To mark International Women's Day, we celebrate six phenomenal females, ranging from a ground-breaking scientist to a champion of disabled rights.

Great British Life: Emily Drinkall. Emily Drinkall. (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

Flying the flag for female farmers

Young Cheshire dairy farmer Emily Drinkall loves to tell people she was almost born in the milking shed. ‘Mum went into labour in the milking parlour,’ says the 22-year-old farmer and social media influencer. ‘It was about five or six in the morning, but she managed to finish milking the cows before she went to hospital.’

Emily was born into a family of dairy farmers; her grandparents, David and Mary, bought Stockerlane Farm at Darnhall, Winsford, in 1977 when it was rundown.

Today, it is a thriving business run by the entire Drinkall clan, including David and Mary, and Emily’s dad, Iain, and brother, George, aged 16. Mum Martyne has retrained to be a midwife. Together they farm 370 acres of grassland, keeping their 230-head herd of Holstein Friesian happy, and producing an average of 5,500 to 6,000 litres of milk every day.

Emily says farming was in her blood: ‘As long as I can remember I was feeding calves and milking cows; carrying buckets over to the calf shed, rearing them till they were four or six weeks old and then selling them in the market. And I remember being very proud I’d reared a calf. It was all my work. It was my work that was being sold. I was driving a tractor at seven years old.’

The hours are long – but stacked with rewards. A typical day starts at around 3.30am with Emily in the milking parlour by four. She is joined by her grandpa, who at the age of 88 is still up for work every morning. Grandma Mary, 83, tends to the office work as well as the very important duty of getting breakfast on the table for the milking crew when they finish at around 8.30am (but not before they have fed the calves and washed out the parlour). And at 2pm, they have to do it all again, finishing at around 5.30pm for tea. Emily wouldn’t have it any other way.

‘I am pumped that I get to live this life; getting up, seeing the sun come up at 5am, seeing a cow and its baby together. I think how lucky I am.’

The family all live close to each other: David and Mary in the farmhouse, Emily and George in the annexe and Iain and Martyne just two minutes away down the road.

But if you want to know what their lives are really like, head over to Emily’s social media accounts, where she has been making a name for herself flying the flag for British farming and women in the industry, on TikTok (@TheDrinkallDairy) and on Instagram (@EmDrinkall).

Great British Life: Emily Drinkall. Emily Drinkall. (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

Emily began posting short videos on TikTok about life on her dairy farm during the first Covid lockdown in the spring of 2020. Back then, she was studying media at South Cheshire College in Crewe, and particularly loved photography and taking photos of her cows.

She was nearing the end of her college course when the pandemic arrived in the UK and the first lockdown sent everyone home. ‘We were told to take a few days off, then the world shut down for two years,’ she says.

‘Everyone was at home with nothing to do. So I started making these short videos showing people what life was like on a dairy farm.’ And the audience liked them – her videos got thousands of views. ‘I was shocked. I didn’t think people would be interested,’ she says.

But interested they were. Emily carried on, building followers and viewing figures. Her TikTok has 50,000 followers, averaging 1.7million views per week. Her Instagram account is climbing to an audience of 10,000.

Emily is also working alongside Yellow Wellies, a mental health foundation in farming in 2024, to increase awareness and support for those suffering in silence in the agricultural industry.

She has become a social media influencer, drawing the attention of businesses that want to collaborate with her. To date, she has worked with MyOddballs, Hexby, Digby & Litten and Posh Country Clothing, promoting their fashions online.

She is loving it and also thinks she’s making a difference. ‘I love taking photos and promoting British farming,’ she says.

This latter point is important because she thinks farming gets a bad press. She points to an episode of Panorama from February 2023, which showed undercover footage of farmworkers abusing cows. Emily thought the film unfairly represented her industry and wrote a letter to the BBC, which Farmer’s Weekly published in full on Twitter.

Emily says: ‘There are lots of negative things out there and it’s good if I can get to show my side of farming.’

She is equally passionate to highlight that women – and young women in particular – are very much part of modern farming.

‘It used to be a male-dominated industry, but more women are coming into the industry, and that is a great thing. I’m seeing more girls coming into farming when I go to market on Wednesdays.

I see more and more girls are buying and selling cows. It is acknowledged that women can be farmers and want to be farmers. ‘It’s a sign of the times that women are strong and independent and tough enough to do as much as a man can.’


Great British Life: Ije McDougall. Ije McDougall. (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

A voice for minority and underprivileged communities

Growing up in Nigeria, Ije McDougall and her family lived in fear for their lives from Muslim extremists – today’s Boko Haram. ‘We never knew who to trust. Friends would turn on friends; everything was divided up along the lines of religion.’

Her parents, who are Christian, are still in Nigeria and, despite living in a relatively peaceful area, Ije says she never stops worrying.

‘The problem is that it is so unpredictable; you live on eggshells, you don’t want to say the wrong thing or end up on the wrong side of town.’

After finishing university and completing her Nigerian National Service where she trained as a broadcast reporter, Ije was encouraged by her mother to enhance her CV by going on an exchange with a church in England.

Aged 24, she came to the North West and never moved back to Nigeria. Now, at 41, she has rebuilt her life and lives by the mission to do good, be kind, help others, as well as speak up on matters of diversity and inclusion.

It is in recognition of her professional success and charitable work that Ije was named Cheshire Woman of the Year in the 2023 Cheshire Woman Awards.

Her achievements are hugely impressive given her journey. Not only has she come a long way from that young, frightened girl in Nigeria, but in the UK, after facing relationship breakdowns, homelessness and unemployment, has gone on to build a life to inspire her young daughters, Zara, nine, Xanthe, six, and the wider community around their home in Prenton, Wirral.

Her CV includes a spell as a BBC producer, and lately, a human resources expert in the civil service providing employment law advice to His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. She is a family court magistrate and an author, as well as the founder of The Kairos Initiative, a charity helping vulnerable people in Northern Nigeria. She is a trustee of Wirral Citizens Advice, and Wirral Change, which supports disadvantaged, black, Asian, European and minority ethnic communities.

How did she turn things around? ‘I had good family support. Although my mum and dad are very far away they did a good job of reminding me I wasn’t alone.

‘Also I got a job and that was key for me. It was as a messenger at the Job Centre, but seeing people do well made me determined. I didn’t come from Nigeria to live a bad life in the UK when I could have done that in Nigeria. I was determined not to give up.’

Great British Life: Ije McDougall. Ije McDougall. (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

As an example of this spirit, she recalls the time she tried to get a job in BBC Radio. ‘I had done my National Service as a TV presenter and news reporter so walked into BBC Radio Merseyside and asked for a job. I was told to apply online but insisted on speaking to someone. They told me to email the assistant editor, so I went home, sent an email saying: “I want to work for you”, and they asked me to come in. They offered me two weeks’ work experience, which led to me being employed.’

The same resolve saw her rise up the ranks of the Civil Service. ‘I just kept applying for promotions and didn’t stop. I kept knocking on doors until somebody said yes. That’s how I am where I am today.’ Alongside her professional and philanthropic work, she is devoted to championing diversity and inclusion for minority communities and is an in-demand public speaker on these matters.

‘I got to the point where nothing was out of reach. Rather than be paralysed by imposter syndrome I would ask myself: “What is the worst thing that could happen; somebody saying ‘no’? I can handle that.”’

‘My mum, Moji, has a lot of nuggets of wisdom. She talks about the power of showing up, which I take very seriously – take up your space, you are entitled to it. Another one is stop explaining – do what you need to do.’

‘I am a tall black woman in high heels, with big hair. I am visible – and I better be visible for the right reasons,’ she says. ‘In the next 10 years, I want people to think of me as someone who is good at making things better. When my name is mentioned I want it associated as someone who helped somebody else.’

She is now turning her attention to other spheres such as workplaces, schools and prisons in her campaign for diversity and inclusion. ‘I don’t want to be pigeonholed,’ she insists.

‘And I want to remind people to be kind and that random acts of kindness go a long way.

‘We need to remember there is always someone worse off and there is always something you can do.’

Home life is one of extended family; she lives with her sister, Reni, brother-in-law, Babatunde, and her niece, as well as her two daughters. She has a partner in North Wales and loves going to the beach at the weekend.

‘Last summer, I visited 22 beaches in North Wales. Where I grew up in Nigeria we didn’t have any natural water so I didn’t know about tides coming and going – it blows my mind. Beaches are my thing now.’


Great British Life: Tierney Heap with daughter Wilhelmina. Tierney Heap with daughter Wilhelmina. (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

The ballerina taking a leap of faith

Tierney Heap doesn’t do things by halves. ‘In the past year or so I’ve changed jobs, moved house, had a baby; I’ve created a really different life,’ says the 30-year-old who, up until the summer of 2022, was a first soloist with the Royal Ballet based at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

Dancing from the age of two, landing a position at the Royal Ballet was the realisation of a long-held dream. It was a fantastic, but incredibly hard, job, she says.

‘It was really full-on. I’d get up at eight and go to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden for a full day of ballet classes, then rehearsals, followed by a show starting at 7.30pm.I’d get home at 12.30 at night and did that four or five times a week.

‘We’d rehearse four or five ballets each day, performing different ballets at night. I was permanently in a different role; the Red Queen one minute then in the Nutcracker the next.It was an amazing experience – being around people who want the same thing and want to work very hard.’

A highlight was playing the lead role in Carlos Acosta’s Carmen but a series of ankle injuries brought Tierney’s ballet career to an end.

‘I rose to be first soloist, which is one of the top ranks and my dream was to be principal but unfortunately I got injured. The workload was too heavy and my ankle gave in.I had four surgeries on my left ankle and it meant I could not dance professionally.’

So Tierney made a different leap, into a whole new domestic and business life.

Just one month after leaving the Royal Ballet in August 2022, she married Matt Bailey, and their daughter, Wilhelmina, was born that November. They moved house, from the south to Wilmslow, and have been renovating their 1940s Cheshire red-brick semi, including building a home studio in the back garden where Tierney offers one-to-one coaching for budding ballerinas.

All the while, she has also been studying for a degree in nutrition, which she hopes to incorporate into her business plans in the future, which include offering a subscription service for fitness and diet.

‘I have been learning all about nutrition and how to prevent disease and be at your optimal health based around food. There is a lot to be learnt in the field of ballet and nutrition. We always get asked: do you guys eat? The stereotype ballet dancer is really thin and like any industry, our industry has some eating disorders.’

An ambition is to work as a consultant in ballet schools, offering nutritional advice on matters such as which foods lead to the best performance for dancers.

The current focus is on her new subscription service for ballet and fitness, called By Tierney (find it on Instagram @coachingbytierney). ‘I want to offer my coaching to as many people as possible, but being a new mum,I can’t offer one-to-one to everyone. So people can sign up for a monthly subscription for as long as they want.’

A mixture of ballet and fitness exercise videos featuring Tierney are available. Looking ahead she would like to add barre fitness too. She said: ‘I’d love my subscription to reach a lot of people and help people achieve their goals and dreams.’ She has been on a fitness journey herself, not just rehabilitation from her ankle injuries, but also getting back in shape after the birth of her daughter, documenting this progress on her Instagram account @tierneyheap.


Great British Life: Janet Fletcher. Janet Fletcher. (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

Paving the way for female scientists

Janet Fletcher is used to winning awards and being a trailblazer. As a prize-winning undergraduate in chemical engineering who won a scholarship to study her Master’s in process safety, she has scaled the heights of the British nuclear industry. At the age of 29, she became the youngest manager of E23 when it was the biggest uranium enrichment plant in Europe, enabling nuclear power stations around the world to generate electricity.

In her spare time, she played underwater hockey for Great Britain, winning multiple gold medals in both the European and World Championships. Suffering a right shoulder injury, when she was told by her consultant to give up the sport she loved, she decided to learn to play it with her left arm and went on to be crowned national champions with her team, a title she currently holds.

Janet is not only a role model for the nuclear industry where eight out of 10 roles are filled by men, she is a passionate ambassador for encouraging women into the sector and girls into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

At the 2023 Cheshire Woman Awards, Janet won in a special category, Professional Achievement.

The judges said: ‘She has led teams and projects in one of the most challenging engineering environments and is a role model for young women considering a career in STEM. She is vice president of the organisation Women In Nuclear, a body whose mission statement addresses the industry’s gender balance.’

Janet, aged 42, who lives in North Wales with husband Graham and their daughters, Evelyn, Harriet and Jessica, works for Cavendish Nuclear at Warrington as a senior quality assurance manager.

Her passion for science began at an early age. ‘I loved taking things apart. I was really curious, always asking my parents “why?” If I didn’t understand how things worked I wouldn’t accept it – and I have still got that in me.

‘I loved playing with Meccano and Lego and also dolls and dressing up. But I also loved Scalextric – anything you could pull apart or build,’ she says.

Talented at science and maths, it was school teacher Miss Chadwick who suggested Janet might like to study chemical engineering at university. She never looked back, and would like more girls to benefit from mentoring, support and advice to lead them into STEM careers.

Through her role with Women In Nuclear, Janet is involved in just such work. ‘It is a not-for-profit organisation that advocates for women. We do a lot of engagement with industry and schools and we focus on attraction and how to get women to stay in the industry. We offer mentorship, scholarships and funding, and we have networks set up across the UK.’

Great British Life: Janet Fletcher. Janet Fletcher. (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

Janet has needed humour and humility to work in a man’s world. She recalls the time she met some male contractors and they all gave her their tea and coffee orders. ‘I got them their drinks then walked around the desk to sit in the chair. Their faces were a picture.’ But she is quick to insist gender wars are not at play and that women and men need to work together to improve access and opportunity for all. ‘The president of Women In Nuclear is currently a man and we need advocacy from males too. We need allies if we are to make a difference.’

Her blueprint for switching more girls into STEM starts when they are young. ‘They need early exposure and not just at school. How do we support parents and teachers in getting engaged in it? Outreach and workshops are important, such as the Big Bang event in Manchester. But it is also really important that we push the arts and humanities (as STEM isn’t for everyone) and we need a balance.’

Another balance to strike is the one between life and work. And Janet seems to have that about right.

‘My kids are amazing and Ifeel so grateful every day. I try to do my best for my girls and be the best mother I can. I also think it’s important to have things in life that’s separate to being a mum. I love anything outdoors – camping, wild swimming, skiing, mountain biking... We love the National Trust and Chester Zoo.

‘I feel really lucky to live where we do – Chester is 10 minutes away, Liverpool half an hour, Manchester 45 minutes and Snowdonia is on our doorstep.’

And she practises what she preaches. At home, she is encouraging her young daughters into science, but also allowing them to find and develop their own interests.

‘I get science packs – I love them myself – and do a lot of them with the girls. They enjoy Lego too. But I try to give them plenty of opportunity to find their own way and not push science too hard as that is not helpful.

‘My daughters are really different. The eldest loves to dance and act and read, while my middle daughter loves doing experiments, painting and arty stuff, and my youngest rules the roost.

‘One thing my degree taught me is there are many ways to solve the same problem. You just have to look at it a little bit differently.’


Great British Life: Deborah Lawson.Deborah Lawson. (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

Multi-award-winning campaigner for disability rights

Deborah Lawson relies on her powered wheelchair to get around. But that wasn’t always the case. Complex physical and neurological needs starting in her teens led to her being a full-time wheelchair user from her early twenties.

As an award-winning campaigner for disability access and an advocate for DEI, she says her success is partly due to her experience as both a disabled and a non-disabled person. ‘Acquiring my disability allowed me to experience first-hand the disparities in how disabled people are treated. I also realised society is disabling people; take stairs, for example – we have constructed those barriers.’

Deborah would encounter obstacles while out, but rather than get annoyed and go home, she took notes and photographs, contacted managers and bosses, shared her evidence and demanded action. ‘I started at the Trafford Centre, where stores were, at that time, largely inaccessible. I wrote to shops and took photos, contacted their head office and showed them what they needed to do.I wanted to prevent others from experiencing the challenges I was.’

Her perseverance paid off. She has helped businesses and organisations improve their accessibility and inclusivity, resulting in enhanced facilities and access in thousands of buildings across the UK.

As Deborah’s reputation as a campaigner grew, she was asked to develop a comprehensive staff training programme to increase disability awareness, improve customer service and create a more inclusive workplace culture. This course has been implemented across 600 stores nationwide, and she is working on an updated version to roll out in 2025.

She also launched, offering resources to support businesses and individuals in improving accessibility, promoting inclusion, and enhancing their understanding of disability-related issues.

Deborah’s evangelism for equality extends to the fashion industry, where she was a makeup artist and stylist alongside some of the industry’s top photographers.

This experience made her aware of the lack of diversity and inclusion in fashion and advertising. She shared her professional fashion advice for disabled people with one of the biggest fashion retailers in the UK, which was then implemented in more than 500 stores. It is for this campaigning and success, despite her own complex disabilities, Deborah, aged 45, who is married with a son, became the youngest recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2023 Cheshire Woman Awards.

Great British Life: Deborah Lawson.Deborah Lawson. (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

It came swiftly after receiving the Prime Minister’s Point of Light Award in recognition of her exceptional service to disabled people. Other 2023 accolades included being named on the Shaw Trust Disability Power 100 as one of the most influential disabled individuals and changemakers in the UK, the National Advocacy Awards Lifetime Achievement Award, and the She Inspires Awards Global Woman of Courage Award.

However, Deborah isn’t resting on her laurels. There is much work to do. She often discovers businesses make progress and then slip back into their old ways. What are her biggest bugbears? ‘When the aisle width in shops is not following the recommended guidelines – or it might be, but then you find boxes in the aisles or extra rails. A lot of places will tell you they are accessible, but when you get there, there are steps at the door. My concern is that with disability, we are going backwards. We feel forgotten – I feel hidden in plain sight.’

To ensure change is made at a policy level, Deborah is a member of the Regional Stakeholder Network, which reports to the government on policies, services and issues, including transport, housing and employment. Deborah has also written a children’s book promoting self-acceptance and kindness.

Deborah works from her home in Congleton, advocating for thousands of disabled people to ensure their voices are heard. While much of her focus has been in the retail sector, she also turns her attention to housing, healthcare and any area where there are still inequalities.

And there is hope on the horizon. Deborah says: ‘I am working alongside the deputy mayor and the deputy chief officer of Congleton Town Council, who are invested in making the town more accessible and welcoming for disabled people. I have also begun working with the chief executive of the Centre for Research Equity at Oxford University, where we aim to raise awareness of health inequalities and make clinical research more inclusive.’

Achieving a First Class Honours in BSc Counter Fraud and Criminal Justice has deepened her passion to see the laws adequately enforced to protect disabled people.

Deborah encourages society to examine its ‘unconscious bias’ towards all underrepresented and marginalised communities to foster greater understanding and inclusivity. ‘Changing these attitudinal barriers is crucial,’ she says.


Great British Life: Natalie Ferrigno.Natalie Ferrigno. (Image: Luca Ferrigno)

Multi-talented career woman and mother

WORDS: Alima Nadeem

Health coach, mother to Luca and Marco (aged 18 and 16), and looking after VIP guests at Manchester United are just a few of the aspects of Natalie Ferrigno’s life.

Fifteen years ago, she was in a different place. Her husband left and she had to give up her job as an air hostess for British Airways.

‘It was like having the rug pulled out from underneath me,’ she says.

‘I had been travelling long-haul but couldn’t cover childcare so had to take redundancy. I had two children to support and I didn’t have a job. I was lost, grieving and had no self-confidence. I felt a complete failure because I couldn’t keep my family or my career together.

‘I felt like my world had ended but it took me on a journey of growth to become a thriving, strong, successful and independent woman. I believe the worst things that happen to you turn out to be the best and I want to help others to know there is a bright future after divorce.’

Natalie was also an actress and model before qualifying as a health coach. ‘I occasionally still do both but my passion is in helping other women thrive and find their way back to being their best self after any life setback.

Great British Life: Natalie Ferrigno.Natalie Ferrigno. (Image: Kirsty Thompson)

‘My own life did not really start till my thirties and I only started modelling at 35,’ she says. ‘I began working on match days for Man United 11 years ago, a job I did then between auditions. I love it so much I never left and am now a supervisor in hospitality. It’s different to my day job but I have met some incredible people.’

Natalie, aged 46, who lives in Poynton, is now focusing on her fitness coaching business, including launching a fasting group. She is a coach, speaker, content creator and writer in health, nutrition and mindset, offering one-to-one health coaching at the Cheshire wellness centre in Lymm and online sessions via Zoom. She also runs regular women’s circles: ‘It’s a bit like group therapy where we can come together and share.’

She credits setting off on a road to a healthier life when she was at her lowest point as the catalyst for moving on. ‘I can see how depressed I was and the difference exercise made to my mindset. I changed my nutrition, gave up alcohol and looked at the other pillars of health, such as stress and sleep, but mainly mastering my thoughts to be positive.

‘I want to empower women to tap into their highest potential, be their healthiest selves and reverse the ageing process. I use techniques such as journaling, meditation, breath work, goal setting and regularly create a vision board to manifest the life I want. I’m grateful for everything that has happened to me. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can always start again.’.

@natalieferrigno has health and nutrition tips and advice on adopting a positive mindset