MWOTY: Championing women leaders for two decades

Since its foundation in 2003 the Merseyside Women of the Year Awards have championed inspirational women in business and across all sections of society

Ellie Kerr
Ellie Kerr, founding director of the Merseyside Women of the Year Awards


Merseyside Women of the Year (MWOTY) founding director, Ellie Kerr was named the inaugural overall winner of the now-prestigious awards back in 2003.

Ellie was recognised for her work keeping the Women in Business (WIB) network going after funding from Business Link, a former Government-funded agency, was withdrawn.

That award win didn’t just benefit Ellie, it changed the way Business Link looked at women’s entrepreneurship. Ellie was made the Women’s Enterprise champion and then Northwest Diversity & Inclusion Team Leader.

Since then she has won four other awards for her work within the field of business and her passion to help and shape the women’s entrepreneurship arena has continued through the MWOTY awards.

Ellie said: “Our ceremony is unique, and we are proud of the heart and emotion in our awards because that’s where our strength comes from.

“Not everyone views the MWOTY awards as a celebration of women in business, but we’ve been celebrating and elevating women business leaders in every sector and level for almost 20 years now and this year’s finalists are no exception.”

Since Ellie took over the running of the awards 14 years ago in 2010, MWOTY has seen a host of inspirational business leaders recognised for their success.

Under her stewardship previous MWOTY Newcomer 2004 winner, Kate Kingston, was named winner of the Entrepreneur category in 2012 for her interior design business, Kingston Shaw, which continues to thrive today.

Kate has since also retrained as a mental health practitioner and launched a successful second business, Quantum Energy Coaching, which helps clients to free themselves from past trauma, internal stress and the effects of self-limiting beliefs.

“Winning both MWOTY awards helped me establish my business in the North West and gave me instant credibility within the business community,” said Kate.

“It allowed me to network with like-minded individuals and access clients who would not have known about me had I not won and received the publicity.

“However, the most important aspect of winning for me was the inspiration that the other women continue to give me every year. To see and be with female entrepreneurs year after year reminds me of how integrated we are becoming and how far we have travelled.”

Another shining example of MWOTY alumni’s success is Rise Construction Framework, which was established by Merseyside Woman of the Year 2014, Sara Lawton, two years after her win for her work across communities.

She devised and delivered a range of frontline services, mentoring young women at risk, creating specialist teams to tackle youth crime, working with women in the justice system and leading on the delivery of Liverpool’s super youth zone The Fire Fit Hub in Toxteth.

Recognising the impact of poverty on communities and identifying the opportunity for a commercially lucrative business model to help tackle those issues, Rise Construction Framework was set up to provide procurement services to the North West public sector.

It uses its profits to directly fund the VCSFE sector to deliver vital community prevention and intervention services.

Initiatives funded by Rise tackle some of today’s most complex societal issues including domestic violence, homelessness, worklessness and poor mental health.

It has recently been recognised with a prestigious King’s Award for Enterprise, for its excellence in Promoting Opportunity through social mobility.

Speaking of working in the male-dominated construction procurement sector, Sara said: “I love our work but as you can imagine it hasn’t been plain sailing.

“I recall one time our work being referred to as ‘pink and fluffy’, but working with people who have been trafficked or who have experienced domestic abuse is far from pink and fluffy.

“Rise is changing lives across the North West and although it can be really difficult navigating such a male dominated landscape, our purpose keeps us motivated. 

We run a commercially successful business whose profits make a positive impact. We have directly benefited 11,000 people and this year we will have invested £1m across the VCSFE sector to help make our communities safer, stronger, healthier and economically active.”

Over the years the awards have created what supporters and organisers call the “MWOTY Movement”.

This is a network of women – and of course male allies – supporting women, many who are past winners, finalists or even attendees who have fallen in love with the event’s power and positivity.

Ten years on from her MWOTY win, Sara Lawton has returned with Rise Construction Framework as a category sponsor to help support the next generation of women leaders, while Moira O’Shaughnessy has once again brought her business FPC back in as headline sponsor.


Kate Kingston
Merseyside entrepreneur and previous Merseyside Women of the Year Awards winner Kate Kingston
Sara Lawton
Sara Lawton, founder of the Rise Construction Network


Ellie added: “The women that MWOTY found years ago and shined its spotlight on have gone out into the world and continued to do incredible things.

“Like me, many of them know exactly the impact that winning the awards had, so they have stayed a part of our network and supported the generations coming behind them.

“Our MWOTY Movement is gathering pace because that we know we’re unstoppable together.”

This year’s finalists include a host of high-profile business and charity leaders from across the city region.

Amanda Unsworth from Trinity Logistics, rose up from working as a female ‘docker’ at Liverpool Port at the age of 17, to taking her first company to a turnover of £42m and opening a sister office in Shenzhen, China all before the age of 40.

Donna Scully from Carpenters Group who is not only a global leader in the insurance sector, but also devotes vast amounts of time supporting communities and those in need.

Jo Henney, CEO of Nugent, a charity at the forefront of social care within Merseyside, operating more than 15 different services.

And Jen Deeney, a dynamic healthcare leader from Liverpool Women’s Neonatal Partnership and advocate for workplace safety, whose visionary leadership and compassionate approach have transformed neonatal care.

To vote for your Woman of the Year or find out more click here.

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