Bradford Honours Unsung  Heroines

Bradford’s unsung heroines were once again honoured for their contributions and achievements across public and home life at the fourth, annual Bradford Inspirational Women Awards (BIWA), which took place at Life Centre in Bradford .


The Inspirational Women Foundation hosts the Bradford Inspirational Women Awards each year, with a view to inspire and aspire future generations. This year’s award ceremony was once again presented by broadcasters, Sunny and Shay Grewal. Chief Guests included athlete and Paralympic head coach Paula Dunn; Shadow Equalities Minister in the House of Lords, Baroness Glenys Thornton; former leader and former vice chair of the Respect party, Salma Yaqoob; and Respect Party MP for Bradford West, George Galloway among other high profile attendees.

All funds raised from the night via ticket sales will be used to support female causes such as court fees for women who have been subjected to sexual harassment in the work place; supporting victims of domestic violence, women struggling to find work, women in business and other worthy causes.

The award ceremony, which highlights the stories of the district’s inspirational women, continues to go from strength to strength with a new category added each year. This year’s new category was Inspirational Woman Teacher.  In addition, two Special Awards for Woman of the Year and Mum of the Year (selected by public vote) were presented on the night by the founders of the Inspirational Woman Foundation – a not for profit organisation established to work with and to support women at home, in the workplace, in the community or in business, of which the Inspirational Women Awards are now a part. The event was supported by British Airways, who donated a return flight to New York for the Woman of the Yearaward recipient.

The shortlist represented the diverse communities of Bradford, with finalists comprising British-born, Bradford locals alongside those with heritage roots in Eastern Europe, India and Pakistan, with one nominee from a military background. The panel of judges comprised: Geraldine Howley, Group Chief Executive, Incommunities; Gary Peacock, General Manager, Midland Hotel; and Elizabeth Bradbury, CEO, Jewish Welfare Board.

Winners of the Bradford Inspirational Women Awards 2015:


Lynne Cunningham – YMCA

Lynne Cunningham is an 8-13 Yrs Project Development Manager at YMCA and has been working with the organisation for over nine years.  She has helped develop the Stepping Stones Provision which is a bought in service by schools to support and help schools with young people who may need that extra little help with certain areas identified around behaviours and self esteem. Her job isn’t just the nine to five. Lynne goes the extra mile for any task given and gives more than 100 per cent to her job. Whilst at the YMCA, Lynne has changed her role a few times moving up the ladder and gaining more responsibility and different challenges. She was involved in the Centenary of WW1 and was chosen to represent the City of Bradford YMCA in the first ever march in London for the Remembrance Parade. It was the first time ever the YMCA had been represented at this parade for the work they did in the First World War and Lynn did a great job in representing her company, giving up her own time.


Public/Voluntary Sector

Yasmin Khan – Staying Put

Yasmin Khan is the Director of Staying Put, an organisation that enables women and children experiencing domestic abuse to remain safe in their own homes. Yasmin is an activist and she lobbies and campaigns for equality and making sure that anybody that is disadvantaged has fair access and opportunities in life; these causes are what drive her. She is also a lead on gender equalities and human rights issues for the past 20 years. When Yasmin joined Staying Put, the organisation was under threat of redundancies. However, today the organization is stronger than ever with increased funding and investment thanks to Yasmin’s dedication the organization will also be launching a DV support group for men too.


Saima Hussain – Rugby player for Yorkshire and England Rugby team

Saima is the only Asian female rugby league player in the country. She was the first Muslim female to play Rugby League for Yorkshire. The 35-year-old, who is now retired, comes from a Pakistani family who live in Keighley. Saima was first introduced to rugby when she was nine years old. She started playing for her local club, Keighley Cats rugby league team, and was spotted as a potential for regional playoffs. Since starting her journey, she became the first ever Muslim female rugby player to play for both Yorkshire (aged 18) and England Rugby League (aged 20). As a Muslim, she is aware of the problems that girls face. Saima encountered some personal struggles when she began playing rugby. The media published images of her in shorts and this caused concern for her parents about how the sport didn’t allow her to cover her legs. However, their support got her through the negative backlash she faced from the community. The now Sports Development Officer helps raise the profile of women’s rugby league and encourages more women, including Asian women, to become involved.

Community Star and Woman of the Year

Beverley Barton

Beverley moved to Bradford from Blackburn a few years ago and helps out on a number of community-based projects. She is a governor at Westminster Primary School and also helps to lead the Sunday School at St. Clement’s Church on Barkerend Road, helping run the church with her husband. They have a number of families, including refugees, for whom life is a daily struggle and she tries to support them. Professionally, Beverley is a teacher for a national charity called Dyslexia Action where she has worked for six and half years. Monday to Friday she is employed to teach children and adults with dyslexia that are struggling with reading, spelling and writing. Through her work with Dyslexia Action, she also runs the Literacy Catch Up Club at St. Augustine’s Library. Beverley goes out of her way for the community especially where children are concerned. She has a professional background in special educational needs.


Business Woman

Liva Alberta – Concierge Estates

Liva moved from Latvia to the UK in 2004 and made Bradford her home. After growing up in poverty and being accustomed to a rationed lifestyle where money was not visible, Liva was ever more determined to improve her lifestyle and get her family out of poverty. So she decided to seek work abroad and ended up moving to the UK with very little spoken English. Liva found a job at Bradford Council working in social services, helping to find housing for the Eastern European communities.  It was here Liva found a gap in the market. She realised that most Eastern Europeans who were coming to the UK didn’t just want standard accommodation but wanted to make this their home and therefore wanted a better lifestyle, so she helped set up Concierge Estates, a company which not only took care of the housing needs of the Eastern European community but treated them like first class citizens and helped them develop their lifestyle in the UK by helping them become homeowners. The success of Liva’s business and entrepreneur skills was further evident when she appeared on the front cover of Forbes magazine.


Sally Layas – Holy Family Catholic School

Sally Layas is the Assistant Head Teacher at the Holy Family Catholic School. She has been working at the school for five years and believes in bringing the community and students together. During the Peshawar attacks, she created ‘hugs on offer’ at the school for anyone who needed a hug or support. Sally’s response to the horrific attacks was that love is more powerful than hate and that theme dominated the week at school. She says it was a simple thing to get the kids to spread love and raise awareness of the attacks. Sally believes that, as a teacher, you can’t stop being horrified by such attacks. Most recently, the Gaza/Israel situation really affected her and she and the school are trying to counteract that by advocating unity instead of division.

Mum of the Year (selected by public vote)

Teresa Maria Gornall

Teresa Maria Gornall is a mother who has undergone many struggles. Eight years ago in her mid 50s, she was diagnosed with oesophagus cancer. She had an operation and suffered a bi lateral stroke as a complication. She was left unable to walk and was told by doctors that she would never walk again. A year later, she was diagnosed with womb cancer. Throughout this time, she underwent physio sessions, yoga and tried many things to improve her chances of walking. Since then, she has walked the Race for Life. Eight years later, she walks with the aid of two sticks and has just returned from an independent trip to Australia to visit her eldest daughter. She continues to support her family and be an active, hands on wife, mum, grandmother and great grandmother.

Youth Award

Due to the hospitalisation of finalist, Ashleigh Mae Bowers, the panel deemed the category difficult to judge without her profile inclusion. As a result, all three finalists were winners: Ashleigh Mae Bowers, Amy Barker, Melissa Steele.

Amy Barker

Amy is a 20-year-old businesswoman.  At the age of 18, instead of going to university, with the support of her mum she launched a dress shop business called The Pageant Boutique. Despite being a model A* student, opening a dress boutique had always been a dream of Amy’s. A couple of years down the line she would have opened up her own boutique but has managed to save the expenses of going to university to do so. Amy encountered a few challenges in relation to her age. Not many people took her seriously when she said was opening up a boutique. Amy has proven them wrong. The success of the business has resulted in celebrities and beauty queens buying from her boutique. She has become a confident role model to other young business people by telling them that you don’t have to go to university to be successful.


Ashleigh Mae Bowers

Ashleigh is a 16-year-old student at Bradford Academy. She has been struggling with an eating disorder and depression for two years. Her eating disorder caused her to stop competing as a dancer. It has been very controlling and has impacted her life massively – everything from getting out of bed to going to school and doing basic tasks. Her health problems have also impacted her family. Ashleigh started a campaign during Eating Disorder Awareness Week to get people involved to help them learn more. She also wrote a number of posts to raise awareness as to what goes on. She organised fundraising activities like getting her friends to wear silly socks to help raise money for BE, an eating disorder charity. Ashleigh still gets help from CAMHS, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and they are still supporting her through it.


Melissa Steele

Melissa is a 21-year-old recording artist from Bradford. She signed a deal with Atlantic Records last year and the day after that she went out to Jamaica to shoot her first music video for her first single ‘Kisses for Breakfast’. That went to the Top 10 in the UK. She also has another Top 10 that is in the charts at the moment called ‘I Loved You’. At the age of 9/10 Melissa had always wanted to become a singer and a performer. Music has always been a way of expressing herself through song writing and singing. Melissa has faced a number of personal challenges including taking the risk of giving up her job in order to pursue her dream. After quitting her job she got financial help from her mum to go to London and get recognised as an artist. She was away from home and living in hotels for a year. While living away she overcame the pressures of a lifestyle change and got to know the ins and outs of the music business. Within a few months of being in London and working hard she was noticed.

Melissa faced some personal struggles. When she was 6 years old her dad passed away. Her perfect family dynamic disintegrated and it was a really hard time for her.

Music has been a way of helping her cope and express her feelings. Through song writing she got to express her emotions.


Special Founders Award

Presented to the nurses and admin team on Ward 27 and Endocrinology and Diabetes unit, Bradford Teaching Hospitals. BIWA Founder, Fatima Patel, has suffered health issues since October 2013. Being bed bound for months was deeply challenging and disheartening for someone who has always been active. The nurses played a vital role in helping her maintain dignity and keeping her spirits high. The nurses go out of their way to make patients comfortable and the work they do often goes unnoticed. As a result, the Special Founders Award saluted all nurses, particularly the team at Bradford Teaching Hospitals.

This year’s Special Founders Award was presented to the nurses and admin team on Ward 27 and Endocrinology and Diabetes unit, Bradford Teaching Hospitals. BIWA Founder, Fatima Patel, has suffered health issues since October 2013. Being bed bound for months was deeply challenging and disheartening for someone who has always been active. The nurses played a vital role in helping her maintain dignity and keeping her spirits high. The nurses go out of their way to make patients comfortable and the work they do often goes unnoticed. As a result, the Special Founders Award saluted all nurses, particularly the team at Bradford Teaching Hospitals.

Editor, Asian Sunday newspaper and BIWA Founder, Fatima Patel, has herself experienced a remarkable and inspirational journey in the past year, which made the cause this year even more personal. She said, “It was lovely to see so many people come together, united for women and equality. As long as inequalities remain for women, the Inspirational Women Foundation will remain in existence and keep promoting, empowering and inspiring.”

 Jane Vincent, Inspirational Women Foundation and BIWA Co-Founder said, “The awards tonight have been the strongest yet and that is evident from the number of people who have attended today, coming from all parts of the country. It has been a great evening as always and we are proud to once again show off Bradford’s inspirations.”