Whether honorary or native, in politics or fashion, Body Confidential on the city's inspirational women 2017

It’s no exaggeration to say women changed the world in 2017. It was the year of unbridled female activism, long overdue recognition on various world stages and, in the troubling case of shamed Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, belated retribution. Here in Manchester – a city with firm and proud roots in the female liberation movement – local women were a constant beacon of pride, gaining acknowledgement nationally and internationally. From sports women to scientists to charity to the arts, we have listed the women who influenced and inspired the city in 2017. 

Joanna Natasegra | Oscar-winning film maker

At this year’s Academy Awards, Manchester-born filmmaker Joanna Natasegera took home an Oscar for her culturally important Netflix documentary The White Helmets. The film, which follows aid workers who risk their lives in Syria to save civilians, was one of the few British-made films to be acknowledged at the ceremony. Speaking on the win to the Guardian, Natasegra said she was ‘thrilled' for the White Helmets and felt the world was finally ‘recognising their work.' 

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Joanna Natasegra with co-creator Oscars 2017

Simone Spray | CEO of youth mental health charity 42nd Street

In the wake of the Manchester Arena attack, 42nd Street CEO Simone Spray devised plans to launch further support for young people in Manchester, securing a £100,000 investment from the Big Lottery Fund to further the charity’s plans. The funding will be used to equip local community groups with the skills and confidence needed to support young people who have experienced trauma. They will work closely with the NHS-run Manchester Resilience Hub to ensure those affected by the arena bombing receive appropriate mental health support. Spray and her team work tirelessly to offer vital mental health support services to young people in Greater Manchester - this year over 3000 counselling & therapy sessions were provided to more than 350 11-25-year-olds in the area.

Maxine Peake | Acclaimed actress

From her celebrated roles in British dramas Dinner Ladies and Shameless to her applauded stint as Hamlet at the Royal Exchange theatre, revered Bolton-raised actress Maxine Peake is considered one of the city’s most successful actors. In 2017, it was her role in harrowing BBC One drama Three Girls which commanded further acclaim. In a rousing performance, Peake excellently portrayed former sexual health worker Sara Rowbotham (see below); the woman who played a pivotal role in convicting the Rochdale sex traffic ring. Speaking to the Guardian, she said: "I thought this was a story that needed to be told.”

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Actress Maxine Peake

Maria Balshaw | First female director of the Tate

After more than a decade as the Director of the Whitworth (as well as Director of Manchester City Galleries and Director of Culture for Manchester City Council), Maria Balshaw landed the most coveted position in the art world, as Director of the Tate. Balshaw is the first woman to ever take the role and replaces Nicholas Serota, who held the position for three decades. Though Manchester's art community will surely miss Balshaw’s innovation and influence (she raised £15m for The Whitworth’s expansive renovation in 2015), the new role is a significant achievement in British art history. 

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Maria Balshaw

Corin Bell | Co-founder of Real Junk Food Project MCR

Heading up Manchester's Real Junk Food Project, Corin Bell successfully introduced the city's first waste food café to Oxford Road this year, following a long period of fundraising. Alongside Chris Hayden, the sustainability boffin and self-proclaimed ‘good egg’ is campaigning to reduce food waste and food poverty in the city and beyond. 

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Corin Bell

Paula Robinson | Protected 50 children following the terror attack

The night of the tragic Manchester Arena terror attacks, 48-year-old Paula Robinson instinctively sprung into action. Following the suicide bombing, which left 22 innocent people - including seven children - killed, Robinson led 50 children into safety. It was an act many have called heroic, prompting calls for Robinson to receive an award for her quick thinking. In what was a dark time for the city, Robinson’s bravery and selflessness became symbolic of the Manchester's humanity and solidarity. 

Dr. Erinma Bell | Moss Side anti-violence campaigner

For close to two decades, Dr Erinma Bell has worked to prevent gang war and gun violence in Moss Side and Longsight with grassroots charity Carisma (Community Alliance for Renewal Inner South Manchester Area). Earlier this year, artist Karen Lyons unveiled a sculpture made in Dr Bell’s honour; it became the first ever sculpture of a woman to be showcased in Manchester Town Hall. The bust is made from 50 melted down illegal firearms – a symbolic representation of Bell’s continued work to eradicate gun crime in the city. “It is a great achievement and a symbol of hope, aspiration and peace,” says Bell. 

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Dr Erinma Bell

Angela Spindler | Chief executive of N Brown Group

Simply Be, Jacamo and JD Williams – just a few of the powerhouse brands that Angela Spindler has bolstered to success. As Chief Executive of N Brown Group, Spindler has driven the transformation of the once stuffy catalogue company into a diverse portfolio of digital brands. At the forefront of the fashion group is Simply Be, a body positive brand that has boosted the credentials of plus-size clothing worldwide. This year saw the Chester-born businesswoman climb the Drapers Top 100 list to 25, up five places from last year. Commenting on her successes to the BBC, Spindler said: “You need to be good at something, you need ability - some work at it some are born that way - you need to be lucky and in the right place at the right time, and you need to be brave, you've got to have courage."

Sara Rowbotham | Exposed the Rochdale grooming scandal 

This year thousands petitioned for former sexual health worker Sara Rowbotham to be formally recognised for her crucial role in exposing the Rochdale grooming scandal. When Rowbotham grew concern for three young girls in the area, she began a tireless campaign (with more than 100 referrals to police and social workers) to convict the nine men involved. The men were finally convicted in 2012.  It was the recent re-telling of her heroic and harrowing story on BBC One earlier this year that helped to reaffirm the gravity of her persistence. Rowbotham worked Rochdale Crisis Intervention Team for the NHS from 2004 to 2014 before being made redundant. 

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Sara Rowbotham

Sarah Jerath | Founder of ethical fashion brand Two For Joy

Teacher-turned-entrepreneur Sarah Jerath made local fashion headlines with the launch of her ethical fashion brand earlier this year. Two For Joy promotes transparency in the fickle world of fashion, and is the first of its kind to openly publish production figures so customers know exactly what they're paying for. The brand also uses 60% of sustainable fibres and takes extra measures to minimise the environmental impact of manufacturing. With ethics as strong as its aesthetics and a truly honest approach to e-commerce, Two For Joy is a brand of the future. 

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Sarah Jerath

Chanel Joan Elkayam | Fashion designer

Young designer Chanel Joan Elkayam is considered a prodigy in the fashion world. At just eighteen years old, the Cheshire designer first debuted her collections at Paris Fashion Week, becoming the youngest talent to ever be invited to showcase. Elkayam later continued on to New York fashion week before showing at London Fashion Week in February this year. Now twenty, Elkayam is currently refining her skills at the prestigious Central Saint Martins university and has her sights set on Milan Fashion Week 2018. 

Resham Khan | Acid attack survivor 

When Manchester business student Resham Kham was sprayed with sulphuric acid in a horrifying attack earlier this year, the 21-year-old was left with life-changing injuries to her body and face. During her recovery, Khan chose to speak out and used her social media platforms to encourage a change in the law surrounding corrosive substances. An aspiring model, Khan’s bravery and willingness to share her story has been recognised nationally and she recently featured on This Morning and BBC One

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Resham Khan

Megan Marie Griffith | Girl Gang MCR, a collective of inspiring women

From speed-mateing events to philosophical coffee groups, art exhibitions to movie-screenings, Girl Gang MCR’s portfolio spans a host of immersive events. Yet despite the variety on offer, one key trait features in them all: a sense of community. In an ever-growing digital world obsessed with scrolling and swiping, Girl Gang MCR offers an accessible, creative way to collaborate, meet new people and learn new skills. The self-funded group is run by a collection of female artists, activists, academics and events organisers along with a network of dedicated volunteers.  

Hazel Reeves | Sculptor of the new Pankhurst statue 

After an intense voting period back in March, Hazel Reeves won the honour of producing the new ‘Our Emmeline’ statue of Emmeline Pankhurst that will crown St Peter’s Square. Reeves’ design sees Emmeline Pankhurst standing on a chair whilst delivering a speech, enticingly addressing an unseen crowd with an extended arm. The design was selected from a shortlist of six and will be the city centre’s first monument to a woman in more than 100 years. The full-size bronze statue will be unveiled on Friday 14 December 2018 to mark 100 years since women first voted in the UK. 

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Hazel Reeves

Jamie Walker | Mastectomy Awareness Campaigner

Tackling censorship, fighting stigma and raising awareness of a dramatically risk-reducing procedure – just three things Jamie Walker addresses through sharing candid accounts of her mastectomy story. After genetic testing revealed she had a hereditary faulty gene and an 85% chance of developing breast cancer, Walker underwent a preventative mastectomy at the age of 36 to reduce her risk. However, following her procedure, a string of censorship over social media left her feeling frustrated – she was repeatedly banned from Facebook for sharing mastectomy scar photos in closed, private groups that were designed to help women understand the process. In a bid to challenge the attitudes towards mastectomies and women’s bodies in the media, Walker fiercely posed for a photoshoot for the National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline (NHBC) and shared her mastectomy story alongside eleven other women. 

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Jamie Walker

Rebecca Taylor | Co-founder of TechReturners

As a Women in IT awards finalist and co-founder of Women in Technology (WIT) North, Rebecca Taylor is proactive in her quest to encourage more women into the world of tech. Through creating open support groups for women to share their career challenges, Taylor hopes to address the gender gap in IT, where women reportedly only represent 17% of the workforce. In aid of this, this year saw Taylor launch TechReturners, an initiative designed to support people returning or entering tech after a career break. The collaborative project with Northcoders and Barclays Eagle Labs offers a free eleven-week course on coding, personal development and the makers lab, with childcare support available to those who need it. 

Emily Furey | Fitness blogger 

Manchester fitness fanatic Em Furey is taking London by storm with her no-nonsense approach to training. With a cult Instagram following of over 48K, the dance graduate has made her mark on the health and fitness scene thanks to her bubbly personality and unwavering commitment. Although new to the world of influencers, Furey has already secured contracts with the likes of SportFX, Gola and Forever21. She has a level 3 diploma qualification in Personal Training and specialises in body weight and high intensity workouts.

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Emily Furey

Rosy Candlin | Every Month - fighting period poverty in Manchester

No woman should have to beg for tampons, period. And, thanks to Every Month Manchester, vulnerable women can gain access to free sanitary products through donations of ‘period packs’. With donations as little as £1.50, the charity creates packs offering a mix of tampons and sanitary towels before handing them out to women in temporary accommodation, emergency shelters and those on the streets. Founded in Manchester, the charity will soon spread its wings down south, with a South London branch launching shortly. 

Victoria Molyneux | Founder of Want That Trend

Victoria Molyneux has a well-documented success story. During April 2015, the young entrepreneur from Cheshire launched online fashion label Want That Trend, selling affordable fashions in sizes 8 to 24. Molyneux’s fledgling business soon skyrocketed, earning her an impressive £7m turnover in its first year. As a young mother who achieved no GCSEs in school, Molyneux’s overnight success and entrepreneurship has inspired many budding entrepreneurs in Manchester and beyond. 

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Victoria Molyneux with Katie Piper

Dr Fiona Measham | Founder of The Loop - drug testing at UK festivals

Dr Fiona Measham made headlines when her Manchester-based organisation, The Loop, rolled out forensic drug testing units to UK festivals to help reduce drug related harm. For the first time in the UK, the new initiative meant those who brought drugs into festivals could hand in the substance to on-site chemists. After the drug is analysed, the user receives their results confidentially and also receive an individually tailored 'harm reduction package.' Manchester events such as The Warehouse Project have also benefit from The Loop’s 'back of house' substance testing, with the aim of identifying trends in drug use and identifying substances which could great harm (read more). Dr Measham, a Professor of Criminology at Durham University, continues to work towards educating both users and services about drug use. 

Joeli Brearley | Pregnant then Screwed

Since being sacked from her job whilst four months pregnant, Brearley has been on a mission to raise awareness of discriminatory behaviour and protect women’s rights. The mum of two founded Pregnant then Screwed, an advice line that supports and promotes the rights of mothers who have experienced discrimination in the workplace. This year Brearley and team joined nationwide campaign ‘March of the Mummies,’ a protest which saw Manchester women and families dress as mummies on Halloween before descending on St Peter’s Square to call for more support and recognition for working mums. The walk coincided with similar events held in five other UK cities and protested the archaic legislations that discriminate against working mothers. 

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Joeli Brearley

Helen Sanderson | Challenging the social care system  

Thanks to her efforts to create a radical new model for home care in Greater Manchester, Sanderson is poised to change the face of home care in the UK. The social care consultant and former expert advisor to the Department of Health has created a people-centred model that strives to bring back a higher level of care and personalisation back into the care system. The project strives to create better lives for those using the service whilst creating lower overheads, offering a positive reform to the social crisis faced in the UK. Already, Sanderson has created dozens of new, high-quality care jobs across Greater Manchester – starting in Wigan, Stockport and Trafford – and has promoted and supported social change by working with charities in the UK, India and Uganda through her work as a social care consultant.

Keke Thompson | Performance poet 

Manchester-based writer, performance artist and producer Keisha 'Keke' Thompson is no stranger to the stage. In 2012, her solo-performance I Wish I had a Moustache was met with great acclaim, preparing her for 2017's sell-out production Man on the Moon. With themes spanning feminism, relationships, family life, politics and the black British experience, Thompson is a compelling voice in the Manchester literary scene. She also does great work in the community as Contact Theatre’s ‘Young People’s Producer;’ working with an award-winning assembly of performers, actors, dancers, musicians, stand-up comedians, poets and MCs aged between 15-25 years old.  

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Keisha Thompson

Victoria Magrath | Blogger – In The Frow  

Manchester-born and bred Victoria Magrath has grafted her way to blogging royalty. With a PHD in fashion, an engaging writing style and a global cult following of over 1.77 million, she's made her mark on the influencer scene with impressive results. The former University of Manchester fashion Lecturer has now moved to London, taking In The Frow to the heart of the fashion scene. 

Amy Coney | Artist behind the #WeStandTogether mural

Following the Manchester Arena terror attack, artist Amy Coney felt compelled to paint a rousing mural of the iconic Manchester worker bee in Ancoats. It now stands as a moving reminder of the city’s strength and solidarity. Alongside the mural, Coney united with poet Tony ‘Longfella’ Walsh to incorporate his resonating ode to Manchester This Is The Place in an artwork entitled ‘Bee Love’ - raising thousands for the We Love Manchester appeal. 

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Amy Coney

Beth Tweddle | Olympic gymnast

She’s the Cheshire resident that put Britain on the map for gymnastics. To date, Olympian Beth Tweddle holds the title of 'Britain’s greatest gymnast' along with Olympic Bronze Medallist, triple World Champion, six-time European Champion, Commonwealth Champion and seven-time consecutive National Champion. To top it all off, Tweddle received an MBE for her services to gymnastics in 2010. Since retiring from the podium, she has launched Total Gymnastics, a company that partners with local schools and leisure centres to provide classes.  

Ariana Grande | One Love Manchester concert

In an unanimous vote, Ariana Grande was named an honorary Mancunian by city councillors after she organised the One Love Manchester concert to raise money for the victims of the arena terror attack. The event, which was held just thirteen days after the suicide bombing at Grande's Dangerous Woman concert, brought comfort to thousands and help to raise more than £3m for the We Love Manchester emergency fund. The 23-year-old singer also visited fans who were injured the night of her concert. Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese praised the young singer for returning to perform in the city so soon. 

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Ariana Grande

Kiera Lawlor | Director of Happiness at Social Chain

Whilst Director of Happiness is a previously unheard-of title on the career ladder, it’s hardly out of place at quirky Manchester start-up Social Chain. Out of an office space colourfully decorated with slides, artificial grass and picket fences, the new role was forged, with Lawlor the first to take the ropes. “Wellbeing and mindfulness is an important part of our culture,” explained Lawlor in an interview with the Metro. “The happiness doesn’t start and end in the office, we aim to give the team skills they can take home with them.” Though some may roll their eyes at the role, the move marks an industry-leading willingness from the social media agency to take responsibility for employees’ mental health.  

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Kiera Lawlor

Mary Ellen McTague | Award-winning chef

It’s safe to say Mary Ellen McTague has had a busy 2017. The award-winning chef is preparing to launch The Creameries, a promising new restaurant and bakery venture in Chorlton; there was also the reopening of the Manchester Art Gallery café, launching the Real Junk Food Project, hosting a dinner party ‘at the end of the world’ for Manchester International Festival and going head-to-head with a robot in a cook off. Phew. After running successful restaurant Aumbry, McTague is continually heralded as one of the city’s most acclaimed chefs. 

Stephanie Jayne Houghton | Captain of England women’s national football team

This year has seen a booming interest in women’s sports, with football at the forefront. 2017 brought record numbers watching the European Championship, including a peak of four million in the UK for England’s semi-final, and a record attendance for the FA Cup final too. At the head of women’s football in the UK is Stephanie Jayne Houghton – the 29-year-old is captain of Manchester City and the England women's national football team. 

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Stephanie Jayne Houghton MBE

Sarah Malik | Campaigning to prevent FGM

FGM coordinator for Greater Manchester, Sarah Malik is leading Manchester University in a campaign to eradicate the practice of female genital mutation in the city and beyond. According to online magazine The Mancunion, ‘Manchester ranks 5th in the top hotspots for FGM in the UK’, with more than 2000 women expected to have endured the practice in the city. In support of non-profit organisation New Step for African Community (NESTAC), Malik helps to educate those most likely to be afflicted about the dangers of the illegal procedure.

Ruth Ibegbuna | CEO of charity RECLAIM

Teacher-turned activist Ruth Ibegbuna was awarded an honorary Degree of Doctor of Education in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the North West. Ibegbuna is the CEO and founder of RECLAIM, a charity that runs youth engagement projects and leadership development programmes across Greater Manchester. Through educating and empowering young working-class leaders, Ibegbuna strives to encourage social mobility and eliminate social barriers faced by young people. 

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Ruth Ibegbuna

Angela Raynor |Shadow Secretary of State for Education

For some, Ashton-under-Lyne MP and shadow education secretary Angela Raynor made an unlikely candidate. She grew up in Stockport, on what she’d describe as a rough Greater Manchester council estate, was pregnant by sixteen and left school with no qualifications. It is these ‘setbacks’ that Raynor believes made her 'prove herself'. Now tipped as a future Labour leader, Raynor is continually outspoken on issues concerning social mobility, teenage pregnancy and the northern working class. 

Carol Kane | Co-founder of Boohoo.com

After 25 years in the fashion industry designing and buying clothes, Kane co-founded fashion giant Boohoo.com with business partner Mahmud Kamani back in 2006. A decade since the retailers’ launch, Boohoo attributes their rapid growth to their use of influencers as well as rising stars like such as Jordyn Woods and Charlie XCX. In April 2017, Boohoo announced that its profits had almost doubled to £31 million on sales up by 51% to almost £300 million. Cane recently cashed in a tenth of her shares, totting up a cool £10.7 million. 

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Carol Kane

Megan Ellaby | Manchester fashion blogger 

With more than 150K Instagram followers and a budding Youtube channel, Manchester-residing Megan Ellaby is one of the city's most successful fashion bloggers. Nationally known for her bold and eclectic mix of colour, prints, plus 60s and 70s shapes, Ellaby stands apart from her peers for her distinctive and refreshing take on popular trends. Ellaby is always true to her personal style and individuality. A former ASOS insider, Ellaby’s unique eye for fashion has seen her work with everyone from Topshop to Hermés.

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