Book and awards celebrate inspirational women in business

Book and awards celebrate inspirational women in business

SUCCESSFUL entrepreneurs from south Warwickshire are among the women whose inspirational stories form a new book set to raise funds for a national charity close to their hearts.

Inspirational Women, Inspirational Lives, which launched today (Monday March 1st), celebrates female achievers from across the country, many with tales of overcoming adversity and even tragedy.

Inspirational Women, Inspirational Lives, Ladies First Network, Tracey McAtamney, Katie Piper Foundation, book, awards, entrepreneurs

Compiled over nine months by Tracey McAtamney, from Balsall Common, the book features the 58 finalists in the 2020 Ladies First Network Awards which takes place this month in aid of The Katie Piper Foundation.

Among those who contributed are Nicola Smyth from Southam; Kate Findlay from Barford and Julie McGarrigle and Minnie Von Mallinckrodt-Grant, both from Leamington and Rachel Willmott, Sarah McCormack and Karen Heap, from Rugby.

At just 36, and with a hairdressing career already spanning 20 years, Nicola Smyth owns salons in Warwick, Kenilworth, Southam and Knowle and is a multi-award-winning international colourist. She also runs a Midlands training academy and mentors with her brand across the world.

Kate Findlay, Inspirational Women, Inspirational Lives, Ladies First Network, Tracey McAtamney, Katie Piper Foundation, book, awards, entrepreneurs

Kate Findlay, above, from Barford, has seen her online boutique gift shop Peach Perfect go on to great success after launching the business in her early sixties and whilst also nursing her late husband through the latter years of dementia.

Julie McGarrigle is a director at Alsters Kelley Solicitors, which has offices in Southam, Leamington, Stratford, Coventry and Nuneaton. She is proud to be one of only a handful of female non-lawyer director/owners of a law firm.

The practice has supported a number of local charities, including: Zoe’s Place Hospice in Coventry, Coventry Cyrenians, Safeline, STARS and Save the Children, and it also takes part in a number of the Free Wills initiatives for charities, such as Myton Hospices, Mary Ann Evans Hospice and Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance.

Although a microbiology graduate, Minnie Von Mallinckrodt-Grant today offers marketing and communications expertise and is a TEDx curator and coach.

Rachel Willmott, left, grew a successful and award-winning Virtual Assistant business she started from home whilst on maternity leave in 2013.

The parent of a child with Down syndrome, she is also an active member of The Ups of Downs charity based in Leamington, supporting it with administration, training, events and mentoring new parents.

Despite starting out as a financial analyst, Sarah McCormack decided to follow her new dream of becoming a qualified florist leading to the launch of Stemsations in Frankton. Year-on-year sales increased and the business expanded to offer a full floristry service for weddings, celebration bouquets, funeral tributes and seasonal workshops.

Her achievements have been recognised in industry awards as well as featured in glossy magazines.

Karen Heap, Inspirational Women, Inspirational Lives, Ladies First Network, Tracey McAtamney, Katie Piper Foundation, book, awards, entrepreneurs

Karen Heap, right, runs Orchard Business Development and established Socially Shared when she was unable to find the type of support network she needed as a micro-business owner. The network, which is now active in Rugby, Stratford, Coventry, Alcester and Solihull, also hosts an annual Women in Business conference, which includes inspirational and motivational speakers.

Inspirational Women, Inspirational Lives follows on from the success of Tracey’s first book Hidden Strength in 2019, which tells her own story of resilience, after being widowed at a young age.

Proceeds from this book go back into her charity Surviving Bereavement, which offers practical, financial, legal and emotional support in the form of seminars and new Memory Boxes, launched last year.

The finalists to the third LFN Business Awards were chosen from more than 200 nominations, and the winners will this year, for the first time, receive their engraved glass awards virtually, due to COVID restrictions.

An esteemed panel of 12 judges from across the UK, includes the awards keynote speaker, global successs coach and author Sharron Lowe, from Tanworth-in-Arden.

Organiser Tracey said: “The judging event at The Mallory Court Hotel in Leamington last February was such an uplifting day. People had travelled from all over the country. But we didn’t know what was about to hit us.

“Having moved the event three times I didn’t want to move it again. For a while I couldn’t see it happening. But we decided to put it online. I realised that this year things were going to have to change.

“I didn’t want these ladies to miss out on their year and their recognition after such an awful year. That was why I decided to start the book. I wanted to keep the excitement alive as well as find an alternative way of raising the funds for our nominated charity.”

Inspirational Women, Inspirational Lives costs £12.99 and is available from Amazon (also on Kindle) or through Tracey at: tracey@ladiesfirstnetwork.co.uk with all the proceeds benefitting The Katie Piper Foundation.

Tracey added: “Compiling this book has been both very humbling and uplifting. I thought it was important to get it out there. At the moment there are more women than ever who need support and inspiration.

“It’s also based on a year on hold. It’s about what happened to these people over the past year and what impact the pandemic has had on their lives – positive and negative. It looks at how so many women have had to reinvent themselves on the kitchen table. It’s all about celebrating being positive.

“I hope that what people take away from this book is a belief in themselves, that they will see that, no matter how bad things become in your life, you can come out of it the other side.”

Hosted by BBC radio presenter Sandra Godley, the awards ceremony, on March 18th, will also feature a message from Katie Piper. The author and TV presenter founded her charity in 2008 while in the early stages of her recovery from an acid attack which left her with permanent scars on her face and body and blindness in one eye.

Katie said: “I’m so honoured that my charity has been chosen to benefit from the awards, auction and book inspired by these incredible women. Their stories of determination through the pandemic and resilience are to be celebrated.

“The switch from ‘in real life’ awards to a digital ceremony mirrors how we adapted from delivering in-person care to video-call- based rehabilitation with outstanding results for survivors. As women, we are no one thing, we evolve, change and grow and the positive impact is felt far and wide.”

Tracey McAtamney added: “When I was deciding on which charity should benefit from our event this year, I thought, who is one of the most inspirational and courageous women I know? Katie Piper represents someone who has been through awful challenges and within a month of her recovery set up her own charity to try and help others. It sat well with what we are trying to achieve with the book and the awards.”

Proceeds from an online silent auction will also be donated to the Foundation. More than 20 lots, available to bid on from today, (Monday) include an Amplify Events VIP package to see Strictly Come Dancing Live worth £400; a private dining meal for two courtesy of Bramble Dining; a diamond ring, speech coaching workshop, Napton Cidery Discovery Bundle; pet portrait and beauty vouchers. Bids can be made via: www.jumblebee.co.uk/Charityauction2021

Tickets to the awards night are £15 and available at www.ladiesfirstnetwork.co.uk via Eventbrite.

Visit Surviving Bereavement at: https://survivingbereavement.com/

For further information or to enquire about donating, contact Tracey McAtamney at: tracey@survivingbereavement.com

Tragedy inspires bereavement campaign – 15 years later

Tragedy inspires bereavement campaign – 15 years later

IN the early hours of a June morning in 2004, Tracey McAtamney took a phone call that was to change her and her children’s lives forever.

It was the worst news imaginable for the mum-of-two from Balsall Common, who is now launching a series of seminars and Memory Boxes as part of a foundation she founded 15 years later.

Her husband Tony, who had left for his regular Law Society golf trip to Spain just days earlier, had suddenly died.

Surviving Bereavement, Tracey McAtamney, Memory Boxes, seminars

“We would normally go as a family but this particular year my older son, Anthony who was 15, was just taking his last GCSE exam so I made the decision to stay at home with the boys,” recalled Tracey.

“He had spoken to me on the Sunday night and I always remember, he said ‘I wish you were here.’ He spoke to the boys and finished the call to me with ‘I love you.’

“Oliver, who was just seven at the time, wanted to sleep in my bed because his daddy was away. At 1am my mobile rang and I grabbed it and just had this feeling. I stumbled into the bathroom and answered the phone and there was just one word – he just said my name. There was a silence and I just said: ‘he’s dead isn’t he?’

“When he said ‘yes’ I just collapsed in a heap on the floor. I remember sliding down the bathroom door and saying ‘OK, I can’t talk now because Oliver is in the bedroom. I’m going to have to call you back.’ It felt like someone had punched me in the chest. I crawled out of the bedroom because I didn’t want Oliver to see me, I just couldn’t face him.

“I opened Anthony’s bedroom door, where he was still awake with his friend, and just blurted it out. Anthony just looked at me, we hugged and the tears came down.”

Tony was discovered on the floor of his hotel room after suffering what turned out to be an abdominal aneurism.

It came as a huge shock as news spread to friends and colleagues of this well-known and respected lawyer who had been running his own practice in Coventry for 20 years.

He was also well known for charitable work and was a trustee and secretary of the St Bernadette’s Trust which organised trips to Lourdes for youngsters and raised money to help those unable to pay.

Tracey, 54, said: “People are not meant to die on holiday. They are meant to come home. I had lost my husband, father of my children, our livelihood and most of all, my best friend. How do you tell a seven-year-old that his daddy is never coming home? To this day, this is the worst thing I have ever had to do.”

Surviving Bereavement, Tracey McAtamney, Memory Boxes, seminars
Memory box

It was some 15 years later, in 2019, that this tragic event was to inspire a series of new ventures aimed at helping others overcome loss, and a foundation called Surviving Bereavement was born.

Tracey explained: “I started to go to a networking group Ladies First which was being run by a couple of ladies I knew we each shared our personal stories. This is the first time I had publicly talked about my loss and dealing with grief and resilience. It was following this I realised how many people were touched by my story and I was invited to be ‘A Women of Spirit’ in 2019 as well as publishing my own book, Hidden Strength.

“When I was asked to write my story I was surprised, but decided, if my experiences could help others, it would be worth it.

“Once my book was released a lot of people started getting in touch for advice and that’s when I decided to establish Surviving Bereavement, to raise money to fund my Memory Box/Memory Bag Campaign.”

“I had closed all these emotional boxes 15 years ago and once I had the time to open them, I realised that I had a lot to share.”

Surviving Bereavement exists to offer legal and financial advice as well as practical help, all the things, says Tracey, that were not to hand when she needed them.

She said: “Our aim is to raise awareness of not just the emotional aspect of grief, but also the practical and the mental wellbeing required to survive bereavement.

“After someone dies you find yourself surrounded by paperwork. I realised quickly that people needed help.”

Surviving Bereavement, Tracey McAtamney, Memory Boxes, seminars

This support also takes the form of seminars, a new series of which are now being planned remotely after lockdown brought an abrupt end to face to face gatherings.

A host of speakers are lined up to talk about their own personal experience with bereavement from this month, including topics on How to Support a Bereaved Young Person; How to Decide Style of Funeral Service and Coping With Baby Loss, attended by Sharon Luca-Chatha who founded The Luca Foundation following the stillbirth of her son Luca. (https://thelucafoundation.org.uk/) Further details on seminars at: https://survivingbereavement.com/seminars/

Efforts to find innovative new ways to keep the support going through the pandemic has coincided with a need for service being brought into even sharper focus.

She said: “At the moment there is an awful lot of pain because people are not able to see loved ones when they die and I relate to that because there was a lot of anger and regret that I couldn’t be there for Tony.

“We were only just getting the foundation on its feet when lockdown struck. It’s been very hard not to be able to meet up face to face. I really believe that talking is the best thing and really does help – but not being able to give out hugs at the moment is hard.

“I think these meetings are going to be needed after this pandemic more than ever.”

The latest initiative to come out of the foundation is her new Memory Boxes, created in Tony’s memory and personally hand-delivered by Tracey herself.

The bespoke boxes and bags, which are available for children and young adults, typically contain items such as forget-me-not seeds, a personalised book and letter and age-relevant treat item.

“I thought memory boxes were really important to offer some comfort, but when I looked into it there was nowhere that actually gave them away for free, so I thought I would set it up myself,” said Tracey.

“I do cherish the importance of memories. You can lose people but you can’t lose memories. They are always there and we should treasure them as much as we can.

“I’m hoping to be able to put the boxes into hospices but I haven’t been able to do that yet because everything closed down.”

One of Tracey’s own cherished keepsakes following Tony’s death, is actually a golf ball.

“When I went to Spain to repatriate Tony’s body, I visited his hotel room and the weirdest thing happened – a golf ball rolled out from under the bed. It was like some sort of message. That’s Tony telling us that he’s OK, I thought. That turned out to be a sort of turning point for me.”

Surviving Bereavement, Tracey McAtamney, Memory Boxes, seminars
Tracey and her sons today

It was to be 12 years later when Tracey had to come to terms with her loss that her her mum died following a two-year battle with ovarian cancer.

And she was no stranger to grief even at an early age, after losing her father in an accident when she was just seven – the same age as her youngest son Oliver had since lost his father.

It is hoped Surviving Bereavement will continue to grow and help navigate more people through their journey with grief which, Tracey promises, does become easier.

“You go through pain, anger and sadness but you do get through the other side and you smile again. It’s about survival more than anything else. But you do survive. That is why I wanted to do this, to show that to people.

“The pain changes and you never stop missing somebody that’s lost from your life. But memories must always be treasured and talked about. They mustn’t be the elephant in the room.

“I developed a coping mechanism which I never knew existed. I had no choice, my boys were now my priority and I would protect them with my life. We would survive.”

Surviving Bereavement, Tracey McAtamney, Memory Boxes, seminars
Tracey at the launch of her bereavement book Hidden Strength

Now settled with a new partner of 10 years – and spending as much time as she can keeping up with her sons, now aged 32 and 23, three step-children, Helen, Victoria and Gerard, and four step-grandchildren, aged between 4-16, Tracey knows Tony’s memory is never far away.

“I think he would be so proud of his whole family. When I go to see them I always get upset because it brings home what he’s missing out on.

“But I don’t think he’d recognise me today. I am a different person. I became a different person the moment that phone call arrived.”

She added: “Over the last 15 years, I have had to rely on that inner strength to get me and the boys through situations that have seemed impossible. Death has not defined us as a family, however it has truly shaped us as people.

“My motto – there is always a light at the end of a tunnel and always an answer to that impossible situation – and that’s what Surviving Bereavement is here to help with too.”

Visit Surviving Bereavement at: https://survivingbereavement.com/

For further information or to enquire about donating, contact Tracey McAtamney at: tracey@survivingbereavement.com