To mark International Women’s Day on March 8, Holly Louise Eells speaks to six inspiring local women who are making our county a better place to live  

Great British Life: Katie Southgate, founder of Gold Geese charity with the gold c2c trainKatie Southgate, founder of Gold Geese charity with the gold c2c train (Image: Mia Davies Photography)


Katie Southgate – charity founder 

After experiencing first-hand the impact of a cancer diagnosis with her toddler (who’s now cancer-free) in 2014, Katie Southgate founded Gold Geese charity, which provides practical and emotional support to families of children and young people fighting cancer. 

Katie set up Gold Geese to give back to her community in the Southend area. ‘I wanted to help and support other local families on their cancer journey from diagnosis, treatment and remission, or sadly some cases of bereavement,’ she says. ‘Every cancer experience is different, so our care and support are tailored to each family, including funding for mental health therapy, food shop vouchers, gifts, respite weekend trips away and practical help with travel to and from the hospital. We aim to raise awareness of childhood cancer signs and symptoms, including delivering training workshops to childcare practitioners and parents.’ 

Alongside running the charity, Katie has a background in childminding and works as an independent funeral celebrant, but if she could be recognised for something, it would be her kindness. ‘That is the most important thing,’ she says. ‘I’ve never been comfortable with compliments, but paying back everything we received as a family when we were going through this feels nice.’  

However, Katie says it is the children and the young people who inspire her. ‘Their resilience is incredible, especially those who are facing end-of-life realities. It’s particularly awe-inspiring to see the teenagers; they become incredibly serene.’ 

The charity’s name represents gold for the colour of childhood cancer and geese for their strength, as they are animals who stick together and support one another. Katie says, ‘Every September we aim to raise awareness of childhood cancer signs and symptoms with our Go Gold campaign. Local shops, schools and businesses get involved by fundraising and turning everything yellow and gold for the month. Last year we turned a whole c2c train gold!’                     

Gold Geese will be expanding further into Basildon this year too. ‘We want to boost the number of people registering as blood or stem cell donors, as these are so vital for cancer treatments. We aim to improve local diagnosis rates through our new signs and symptoms training programme to help people recognise them sooner.’  

She adds, ‘People make jokes about Essex, but we are underestimated. We’re a united front and people are kind to each other. Locals are very supportive, which enables the charity to go from strength to strength.’ 


Great British Life: Artist and activist Elsa JamesArtist and activist Elsa James (Image: Andy Delaney)

Elsa James – artist 

Where do I begin with introducing the conceptual artist and activist Elsa James? A force to be reckoned with, the British African-Caribbean artist was named one of the 50 Most Influential People in Essex in 2021, a finalist for the prestigious Freeloads Award with Focal Point Gallery and the first black woman artist to have her work permanently held at Beecroft Art Gallery. She also coined the term 'Black Girl Essex' to initiate a way of interrogating the historical 'White' Essex Girl term – and this is just for starters. Nevertheless, the most inspiring aspect about Elsa is demonstrating that you are never too late to achieve your dreams.  

‘For 20 years, I had this dream of wanting to be an artist,’ Elsa says. ‘When I left school in 1984, I lived in West London and always wanted to go to Chelsea School of Art. My parents were part of the Windrush Generation, and my mum told me to get a trade. My two older sisters left school and went straight to work at 16.  

‘I remember thinking if I did fashion, I would learn how to sew, which is still a trade and I can still draw; that was my rationale. At school, I didn't do well academically as I was dyslexic (diagnosed at university), but I was always good at drawing.’ 

And Elsa never gave up on her dreams. ‘I even put a “practicing artist” on both my children’s birth certificates,’ she laughs. 

After having her second daughter in July 2006, she started in working towards a new career in the October. ‘If they didn’t run the course part-time in the evening and I didn’t have a supportive spouse, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,’ she says. At 38-years-old, Elsa loved being a mature student. ‘I lived life, and I knew I wanted to create my work on social issues and being a black woman,’ she says. ‘I got a first, too!’  

Elsa has exceeded new heights in her career, levels that many aspiring artists would only hope to achieve. ‘There are things I want to say that people don’t like or feel uncomfortable with, but that is not my job. My job is to tell the truth and unapologetically be myself.’ 

This year, Elsa will be stepping into a new direction away from Essex and focusing on new themes that concern contemporary narratives of the Empire and the UK’s role in the transatlantic slave trade. ‘I have spent the last four years making work about Essex and what it means to be a person of colour in this county. The exhibition at Focal Point culminates everything I need to say for now. I’m excited about the next chapter.’ 

Great British Life: Ellie at drop-off point at Tendring Primary SchoolEllie at drop-off point at Tendring Primary School (Image: Ellie Fraser)Ellie Fraser – recycling guru 

Born and bred in Essex, Ellie Fraser is passionate about saving the environment. The full-time working mum-of-three runs the Tendring Primary Recycle Scheme, a recycling drop-off point at Tendring Primary School, just outside Clacton-on-Sea.  

Celebrating more than ten years since setting up the scheme at the school, Ellie was first inspired to do this after seeing some Terracycle information on Johnson’s baby wipe packaging. ‘I investigated and found a small selection of items that could be collected and recycled with Terracycle to reduce waste, but also raise funds for a school-linked charity,’ she says. 

‘Since we started, we have joined many more Terracycle schemes and found ways to recycle a vast array of other items that would otherwise be binned and end up in the landfill. Now, we have a cabin on the school grounds and more than 40 different bins.’ 

Ellie aims to continue to grow and look after our planet. ‘Each week it is both concerning and heartwarming to see how much recycling we send off to Terracycle. Heartwarming to see how many people now support us and bring us their recycling, but concerning that the small section of the community that we reach is bringing us this much.’ 

Ellie and her team have raised more than £20,000 for the school charity, alongside other charities and groups. They've also won various competitions for the incredible work being done within the community to make it a better, thriving place. But Ellie says this would have not been possible without the help of volunteers.  

‘The community spirit in Tendring District is fantastic,’ she says. ‘We have a Facebook group where we help encourage people to make environmentally friendly switches and learn how to reduce, reuse and recycle. Aside from using the group to raise awareness about what can be recycled, either through Terracycle or other means, we also encourage a give-and-take ethos, enabling people to offer for free any items they would otherwise have to bin.’ 

She adds, ‘There are a few ladies in particular that help me, and they are the inspirational ones. They offered to help with the project without having even met me. They saw a job that needed doing and heard my plea for help, and without hesitation, they jumped in with both feet to support me in spreading the message far and wide.’ 

Search Facebook for: Tendring Primary Recycle Scheme TPRS 


Great British Life: Syd Moore - this is what an Essex girl looks likeSyd Moore - this is what an Essex girl looks like (Image: Amy Freeborn Photography)Syd Moore – writer and activist 

Feminist, writer, best-selling novelist, activist and mum-to-one Syd Moore has had a celebrated career with many accolades and achievements to be proud of. ‘What motivates me to keep doing what I am doing is the impact it has on society,’ says Syd. ‘Inspiring people, especially women of Essex, to believe they can make a difference. And, in my own small way, doing a bit to improve all Essexians’ self-esteem!’ 

The founder of the Essex Girl Liberation Front, Syd launched a successful campaign to get the negative ‘Essex girl’ term taken out of the dictionary. She explains, ‘It said that Essex girls and women from Essex were unintelligent, materialistic, talked in a loud and ugly way and were willing to have sex. That dictionary was for children and foreign students to learn about Britain; it’s incredible it was in there.’ 

She adds, ‘If you think of other contemporary stereotypes, like the Sloane ranger or convent girl, these were all around in the ‘80s, but you don’t hear anyone using these terms anymore. However, the Essex girl is still around.’ 

Syd draws comparisons between the witch hunts that feature in her array of novels. ‘Pretty much everything I do is challenging stereotypes, and a lot of my writing in my novels is about the witch hunts in Essex.’ 

The author of The Essex Witch Museum Mysteries believes witch hunts and more Essex history should be taught at schools in the county. ‘Some people still haven’t reframed the idea of the witch. They still think pointy hat, green skin and worshipping the devil, but they were women just like you and me getting accused of doing crazy things. When conducting my research, I saw similarities between women accused of witchcraft and the Essex girl, and I discovered that most women accused were based in the county.’ 

Aside from that, Syd is working on many exciting things this year, including being the first author in residence for Essex Libraries and Essex Book Festival, alongside working with Havens Hospices. As for changes, ‘We have not yet achieved a level playing field in terms of equality,’ says Syd. ‘Nor have we dispelled the Essex girl image. I call on all people of Essex to join me in my mission to challenge perceptions of our beautiful county at every opportunity. Together we can do this!' 


Great British Life: Gemma Bird, aka Money MumGemma Bird, aka Money Mum (Image: FP Focus Point Photography)Gemma Bird – money-saving expert  

Social media star Money Mum, aka Gemma Bird, is making a difference by sharing her money-saving tips to help individuals and families during the cost-of-living crisis. Boasting more than 326K followers on Instagram, the mum of two says, ‘Throughout my 20s and 30s I never earned a high income, so I always had to come up with ways to make money and whatever I earned had to go as far as possible. From the age of seven, I was into savings; this was how I was brought up.’  

However, after years of working multiple jobs, Gemma says she has found her dream job. ‘When I started my social media platform, I wanted to make saving cool and encourage people to talk about money, finding deals, debt and having those difficult conversations.’ 

So, I asked Gemma if we should be empowering children to talk about investments, mortgages and savings in school? ‘Yes,’ she says. ‘I have been looking into this a lot and trying to make noise. I believe children should sit down at least once a month at school and talk about what happens when you get a mortgage, what happens when you get your first wage, etc. It is so important. I believe we would have a lot less debt on our hands later on in life if we learn how to manage our money from a young age.’ 

Authentically honest, Gemma is a true inspiration to her followers, showing her money journey, including the highs and lows, all while encouraging people not to suffer in silence. She explains, ‘My mind never switches off; I think that is why I am good with saving. I'm in my 40s with no mortgage and in a comfortable position, but I will always have that undertone of worry.’ 

The influencer, who is the Sunday Times best-selling author of Money Mum, aims to help you save money and live a happier life. ‘Aside from my children, releasing my book is my biggest achievement.’ 

Gemma’s money tips for 2023 

- Write down everything that is coming in and going out. Be aware of that extra £1 or £2 at the shop, which adds up over the year.  

- Value your money. 

- This year, talk about your money worries. Whether you speak to a friend, a family member, the National Debt Helpline or other local groups.  


Great British Life: Sally has been director at Firstsite for nearly seven yearsSally has been director at Firstsite for nearly seven years (Image: Jane Lloyd)

Sally Shaw MBE - gallery director 

Slowing down, sensing, surrendering, self-care and simplifying are five resolutions that Firstsite’s director Sally Shaw MBE will be installing into her daily life. While running the award-winning Colchester art gallery and cultural centre, Sally has been breaking and pushing boundaries, conquering challenges, making art accessible to everyone and fighting against the status quo.  

‘I work in art and always have,’ says Sally. ‘My mum was an art teacher. She taught me how to paint when I was little. As a result, I followed an art career. I learned a lot of things I am passionate about, such as equity – particularly around women and human rights.’ 

She studied public art at Chelsea College of Arts, ‘It covered basically anything apart from a gallery,’ she laughs. ‘Being a young artist and going into a gallery, I was made to feel thick. It was a formative experience, and I felt completely and utterly put off and excluded from this thing that I felt so passionately about. This important feeling had me fuelled for a long time.’  

From here, her impactful and flourishing career has seen Sally work through various roles, including the deputy of culture for the Mayor of London, curator of the London Underground contemporary art commissioning programme and head of programme at Modern Art Oxford (the gallery Sally had an awful experience in). ‘I went there with a point to prove,’ she laughs. 

For nearly seven years, Sally has been the director at Firstsite, aiming to help people be creative and ‘break up those old-school ways of thinking about how galleries are run,’ she says. ‘I have heard many times throughout my career that you can’t do something because you are a woman; I am sick of it.’ 

She adds, ‘Everything we are doing is about equity, diversity, inclusion, getting people to put their finger on the basics of what it means to be creative.’ 

The single parent of one and her team have made Firstsite diverse and welcoming for all. The fantastic work they do within the community has not gone unnoticed, including providing free days out in the school holidays, and Art is Where the Home Is, an innovative activity pack, which enabled young people to be entertained and engaged during the pandemic. Sally was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list for services to the arts, and the gallery won the Art Fund Museum of the year. She says, ‘The museum award felt like it was for everybody and Firstsite was being recognised for everything we had done.’