Founders of a Merseyside CIC set up in the memory of 19-year-old Halle O’Brien who died of meningitis in 2019, win the top award in the Merseyside Women of the Year awards 2023. Tony McDonough reports
Heather Evans and June Russell, founders of the Halle O’Brien Community Interest Company (CIC), are jointly crowned Merseyside Woman of the Year 2023.
In 2019, Heather’s daughter Halle O’Brien from Litherland died after contracting a rare form of meningitis. Along with June, Halle’s nan, she established Halle O’Brien CIC within the Ford community.
Halle had ambitions to help children learn and develop socially and academically, so after her death Heather and June established “Halle’s Hub”. This is a space for the Ford Lane community that focuses on supporting young, disadvantaged people.
At the Merseyside Women of the Year Awards at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Liverpool, Heather and June saw their work recognised as the were jointly awarded the Merseyside Woman of the Year 2023 accolade by headline sponsor Financial Planning Corporation.
After receiving the award, Heather said: “We’re amazed by the fact we’ve won. We know that we’re legends in our little corner of the world, but when we met all the other finalists, we saw how they were all legends in their own corners and communities too.
“We were so proud to be involved, but we never in a million years thought we’d be named Merseyside Woman of the Year – but here we are. It’s humbling and amazing.”
June Russell added: “I’m quite overwhelmed by it all and it’s a bittersweet win for us, because Halle should be here. But she must be here driving us to do this. We get up every day and do it, with the support of our fantastic volunteers, and we enjoy it.
“People who come to our community space, the charity shop and cafe, all say it’s a welcoming place and I truly believe that’s Halle.
“She was such a loving, outgoing person who wanted to help people, and this is all for her. We’re carrying on her journey for her and keeping her memory alive.”
Around 400 people attended the MWOTY ceremony, hosted by comedienne, singer, actress and long-standing MWOTY commère Pauline Daniels.
Ahead of the award presentations singer-songwriter, Claire Mooney, performed a piece commissioned especially for the ceremony.
The chief executive of the Community Foundation for Merseyside, Rae Brooke hosted a conversation with Sefton-born Cherie Blair, discussing her personal journey and why platforms that celebrate women are so vital.
The Arts, Culture & Media award, sponsored by Taylor Wessing, was awarded to Juliana Pinheiro Landim, Leigh-Angel Bevan & Tamasin Dunand from cultural hub and Brazilian drumming band, Katumba, for its positive impact on health, wellbeing, and culture.
Arts, Culture & Media Runner-Up: Hayli Kincade, Wavertree Community Gospel Choir.
The Business Leader award, sponsored by IoD Liverpool, was presented to Elissa Corrigan, the owner of award-winning female health supplement company Elle Sera.
Business Leader Runner-Up: Dr Sue Palmer-Conn, The Divorce Doctor.
The Community Change award, sponsored by Neo Community and ADDvanced Solutions, was won by Amy Smythe, also known as “The Worry Wizard”.
Community Change Runner-Up: Michelle Smith, MPower People.
The Entrepreneur award, sponsored by Hill Dickinson, was presented to the founder of Parent Promise, Emma Jarvis.
Entrepreneur Runner-Up: Sarah Jackson, Hatters Digital Agency.
The Inspirational Women award, sponsored by the Community Foundation for Merseyside, was won by Claire Cathcart of Team 1C, a charity dedicated to children born with congenital heart defects.
Inspirational Women Runner-Up: Heather Evans and June Russell, The Halle O’Brien CIC.
The Women of Courage award, sponsored by Auteur Media, went to Allison Furlong, founder of Alfie’s Squad, a non-profit organisation supporting children who have been bereaved or affected by suicide in Merseyside.
\Women of Courage Runner-Up: Jayne O’Gorman, charity fundraiser.
The Women Making a Difference award, sponsored by the Equality & Employment Law Centre, was won by Ann Coffey, who runs The Sunshine Group breast cancer support group at Liverpool University Hospital Trust.
Women Making a Difference Runner-Up: Pat Shea-Halson, community activist.
The Women to Watch award, sponsored by Merseyside Women of the Year Awards, was presented to community activist, Lucky Ali, who saved her student loan to open a local business that will have a positive impact on the local community.
Women to Watch Runner-Up: Dr Chelcie Jewitt, Surviving in Scrubs.
For the first time ever, MWOTY also presented a special Fellowship award to celebrate outstanding contribution to Liverpool city region and beyond.
Lesley Martin-Wright, chief executive of Knowsley Chamber, was the recipient for her significant contribution to women in business. She was also recognised for her work during her tenure as the High Sheriff of Merseyside 2022/23.
Ellie Kerr, MWOTY founding director, said: “Lesley has paved the way for many women in business and also been an outstanding and inspiring advocate for groups in every sector, who have devoted their time to improving the communities in which they live and help make Merseyside a better and safer place.
“Today’s celebration has been overwhelmingly beautiful, and I am bursting with pride for all our winners and runners-up.”