50 inspirational Sussex women

PUBLISHED: 11:19 07 March 2018 | UPDATED: 11:19 07 March 2018

Sally Gunnell

Sally Gunnell


To coincide with International Women’s Day on 8 March 2018, we wanted to recognise some of the amazing women who call this county home. From creatives and businesswomen to influencers and charity bosses, these are some of the people who make our communities such exciting and dynamic places to live

Samara Levy, Founder, Samara’s Aid Appeal

The Brighton-based charity was born out of an email to the mothers in Samara’s son’s year group, appealing for winter clothes and shoes to send to the people displaced in Iraq by IS. From there it has grown into a large-scale humanitarian project and a registered charity. In September 2017 Samara’s Aid Appeal sent more than 80 consignments to the Middle East carrying clothes, shoes, bedding, toiletries/hygiene items, essential medical equipment, ambulances and school equipment. Samara visited Syria twice herself last year and the charity has opened two not-for-profit hospitals there, including one focused on maternity and obstetric care in Aleppo. Ongoing appeals aim to supply aid to Syria, Iraq and the Lebanon.

Rachel Tackley, Executive director, Chichester Festival Theatre

Rachel Tackley joined Chichester Festival Theatre in September 2016, sharing leadership of the theatre with new artistic director Daniel Evans. Highlights of their first festival season in 2017 included Caroline, or Change which will transfer to London’s Hampstead Theatre in March 2018; Ian McKellen in King Lear; and Quiz, a new play by James Graham, which transfers to the West End’s Noël Coward Theatre in April 2018.

Rachel was director and CEO of English Touring Theatre from 2008-2016. Before that she was president of UK Theatre, the leading membership organisation for theatre and the performing arts.

Kate Mosse, Author

Kate Mosse is an international bestselling author with sales of more than five million copies in 38 languages. Her fiction includes the novels Labyrinth, Sepulchre and The Taxidermist’s Daughter, as well as an acclaimed collection of short stories, The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales. The first book in her new epic historical series, The Burning Chambers, will be published on 3 May.

Kate is the co-founder and chair of the board of the Women’s Prize for Fiction and in June 2013 she was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to literature. She is the deputy chair of the National Theatre board. Chichester born and bred, she still lives in the area.

Professor Claire Annesley, Head of politics, University of Sussex

Professor Claire Annesley is head of politics at the University of Sussex and deputy pro-vice chancellor for equalities and diversity.

Claire’s award-winning research explores how political power is distributed between men and women. She is writing a book on ministerial recruitment, explaining why there are still so few women in the UK cabinet, compared to other countries. Claire lived in Crowborough as a child, returning to Sussex in 2015, and now lives in Haywards Heath with her family. She has two children, aged eight and ten, and a six-month-old Sussex-born Labrador. Claire is also a marathon runner and a vegan.

Carole Nicholson, Chairman, Sussex Wildlife Trust

Carole joined Sussex Wildlife Trust as honorary treasurer and trustee in November 2011, and was elected as chairman in 2015. Carole also carries out several volunteering roles for the trust including fixed-point photography across the reserves.

Carole spent 14 years with MEPC plc as group treasurer and finance director of the UK operation. She spent the next ten years in consulting and finance director roles.

In 2009, Carole became a non-executive director on the board and chair of the audit committee of the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust.

She has also served as a trustee of Action in Rural Sussex.

Jo Fairley, Entrepreneur and journalist

Leaving school at 16 with six O Levels, through hard work and determination Jo Fairley went on to become the UK’s youngest-ever magazine editor at 23, setting out on her entrepreneurial journey in 1991 when she co-founded Green & Black’s Chocolate, now approaching a £100m-a-year brand.

The success of Green & Black’s has enabled Jo to become a serial entrepreneur, via an award-winning organic and natural food store/bakery (Judges Bakery), The Wellington Centre (a boutique nine-room wellbeing centre) – both in her home town of Hastings – and most recently The Perfume Society.

Claire Mason, Founder and CEO, Man Bites Dog

Claire Mason’s specialist B2B marketing and communications consultancy, Man Bites Dog, has won numerous industry awards and in 2014 she was recognised as the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Female Marketing Leader of the Year.

Claire is actively involved in strategy and ideation, as well as providing issues and crisis management consultancy. Prior to founding Man Bites Dog, Claire was a director and head of the corporate team at The Red Consultancy and worked in corporate and technology teams at consultancies including Cohn & Wolfe.

Candida Lacey, Publishing director, Myriad Editions

Candida has lived in Brighton since the 1980s when she came to study for her MA and PhD at the University of Sussex. She spent many years commuting to London, working as a commissioning editor at Routledge, Pandora Press, HarperCollins and Jonathan Cape. She joined Myriad in the 1990s and, in 2000, moved the company to Brighton. She and her colleagues devised a publishing programme designed to launch local talent. This year will mark Myriad’s ninth annual First Drafts competition for promising works in progress.

Last year Candida forged a partnership with New Internationalist as part of a plan to increase the reach of Myriad’s publishing and introduce international authors to the UK.

Frankie Gray, Director and founder of Harmony at Home

Frankie worked as a Norland Nanny for private families, both in the UK and overseas for five years, and in nursery management for two years. She qualified as a maternity practitioner and sleep consultant in 2004 and has worked with hundreds of families over the past decade providing sleeping, eating, and behavioural support services.

While working as a Norlander she started to help families source other specialised childcarers and founded her agency, Harmony at Home. Within a few years it grew into a specialist consultancy and employment agency, providing an eco-friendly children’s toy and gift shop, childcare training courses and household staff recruitment. Harmony at Home became a franchise in 2009 and there are now 16 franchisees across the UK and internationally.

Female charity leaders

• Sightsavers – Dr Caroline Harper, CEO

• Friends of Sussex Hospices – Kathy Gore, chair

• Brighton Festival – Polly Toynbee, chair

• My Sister’s House – Kitty Waters, chair

• CPRE Sussex – Kia Trainor, director

• Born Free – Virginia McKenna, founder and trustee

Jane Plumb, Campaigner and founder of Group B Strep Support

Jane Plumb MBE and her husband Robert founded Group B Strep Support (GBSS) in 1996, following the death of their middle child. GBSS is an independent UK charity with a highly respected and independent medical advisory panel working to improve the prevention of group B Strep infections in babies, support and inform families affected and their health professionals, and support relevant research.

Jane has worked with many UK medical bodies, contributing to group B Strep-related consultations, and as a lay-representative on NICE guidelines/quality standards. She provides patient input for research studies and the National Clinical Research Network Reproductive Health & Childbirth Speciality Group. She works closely with parliamentarians, government bodies and medical bodies on improving group B Strep prevention policy.

Sally Gunnell, Athlete and motivational speaker

Sally Gunnell OBE is one of the nation’s favourite sports stars and remains the only woman ever to hold four major track titles concurrently – Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth. She won Olympic Gold in 1992 for the hurdles event and defied incredible odds to become world champion in 1993, setting a new world record in the process.

She worked for the BBC through the late Nineties and early Noughties, covering athletics events around the world.

Today, she mixes motivational speaking and running corporate wellbeing programmes. She is also a high-profile supporter of healthy and active family initiatives in the UK. She lives in Steyning with her husband and three sons.

Jo Brand, Comedian

Long-established as one of the UK’s leading female comics, Hastings-born Jo Brand is the star and writer of Getting On, the BBC’s BAFTA award-winning series set on a hospital’s geriatric ward, which was partly inspired by her earlier career in nursing. She also wrote and starred in the follow-up Going Forward. Jo’s other television credits include Jo Brand’s Hot Potatoes, Damned and the award-winning Through the Cakehole. This year will see the release of a film based on her book The More You Ignore Me, starring Sheridan Smith, for which Jo also wrote the script.

She has appeared as a host and panellist of popular panel shows including Have I Got News For You, Countdown and QI and presents The Great British Bake Off – An Extra Slice.

She played the Magic Mirror in Worthing Theatres’ 2017/2018 pantomime Snow White, appearing in a projected video.

Nus Ghani, MP for Wealden

Nus Ghani was selected as Wealden’s Conservative candidate in 2013 in one of the largest open primaries in the country. Nus was first elected in 2015 and re-elected in 2017 with an increased share of 61 per cent of the vote.

A campaigner by background, Nus has worked on issues from domestic violence and pregnant women in detention centres, to supporting local businesses and cutting alcohol duty on Wealden sparkling wine. Nus is patron of the Hospice in the Weald, as well as president of the Crowborough cadets and a patron of the Hailsham cadets, and supports a Hailsham-based mental health charity. Nus also champions women and girls and science and technology as a STEM ambassador and chairs a local apprenticeship board.

Women’s charities

• RISE – freedom from abuse and violence in Brighton and Hove

• Miss Represented – arts collective working with young women facing challenging life situations in Brighton and Hove

• East Sussex Women of the Year – recognising remarkable women

• Brighton Women’s Centre – empowering women since 1974

• Safe in Sussex – for victims of domestic abuse and violence

Imelda Glackin, CEO of Martlets Hospice

Imelda trained as a registered nurse in Ireland in the 1980s and moved to London to work in oncology. A stint in a palliative care unit and a conversation with a young patient on her first day there changed her life and prompted a move into hospice care.

She moved to Brighton and started work at the Martlets. After holding various roles there she became chief executive in 2014. She told Sussex Life it’s the best job she has ever had because it’s an organisation that she is so deeply passionate about.

Later this year the charity will be running its second fundraising art trail, SnailSpace, hoping to match the success of the Snowdogs by the Sea trail in 2016, which raised £310,000 for Martlets and brought £10m to the local economy.

Charlotte Hawkins, Television presenter

Chichester-raised Charlotte Hawkins is one of the anchors on ITV’s breakfast show Good Morning Britain. She was a contestant on the 2017 series of Strictly Come Dancing, where she was partnered by Brendan Cole.

Before joining ITV, Charlotte worked at Sky News for seven years on Sunrise with Eamonn Holmes.

This year she joined Classic FM where she presents a weekly show on Sundays from 3pm to 5pm.

Seni Glaister, Founder, WeFiFo

Seni Glaister started her first business in network marketing aged 17 in the United States. Seni went on to co-found The Book People in 1988 which grew from three people working out of a garage to a £100m company with more than 750 people in the workforce.

In 2016 Seni founded WeFiFo. The company aims to be Airbnb for the kitchen table, connecting home cooks, supper clubbers and professional chefs with paying guests. Within its first year WeFiFo secured backing from the John Lewis Partnership and has hosted events in seven countries.

Seni’s first novel, The Museum of Things Left Behind, was published in 2015 and her second novel is being published later this year.

Claire Martin, Singer and radio presenter

Brighton-based Claire Martin has spent three decades honing her craft as a jazz singer, gaining many awards including winning the British Jazz Awards seven times along the way.

She has released 18 CDs and has performed all over the world with her trio. She is also a featured soloist with the Halle Orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the RTE Concert Orchestra, the Royal Northern Sinfonia, the BBC Big Band and the BBC Concert Orchestra. Claire co-presented BBC Radio 3’s flagship jazz programme Jazz Line Up for 17 years.

Her next album will be an intimate duo recording with Kenny Barron and is planned for release in late spring.

Shirley Collins, Folk singer and song collector

Hastings-born Shirley Collins released her first album, Sweet England, in 1959. She often performed with her sister Dolly and was a leading light of the English Folk Revival of the 1960s and 1970s. With her second husband Ashley Hutchings she formed the Etchingham Steam Band, who largely performed the traditional music of Sussex. Sadly after her split from Hutchings she lost her voice and retired from music – only to enjoy a triumphant resurgence culminating in the release of Lodestar, her first new album for 38 years, in 2016. A film, The Ballad of Shirley Collins, was released the same year.

Zoe Ball, Television and radio presenter

Long-time Hove resident Zoe Ball first came to prominence presenting children’s Saturday morning TV programme Live & Kicking on the BBC. In 1997 she became the first woman to front the BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show.

She now presents on Radio 2 every Saturday 3pm to 6pm and anchors It Takes Two on BBC2 during the annual run of Strictly Come Dancing.

In February it was annouced she was going to undertake a gruelling cycling challenge to raise money for Sport Relief.

Zoe Suggs, AKA Zoella, Vlogger

If you know any tween or teenage girls, you probably know of Zoella. She is the incredibly popular internet personality with an audience of millions. In 2014 she published her debut novel Girl Online and she has a beauty range with Superdrug. She lives in Hove with fellow internet personality Alfie Deyes.

Amber Rudd, Minister for Women and Equalities, and Home Secretary, MP

As both Minister for Women and Equalities, as well as Home Secretary, MP Amber Rudd probably has more power over other women’s lives than anyone else on this list.

Since being elected Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye in 2010, Amber Rudd has enjoyed a speedy political rise – even standing in for the Prime Minister in a 2017 electoral debate.

The former investment banker, who also ran her own freelance recruitment business before being elected to Parliament, was made Energy Secretary in May 2015, before being given Theresa May’s former job the following July.

In her constituency she has made a priority of her support for local fishermen, describing the industry as “an intrinsic part of the culture and heritage of our Hastings and Rye communities.”

Danielle de Niese, Opera singer

Born in Australia to Sri Lankan and Dutch parents, at 18 Danielle de Niese became the youngest ever singer to enter the Metropolitan Opera’s prestigious Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. Since then she has enjoyed huge international success, performing on some of the most hallowed stages in the world. She made her Glyndebourne debut in 2005 as Cleopatra in Sir David McVicar’s production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare, which propelled her to fame and introduced her to her future husband. She married Gus Christie, Glyndebourne’s executive chairman, in 2009 and they have a young son together.

This year she will sing Musetta in La boheme at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and appear as Eileen in Bernstein’s Wonderful Town with Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, part of their Bernstein Centenary Week.

Davina McCall, Television presenter

With a career spanning more than 20 years, Davina McCall has hosted numerous shows on British TV and is probably best known as the former host of Big Brother.

Most recently, Davina has hosted Channel 4’s The Jump and ITV’s Life At The Extreme, having previously hosted shows such as The Million Pound Drop and Sky1’s Got To Dance.

She has produced numerous top selling DVDs including her latest, 5 Week Fit.

Davina is an active supporter and campaigner for the charities Focus 12, Action Medical Research and Stand Up To Cancer. She also fervently supports Comic and Sport Relief, for whom she undertook the challenge of a lifetime in 2014 when she rode, swam and ran 500 miles in one week from Edinburgh to London, raising £2.7m for the charity.

Caroline Lucas, Co-leader of the Green Party, MP for Brighton Pavilion

Caroline joined the Green Party in 1986 and was elected party leader in 2008. From 1999-2010 she was a Member of the European Parliament, standing down when she was elected as the Green’s first MP, representing Brighton Pavilion.

Caroline was voted the UK’s most ethical politician in 2007, 2009 and 2010 by readers of The Observer, and in 2008 was judged one of The Guardian’s top “eco-heroes.” She received Red magazine’s Woman of the Year Award 2010 in the ethical/eco category and is in the Environment Agency’s Top 100 Eco-Heroes of all time.

Caroline is a passionate campaigner and activist, who was arrested in 2013 for opposing fracking in Balcombe. She enjoys walking on the Sussex Downs with her husband, Richard, two sons and their chocolate Labrador Harry.

Becky Shaw, Chief executive, East Sussex County Council

Becky Shaw joined East Sussex County Council in 2000 and became chief executive in 2010. She has responsibility for 5,000 staff outside schools, a net revenue budget of £500m and £300m annual capital programme, delivering a wide range of services to the 600,000 residents, communities and businesses of East Sussex.

Her key achievements include improving road, rail and broadband infrastructure; working on health and social care integration; and managing tough financial settlements since being appointed chief executive – £122m savings with improved outcomes since 2010.

She works closely with politicians of all parties to Stand Up for East Sussex, lobbying the Government to ensure the impact the cuts will have on residents are recognised.

She is a trustee of the Rona Sailing Project, which takes young people to sea to develop their confidence, skills and resilience.

Kate Winslet, Actress

Actress Kate has a home in West Sussex.

She first rose to prominence in Heavenly Creatures (1994), before starring opposite Leonard DiCaprio in Titanic (1997).

She won an Academy Award for 2008 film The Reader and more recently has received acclaim for her performances in films including Steve Jobs and The Mountain Between Us. She stars in Wonder Wheel, a Woody Allen film, which is expected to come out in spring 2018.

Inspiring women through history

• Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) – author

• Anita Roddick (1942-2007) – founder of The Body Shop

• Lee Miller (1907-1977) – photographer

• Barbara Bodichon (1827-1891) – one of the founders of the women’s rights movement

Maureen Chowen and Lady Emma Barnard, High Sheriffs of East and West Sussex

The office of High Sheriff is a royal appointment lasting for a single year. Formal duties include attendance at royal visits in the county and support for Her Majesty’s High Court Judges when on circuit: informal responsibilities include support for the local voluntary sector and public sector agencies.

The current holders of the office of High Sheriff will hand over to their successors in April, with Major General John Moore-Bick representing East Sussex and Mrs Caroline Nicholls for West Sussex.

Clare Connor, Head of England Women’s Cricket

Clare Connor captained England Women to a famous Ashes victory in 2005 before joining the England and Wales Cricket Board as head of Women’s Cricket two years later. A former teacher, she has been instrumental in changing the face of the women’s game: introducing professional contracts for the England team; creating a new domestic competition, the Kia Super League; and overseeing three England victories in global events – the ICC Women’s World Cup and World T20 in 2009, and last summer’s Women’s World Cup triumph over India at Lord’s.

She was appointed an MBE in 2004 for services to women’s cricket and was honoured with an OBE medal in 2006. She was promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen’s 2018 New Year Honours list.

Rifa Thorpe-Tracey, Organiser, SheSays Brighton

Rifa is a mentor, meditation teacher and women in tech advocate, organiser of successful women’s networking group SheSays Brighton and festival director of Spring Forward. She worked for 20 years as a digital project manager in the tech and creative industries, building large-scale websites and working at a senior level with clients such as Microsoft, Channel 4 and Action for Children and many agencies such as Clearleft, Brilliant Noise and Ribot.

Rifa is on the board of directors for the Lighthouse and The Marlborough and had a weekly radio show on Brighton’s Juice and TotallyRadio.com.

Katie Price, Glamour model and celebrity

A true 21st century phenomenon who has done it all her own way and created an empire along the way. Brighton-born Katie began her career as a glamour model before diversifying into reality TV where she met her first husband, Peter Andre. She has debated at the Oxford and Cambridge Unions and has put her name to 44 books. She is a panellist on Loose Women.

Johanna Konta, Tennis player

Winning her first tournament in 2008 at the age of 16, Eastbourne-based Konta played in her first Wimbledon in 2012. The world number 11 boasts two Grand Slam semi-final appearances; the Australian Open in 2016 and Wimbledon 2017. She has three WTA and four ITF titles to her name and has earned more than £5m in prize money.

Kay Tucker, Founder, Stringbabies

Kay Tucker studied cello at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Her portfolio career has combined teaching and adjudicating with performing as a soloist, chamber musician and orchestral player.

Kay’s passion for teaching led her to develop an early years strings and general musicianship system known as Stringbabies. Since its inception in 2004, it has become accepted as a leading approach in strings and is being delivered throughout the UK and abroad in individual teaching practices, schools and music services.

In 2013 and 2014, Stringbabies was shortlisted for the inaugural Rhinegold Music Teachers Awards for Excellence in music education. In 2014 Kay was also a finalist in the BBC Community Heroes Awards.

Sadie Mason, Chief executive officer, Active Sussex

Sadie is chief executive officer of Active Sussex – one of 43 national County Sports Partnerships. A former international basketball player of 13 years, Sadie has been awarded an MBE for her contribution to sports development in a career spanning more than 20 years.

After moving to Sussex in 2000, Sadie held a number of roles in senior sports development including serving as a non-executive director on the boards of Sport England, the County Sports Partnership Network and London Sport.

She has been the CEO of Active Sussex since 2005.

Sadie continues to play basketball at international level today, running a ladies’ masters basketball team called Pick & Mix in Brighton since 2016. She has been the England Basketball and Great Britain U18 Women’s Team manager since 2012.

Jose Morum-Pound, Designer, Chichester Cathedral Festival of Flowers

Jose Morum-Pound qualified in 1979 with a C&G certificate in flower-arranging, going on to teach the discipline both in the UK and Damascus. Between school runs and family, teaching, WI and fundraising activities and gardening, she started to design church flower festivals on a voluntary basis, including in the tiny little 11th century parish church of St Mary the Virgin in Apuldram.

After moving to Chichester in 2000 she began her cathedral involvement, first through door-keeping and flower-arranging progressing to involvement with the festival in 2004. She designed The Music Makers for 2014 and will also lead This Earthly Paradise for the 2018 Chichester Cathedral Festival of Flowers in May/June.

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