a decent human being,” I was moved to tears,’ she says.
‘Everyone agreed that Lloyd deserved the chance to transform his life. He was given support in setting up his business, opening a bank account — which isn’t easy when you’ve been in prison — and help with a detailed business plan.
‘Five years on, he has contact with his daughter, who’s very proud of her daddy. Not only is his company successful, but he helps other prisoners start their own businesses, too.’
As a former fund manager, Juliet, from Thame, Oxfordshire, enjoyed a high-flying career in the City until she had her daughters in 2001.
She says: ‘A friend who helps support ex-offenders asked me to investigate how much money inmates might need to set up their own businesses. I quickly realised they didn’t just need money. They need support and guidance, too.
‘Many of them receive training in jail, but can’t get a job when they leave and end up re-offending.
‘I realised that if teams of experts could help them draw up a business plan, apply for insurance, understand their finances and monitor their progress, they’d have far more chance of success.’
So Juliet decided to devote herself to changing the lives of others and Startup was born. She spent the early years working from a converted shed in her garden.
'These women have such brave and heartwarming stories to tell. I feel nothing but awe for them'
But now she has to work without the love and help of one of her most devoted supporters, her husband Christopher. He died suddenly last July, leaving Juliet to run the charity as well as raise the couple’s ten-year-old twin daughters, Charlotte and Lucy.
Indeed, the girls nominated their
mother for this award, with Lucy proudly writing: ‘When my Dad died she
pulled our family together. She has to work hard, but still has time to
help us with our homework. She is Supermum!’
one was more proud of Juliet’s achievements than Christopher, a
communications consultant who helped set up and run the charity.
cared so passionately about our work that when he was offered the
chance to have surgery to replace a valve in his abdominal aorta in
spring, he asked to delay it until July so he could finish our company
accounts,’ says Juliet. ‘He went into hospital a day later but suffered a
massive haemorrhage following surgery. Doctors couldn’t save him.
‘A couple of weeks before, we gave our daughters an early birthday party. I’m so grateful he experienced the joy on their faces.
‘Before the operation he was so brave. He wasn’t scared of dying, but he worried that by leaving us he would ruin our lives.
‘I kept saying: “We will miss you unbelievably, but we will carry on with Startup and we’ll carry on as a family.”
‘I’m so lucky I had Christopher in my life for 17 wonderful years. Sometimes, it hits me like a physical jolt that he is gone. But I’m passionate about changing lives and for Christopher, and the thousands of families who could be helped to build new futures, I will keep going.’
A mother to five orphans
When Julie Jones and Caroline Atkin were schoolgirls, they vowed to be best friends for ever. At the age of 11, they solemnly promised to do anything for each other.
That childhood pledge was honoured years later, when Caroline died from a brain tumour at the age of 45, leaving five children. In her last weeks, she asked Julie to raise the children as her own.
Julie, a softly spoken single mother of three with a modest home in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, and a tiny income, didn’t hesitate.
Mum of many: Julie Jones adopted her best friend Caroline Atkins' five children after she died
An inspiration: Julie works 40 hours a week as an administrator and runs the home on her 18,000-a-year salary
She says: ‘I told Caroline that I would
be her “Plan B”. I held her in my arms and said “You’ll be OK”, but I
knew I was losing her.’
Caroline was already battling a brain tumour when her husband David died in January 2010 from a brain haemorrhage.
Before her death in June 2011, she drew up a will giving Julie custody of her children.
‘The hospital rang me and I raced there, but Caroline had just gone,’ she says.
‘I went to her house. The children arrived home from school in a taxi and I gathered them in my arms and said: “Mummy’s gone to Heaven. She isn’t poorly anymore.”
‘Michael, who was 11, left the room. Kieran, ten, sat in shock, James, nine, broke down, while Emma, seven, and Chantelle, five fidgeted. I took them to the park, then we packed and I brought them home.’
Julie, mother of Adam, 20, Peter, 19, and 14-year-old Christian moved the table from her dining room to turn it into an extra bedroom for the girls.
She says: ‘I put a tent up in the garden, and the children took turns to camp outside. We turned it into a game. The children were terribly traumatised by losing both their parents so quickly.
‘Michael kept being sick and Chantelle was hysterical at the thought of leaving me to go to school. But now, despite our lack of space and money, we have become one happy family.’
The table in the kitchen is so small that Julie had to cook Christmas dinner in two sittings. Her eldest son has left for university and his bedroom is used by the younger boys.
Julie works 40 hours a week as an administrator and runs the home on her 18,000-a-year salary.
‘Caroline’s photographs are all around, and the children aren’t quiet anymore. The house is filled with screams and shouts and laughter,’ she says.
‘They say “Julie, you make us so happy,” but the truth is that they’re the ones who make me happy. I’m not extraordinary. I’m just a mum — with lots of love to give.’
Nurse who rode to the rescue
As a paediatric nurse, Angela Lee knows tragedies will always happen on the roads.
But when she held a dying 14-year-old boy in her arms — knowing his death might have been avoided if he’d worn a cycling helmet — she vowed to make a difference.
Angela, 54, from Reading, Berks, says: ‘Phillip had been brought into the children’s trauma unit with appalling head injuries after falling from his bike. For four months, I watched his family hold his hands, talk to him and read to him.
‘But he never responded and, cruelly, when they weren’t there one day, he suddenly deteriorated.
‘I cradled him in my arms and thought about the life he should have had. I felt such a sense of loss and helplessness — and suddenly I realised I had to do something.
So many sleepless nights: When Kathy Coe (left) launched her Pathway Project in 1991, helping women who are victims of domestic violence, it consisted of a telephone helpline in her bedroom. Angela Lee, a full-time paediatric nurse, founded the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust in 1998, persuading cyclists to wear helmets
‘Phillip’s older brother had told me that despite what had happened, he still wouldn’t wear a helmet because it wasn’t cool.
‘I realised that if I could change the perception of helmets, and persuade teenagers to wear them — and educate schools about the dangers of head injuries — we might prevent more children from dying.
‘I launched the Bicycle Helmet Initiative and persuaded a local manufacturer to let me have helmets at cost price. I toured local schools, giving talks and produced information packs.
‘The campaign snowballed, and I would work my nursing shifts, then walk to a tiny room the hospital let me use so I could contact schools, local councils and helmet manufacturers.’ Since its launch in 1992, the Bicycle Helmet Initiative has distributed nearly 12,000 helmets to children throughout Britain, targeting those in deprived areas.
Up to 22,000 schools across the country have been given 44,000 information packs.
Angela has advised the Department of Transport, and continues to work as a nurse. ‘I can never stop, because I know bicycle helmets make a huge difference to survival rates,’ she says.
‘Research shows children stand 60 to 80 per cent more chance of surviving an impact if they’re wearing a helmet.
‘Recently, I met a small boy aged six who had fallen from his bike while wearing one of our helmets. The helmet cracked, but his skull was fine — and his smiling face was all I needed to keep me going in my crusade.’
A life-saver for battered women
Sleep is a luxury Kathy Coe has forgone for many years. When she launched her Pathway Project in 1991, it consisted of a telephone helpline in her bedroom.
The phone would ring when any local wife or mother needed rescuing from a violent or abusive partner, and more often than not Kathy would put on her clothes and drive into the night to rescue a distraught family.
Only once they were settled in a safe haven would she return home, often just in time for breakfast and the school run.
Mother-of-three Kathy runs three refuges, each accommodating 25 women and children, and an outreach centre, which opened in 2009. Her charity answers calls from 1,700 women a year.
Last year alone, 1,200 terrified children were plucked from violent situations with their mothers, and given shelter and a new start.
Wonderful women: From left, Joy, Angela, Kathy and Julie – with winner Juliet in the front row
Kathy, 59, from Burntwood, Staffordshire, says: ‘I know exactly how terrified and trapped they feel, because I lived with a violent husband for several years.
‘I lived in a constant state of fear and lost my confidence and self-esteem. I honestly thought my husband would kill me — or I would kill myself. I knew I had to escape. But in 1988 there didn’t seem to be anywhere for battered wives to flee.
‘The police weren’t sympathetic to cases of domestic violence, and as I couldn’t find any refuge in my area where I could escape with my children.’
Kathy managed to flee her marriage, before founding the Pathway Project to provide refuge for battered women and their families. ‘For years, I used to dash out in the night to rescue families. Now, I have managers to help, but I am on call,’ she says.
‘I cherish the thank-you cards we receive and the confidence we give battered wives. One mother left our refuge, gained a first-class honours degree in social work and is helping other victims of abuse. She is my inspiration.’
A friend for Forces children
Joy O'Neill vowed to help educate schools to provide pastoral care for the children of servicemen and women
As the devoted wife of a husband in the Forces, Joy O’Neill is used to moving homes, schools and countries. But as a qualified teacher, she noticed that the children of servicemen and women were suffering the torment of absent parents and frequent changes of school.
Joy, 41, who is married to Squadron Leader Kevin and is a mother of three, vowed to help educate schools to provide pastoral care for the children of servicemen and women.
She launched the Service Children’s Support Network, which provides a mobility family support co-ordinator to work in schools with Service families.
They also have a website, newsletter and offer practical support to service parents. The group was launched with 30 members in 2009 — and has 3,000 members around the world.
‘I was teaching in schools when I noticed children from Service families who kept moving homes, had tremendous gaps in their education which was never being filled,’ says Joy, from Aylesbury, Bucks.
‘I noticed other children who were withdrawn or fighting because they were missing absent parents.
‘I remember one little boy who was just five years old and in trouble for being aggressive. I could see he was really distressed, and I discovered both his parents were serving abroad.
‘This poor, bewildered child was so distressed he was simply hitting out. I didn’t want to see other children suffering like that, so I decided to launch a group that would train schools in pastoral care.’
Incredibly, Joy runs the group as a volunteer, while still finding time to raise her children and study for a Master’s degree at Oxford.
‘I could never give up this work because I’m a Service wife and mother and it affects my neighbours, friends and families all around me,’ she says.
‘We help our heroes — but we need to help their children, too.’