Abi Owers and Jo Hoddes are on a mission to educate women about living their best second half

What happens when you put a group of high-powered women ‘of a certain age’ in a room these day? They talk about the things that most affects their daily life – everything from getting children through exams to getting their mum to the GP, from the challenges of leading a team to making it to the gym every week – and how much harder it all is when we’re suddenly feeling so tired, or fuzzy brained, or have to battle a hot flush just at the moment an important client, or child, or parent, really, really has to talk to you.

Great British Life: Abi Owers and Jo Hoddes, founders of Women's Health Club. Photo: Mark WaughAbi Owers and Jo Hoddes, founders of Women's Health Club. Photo: Mark Waugh

Jo Hoddes and Abi Owers have been friends for decades, since working together at McCann-Erickson, in Prestbury. Both may have moved on to bigger and better things, but life has a habit of bringing together those birds of a feather who make your life better.

“Jo invited me along to a women’s networking group she set up, called Chief – although that’s perhaps not the right term, as it’s not about networking as much as providing a relaxed environment for female business owners to talk and support each other.” Abi says. “There’s a mix of skill sets, of experiences, and we meet and talk and gift each other advice, time and support.

“We are all a bit passionate about women’s health. We share our experiences and discoveries and so often one or more of us will exclaim ‘why don’t we know this?!’. You don’t get taught any of this stuff at school – you do the reproductive cycle bit, but then it all stops. Then you’re on your own. And at the same time so much information is coming at us through social media and podcasts and such, and there’s so much conflicting opinion, it’s hard to know what’s right.

Great British Life: The Newson Health & Wellbeing team. Photo: Mark WaughThe Newson Health & Wellbeing team. Photo: Mark Waugh

“One evening I was listening to a Stephen Barlett podcast, and he was talking to Dr Mindy Pelz, an expert in women's health and hormonal balance, and she was talking about the women’s monthly cycle and how it affects our physical and emotional wellbeing. My brother called and asked if I’d heard it and said ‘please do something to bring men together and explain all this.’”

Jo interjects: “But then we realised that actually, we didn’t know half of this stuff either, and it was then we started thinking about how we could educate women about their own health and the impact of hormonal changes as we move through life, right from pre-menstruation to post-menstruation, and all the changes in between, too.”

Abi adds: “We want to empower women through education, to enable them to make better decisions around their own health, and from there The Women’s Health Club was born, a platform to run regular events around different aspects of women’s health. And because it’s where we’re both at we wanted to start with menopause.

“And these days, of course, women are living so much longer and fuller lives after that point of menopause, it’s like it’s our second half – after babies and building a career and being everything to everyone – and we want to show that this second half can be the best half.”

Great British Life: Dr Sally Harris led the panel of speakers. Photo: Mark WaughDr Sally Harris led the panel of speakers. Photo: Mark Waugh Jo is friends with Dr Sally Harris, a GP with The Wilmslow Hospital who has a special interest in women’s health, and the initial plan was to arrange a dinner where Dr Sally would make a presentation to the women present, talking about menopause and helping to educate and elucidate, and break some of the long-standing myths around the topic.

“I’m lucky that I can go and see Sally, but not everybody can go and see a female doctor with her knowledge and specialism, so what we wanted to do was share that knowledge and we thought, there’s loads of men’s sportsman dinners, and the like, but nothing where women can go and get together and learn something. It went from our plan to have Sally speak to The Wilmslow Hospital saying they were now starting to work with Dr Louise Newson (the UK’s best known menopause specialist, founder of Newson Health, author of bestselling book The Definitive Guide to the Perimenopause and Menopause, and founder of the Balance website and app) and she could come and do a talk.

“It was getting bigger and bigger and we decided a dinner wasn’t the right environment for an event like this, so we looked at The Alderley Park Conference Centre and thought it was perfect. Sally spoke with nutritional therapist and author Jeannette Jackson, who said she’d love to be involved, and Louise is friends Liz Earle, so invited her along too, which really helped with the lifestyle aspects of it. Suddenly it was huge, and then Sally rang me and said she’d spoken with Nicky Clarke and he wanted to come too, to talk about the impact of menopause on our hair.”

Add clinical sexologist Dr Angela Wright and every base is covered.

Great British Life: Jenny Powell, Dr Angela Wright, Jeannette Jackson, Dr Louise Newson and Liz Earle. Photo: Mark WaughJenny Powell, Dr Angela Wright, Jeannette Jackson, Dr Louise Newson and Liz Earle. Photo: Mark Waugh “We got specialists in every aspect of women’s health affected by menopause along from The Wilmslow Hospital, from physiotherapists to eye specialists, allowing attendees to ask questions, gather information and feel better armed when taking their issues to their own GP,” Jo says. “All our speakers gave brilliant presentations and provided so much information. The doctors all stayed as long as needed to answer questions, provide reassurance and point women in the right direction.”

Over 500 women attended the first Women’s Health Club event, some driving from considerable distances, demonstrating the appetite for educational events like this.

“We’ve started with menopause,” Jo says, ‘but we’re not stopping there. We want this to be about the whole of women’s health. To open up conversations about every aspect of female health, of all ages, our daughters, ourselves, our mothers. Contraception, fertility, our cycles, peri-menopause, menopause... There’s so much not talked about, or understood, by the people affected by it every day, their whole lives. Dr. Louise Newsome was telling us about a patient of hers, who was 70 and affected by extreme anxiety, itchiness, tinnitus, and it was HRT that sorted her out. Her youngest patient is 14 – her ovaries don’t work, sending her into immediate menopause. But she can be helped, thankfully.

“In December we’re doing an event around not just surviving Christmas, which can be an incredibly stressful several weeks for women, but thriving through Christmas. And then we have a men’s event planned for 2024, where we will offer some insights into men’s health and nutrition, with speakers including sporting legends and health and wellbeing specialists, and that will incorporate a special segment on women’s health, and how hormones influence both men and women’s behaviour, and then we’re planning a new mums event, too.”

“The more you know, the better decisions you can make. Empowerment through education, that’s what we’re driving for.”