March is International Women’s Day. We take a look at the stories behind three Essex women’s lasting success in their chosen fields.

Great British Life: Sue JacksonSue Jackson (Image: Sue Jackson)

Sue Jackson

'The more that you read, the more things you will know, the more that you learn, the more places you’ll go!'

If schools were mountains Sue Jackson would probably be working on Everest. She has been the headteacher of one of Essex’s most successful primary schools for almost 25 years and thanks to her hard work- and that of her amazing team- she has steered Lee Chapel Primary in Basildon, from one triumph to another.

With the school recently achieving yet another outstanding rating from OFSTED, Lee Chapel Primary is now the fifth hardest primary school to get into out of the whole of Essex- despite being located within the third most deprived district in the county.

As well as being the headteacher of the school Sue, 62, has been the CEO of Lee Chapel Multi-Academy Trust since its inception in 2012.

Sue, who now lives in Westcliff with her husband Sandy, is from Basildon herself. She was born and raised in the town, the second of four children. Although it has social and economic issues, Sue is proud of her Basildon roots and the education she received there as a child.

She believes nothing should hold a child back when it comes to education: 'I passionately believe that education is the key to improved life chances -having climbed up the ladder of success from very humble beginnings myself- and I have made it my life’s work to raise aspirations and outcomes for pupils across Basildon,' she says.

Sue knows all too well how encouraging a child from a young age can lead to great things.

Great British Life: Lee Chapel Primary School, Basildon.Lee Chapel Primary School, Basildon. (Image: Lee Chapel Primary School, Basildon.)

'When I was at school a teacher once told me that I was a clever and could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up and this was incredibly motivating for a ‘disadvantaged’ child whose life chances were not considered to be very much at all.

'A teacher believing in you and affirming your worth and potential is truly inspirational. The same teacher advised me to ‘dream big and reach for the stars and never let anyone deter you from your goals’.

'This advice became my mantra for life and has seen me through life’s ups and downs and challenges and ensured that I have never wavered in my determination to make a difference to the lives of children by delivering excellent provision.'

Since she’s been at the helm of Lee Chapel, the school has become a beacon of success. Education inspectors have even praised the school for the way it ‘unlocks the magic in every pupil’.

So with March being the month of both Inspirational Women’s Day and Mother’s Day, what’s the best piece of advice Sue ever got from her mum?

'My mum’s advice for success was to do your best and don't give up on anything you truly believe in. I always believed that becoming a teacher was my vocation and nothing was ever going to deter me from this aim.'

And when it comes to helping parents navigate the minefield of their children’s education, Sue says it’s all about picking up a book from an early age.

'My advice to parents wanting the best for their children is always the same message and is beautifully summarised by Dr Seuss – "'The more that you read, the more things you will know, the more that you learn, the more places you’ll go!"

Great British Life: Dana ConwayDana Conway (Image: Dana Conway)

Dana Conway

'If you have a dream go for it, because you never know where I’ll take you.'

Dana Conway is a living, breathing example of how persistency pays off -and why you should never give up on your dreams, no matter how many knockbacks you get.

Fans of The Great British Bake will recognise the 25-year-old database administrator after she appeared on the most recent series of the popular Channel 4 show last autumn.

Dana, who grew up in Rainham Essex, before moving to Westcliff-on-Sea three year ago-made it to week six of the show where amateur cooks battle it out under the watchful guise of judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, to be crowned the nation’s best baker.

Some of Dana’s memorable cake and biscuit creations during her time on GBBO included her ‘Bread-ly Cooper Cottage Loaf’, ‘I Cherry-ish You Chocolate Torte’ and ‘Stop and Smell the Rose Floral Dessert’.

What many people will not know, however, is that Dana applied to be a contestant on the show four times before finally being accepted. Others may have given up but not our Dana.

'I was a massive fan of Bake Off and I knew it was something I always wanted to go for, so I just kept on applying and applying. Even though I got so many knockdowns it made me more determined to go and get it because each time I got rejected I went back to my kitchen, I worked on my skills and finally after the fourth year, I got accepted,' she said.

'It just shows if you have a dream go for it, because you never know where I’ll take you.'

Great British Life: Dana Conway and some of her bakesDana Conway and some of her bakes (Image: Dana Conway)

She may not have walked away with the Bake-Off crown (that went to Matty Edgell) even though her rustic and homely bakes won high praise, but the former head girl at Upminster’s Sacred Heart of Mary Girls’ School, certainly made her mark on the programme.

Viewers were left praising Dana’s constant beaming smile and positivity as she crafted creations under the tent, week after week. That sparkling personality has certainly paid off.

Since Bake Off aired Dana is on the verge of starting her own baking business and has become a well-known local personality which has seen her being asked to be the VIP guest at the opening of a new Age Concern community café in Southend (where her lemon cupcakes were royally received) and even being asked to turn on the Southend Christmas lights

'Now that Bake Off is over, it’s where the hard work really begins. I’m working on starting my own business. I’m currently supplying to local café around Southend called. I’m also moving flats which is taking much longer than I expected last year had a lot of ups and downs so I’m hoping 2024 will be the best one yet.

'This year, I’m hoping I can really establish myself in Southend make a name for the community and just help out in any way I can.'

With Mother’s Day approaching Dana says her own mum gave her a great piece of advice which she still abides by.

'She would always tell me don’t settle for anything less than what you deserve. Keep your head up.'

'I suppose my advice to others would be if you have a dream, whether that is to be a baker, a singer, a lawyer, or a doctor go for it.'


Great British Life: Skye Carter in the poolSkye Carter in the pool (Image: Skye Carter)

Skye Carter

We know that dedication’s what you need if you want to make waves in the sporting world- and despite being only 16 years-old Skye Carter is proving she’s got what it takes to go all the way.

Skye is training to try out for Team GB at this summer’s Olympics in Paris and has already won a plethora of medals from a variety of national and overseas swimming competitions.

Skye’s ambition is to be applauded. She trains at least 13 hours per week which means most days she gets up 5am, while most of us are still in slumberland, to hit the pool at Basildon Sporting Village before, changing into her uniform, grabbing her books, and heading to class at Southend High School for Girls.

After school she’s back in the pool training again before heading home to juggle homework, and revision for her upcoming GCSES this year.

Skye regularly competes in competitions across the world. It’s amazing she finds time to socialise or to ever go out but occasionally she does - and her friends are amazingly supporting. Right there at the top of her fan base is her mum Obby, who drives Skye to and from her training sessions and supports her in every way she can, as well as being a mum to Skye’s two siblings who also love the water.

Skye is a member of the Basildon and Phoenix Swimming Club. Last year she represented Team England at the Commonwealth Youth Games held in Trinidad and Tobago- becoming only the second black swimmer to do so. She came away with five medals -three golds, a silver and a bronze. She also set a new 50m freestyle records at the Games.

But Skye also made an impact outside of the pool during her time in Trinidad. Skye and fellow Team England swimmer Nick Finch were invited to speak at the British High Commission’s seminar on sport and mental wellbeing.

Great British Life: Skye Carter with some of her medalsSkye Carter with some of her medals (Image: Skye Carter)

It was there she spoke about her motivations to a group of youngsters from the Heroes Foundation – an organisation that aims to empower children and young people to build a sustainable future across Trinidad and Tobago.

She told the group: 'Whatever sport you do, I think it really helps if you stay focussed but for me it’s been helpful knowing that I can be a bit of an inspiration.

'There’s always a stereotype that ‘black people can’t swim’ and knowing that stereotype it was good to get into swimming so I can beat it. I was just really proud to represent Team England because it’s just crazy to me. The second black swimmer ever – that’s just really cool.'

Skye spoke in from of 400 youngsters and a number of athletes from across the world during the speech held at Queen’s Hall in Trinidad.

'I feel like black people are a bit underrepresented in swimming so to be up there representing and hopefully being an inspiration to other girls who are in the same boat as me.

' I was eight or nine, if I did see any swimmers they were not black swimmers, so to be a black swimmer representing Team England is quite good!

'Diversity is getting better, when I went to European Juniors, out of the top four from the 50m freestyle, three of them were black.

'It’s getting there, it is much better than if you look at the Olympics, there aren’t that many black swimmers compared to white swimmers or other sports but it’s coming.'

Skye specialises in the 50m and 100m freestyle and butterfly races, having first jumped into a swimming pool in Billericay at the tender age of four where, as you can imagine, it was love at first sight.

'I remember my mum taking me to the swimming pool next to Lake Meadows when I was really young and I loved it,' said Skye. 'That was just all about having fun and enjoying the water but even then, I felt a connection.'

Skye has the benefit of fantastic coaches at Phoenix, including Doug Campbell, himself a former Commonwealth Games athlete for Team Scotland. Martin ‘Stretch’ Lane, assistant head coach at Basildon and Phoenix Swimming Club, has been Skye’s coach for two years.

So, will we see Skye sprinting across the colossal sized pools at the Paris Olympics or the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics? There’s a big chance we will. At just 16 she’s already got what all victors need- a winning attitude and a passion that can’t be tamed.