Challenges come in all shapes and sizes – from volunteering with Mountain Rescue to carving out a new career in your sixties. We celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8 with some Yorkshire women making their mark

Great British Life: Kirsty with one of the fell rescue volunteers. Kirsty with one of the fell rescue volunteers. (Image: Sara Spillet)

Kirsty Hall - Yorkshire Dales fell rescuer

Being on call 24/7: 365 in all weathers is only part of the story for Yorkshire Dales fell rescuer, Kirsty Hall…

There’s an often overlooked fourth emergency service that anyone who enjoys spending time in the countryside may come to rely on one day. Mountain Rescue England and Wales, which has clocked up more than 70 years of service, tallied just four days last year where their members weren’t recovering climbers from crags, reuniting lost walkers with friends and family or getting the injured to hospital.

Almost implausibly, this vital, lifesaving search and rescue organisation is not only a charity, but its hundreds of skilled rescuers on call 365 days a year, are all volunteers.

'I love the outdoors, always have,' explains former British Open Fell Running Champion, Kirsty Hall from Grassington. 'But it was my own skiing accident about 10 years ago that brought home to me just how important such help actually is and was what inspired me to join. As I lay in the snow with my totally trashed, mangled knee I can’t describe the sense of relief I had when I saw the mountain rescuers in their bright jackets coming down the slope towards me. I’ll never forget it.'

Starting from humble beginnings of makeshift stretchers and swiftly-gathered, local search and rescue parties, Mountain Rescue has evolved into a world-class, professional service relying on intrepid, dedicated people, like Kirsty who love the outdoors and want to make a difference.

'My team is based in Grassington and serves the southern part of the Yorkshire Dales from Ripon in the north to the accident hot spots of Brimham Rocks and Ilkley in the south. We get called out to around 60 incidents per year, which sounds like roughly one a week, but it’s actually completely unpredictable, although we are unfortunately seeing an increase in high risk missing person searches for people with poor mental health or reduced mental capacity.'

Becoming a fell rescuer is perhaps more straight forward than many people might imagine and in honour of International Women’s Day it is important to mention that the service is keen for more women to get involved. Thankfully champion fell runner credentials aren’t a prerequisite, just being reasonably fit with an affinity for the outdoors and ‘map and compass’ navigation skills is all that is deemed essential. Everything else, from rigging skills for technical rope rescues to advanced first aid can be taught.

Great British Life: Kirsty with the Mountain Resuce team on a call-out in the Dales. Kirsty with the Mountain Resuce team on a call-out in the Dales. (Image: Sara Spillet)

'Out of the 60 individuals that make up Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association (UWFRA) there are just eight women,' explains Kirsty. 'There’s a perception out there that it isn’t a job for a woman, but it absolutely is. I’ve been with UWFRA for eight years now and everyone that joins us has a different set of strengths and no one person excels at everything.

'I also think that women can be put off by a perception, often inaccurate, of how much time volunteering as a rescuer demands. Trust me, it really can fit around your life. We are on call 24/7 but it’s not obligatory to go out. There are three responses you can give: attend; attend but you’ll be late or can’t attend. And since you never know when the calls will come in you just get on and live your normal life and then do what you can when there is a call. The minimum commitment is just 75 hours per year.'

The huge feelings of satisfaction from helping people and saving lives is not without its challenges though – mental and physical. “One of the most physically demanding call outs I’ve had was quite recent,' explains Kirsty. 'It was for a lady who’d fallen and become badly injured in Troller’s Gill, a limestone gorge near Appletreewick. There’s no mobile phone signal there so first we had to find her,

which was tricky and then we had to extract her. Because of the heavy rains the river was in spate and the normally dry gill was full of water. She’d also fallen in to the water and so by the time we got there, hypothermia had become the biggest threat to life. It was really difficult walking in the river and keeping the stretcher steady as she was in a lot of pain. We all worked brilliantly together and succeeded in getting her to hospital.

'I really do recommend getting in touch with your local mountain rescue if you are at all tempted,' confirms Kirsty. 'The chance to learn new skills and work with some really great people, not to mention perhaps flying in a helicopter or working with search dogs makes it incredibly rewarding.'

She adds, 'And remember too to ‘be adventure smart’ when enjoying the countryside, and wear the right gear, keep a charged phone and take food, drink and a map so you won’t hopefully ever need to see me! and take food, drink and a map.’

A woman you admire: Victoria Wilkinson, a Yorkshirewoman who has represented GB in fell running and cycle cross for years.

Wise words for International Women’s Day: I want to appeal to those who are not confident in pursing their ambitions or think they’ve left it too late. Please just have a go – the rewards are worth it at any age!

For full details of joining and #BeAdventureSmart guidance visit:

Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association

by Victoria Benn

Great British Life: Caitlin BeaversCaitlin Beavers (Image: Caitlin Beavers)

Caitlin Beavers - Sport

At just 17 years old, Caitlin was the youngest referee to ever step out on the pitch at Wembley, as well as the first ever female. Her sporting journey begin at the age of six when she started playing rugby with her twin brother. The rules meant that at 11 she had to stop and join a girl’s team, but there weren’t any at that time where Caitlin lived.

‘I was sick of watching my brother playing every weekend, so decided to take up officiating and from there I found a girl's team and trialed for Leeds at 16. I spent a month or two in the under 19s and then got invited straight into the first team and that’s when I made my debut with Leeds Rhinos, as well as my England rugby league debut – it’s all been a bit of a whirlwind from there!’

From being teased by her brothers’ teammates who ‘used to laugh at me as I’d say, “I want to play for Leeds” and they’d tell me I couldn’t because I’m a girl’ she ended up breaking gender stereotypes and made her debut with England which is still her proudest achievement to date.

Not only this, but Caitlin ended up officiating at Wembley at the Steven Mullaney Memorial match where she was the first ever female to do so – ‘it was just magic.’ She’s also been nominated for BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year , travelled all over the world, and is currently vice captain for Leeds Rhinos.

Caitlin, now 22 and living in Cleckheaton, can’t help but notice how far rugby has moved on since she was young: ‘I go round to tournaments now and see all girls teams under nine years old which is amazing. People will come up to us and say we inspired them to continue after being with the boys. It’s amazing to think just doing something we enjoy doing is actually impacting people around us.’

She encounters a lot of women who are hesitant to jump into doing something they haven’t done before, especially sport, but she can’t imagine her life without rugby.

‘Sport is my life, if I didn’t have rugby, I wouldn’t have the friends I do or the social scene. It’s such a good lifestyle to be part of, it just brings me enjoyment and leaves me fulfilled.’ Looking towards the future, Caitlin is excited to be getting back into officiating and eventually becoming captain at Leeds.

A woman you admire: Growing up it was my coach Lois Forsell he did a lot for the community and clubs doing girls’ sessions.

Wise words for women’s day: No matter what it is, take that leap and if you do enjoy it, it will be a huge addition to your life.

Great British Life: Carol DouglasCarol Douglas (Image: Carol Douglas)

Carol Douglas – Art

Age is no barrier for Carol Douglas, 72, who returned to college at the age of 66. After being persuaded to drop art while at Ripon Grammar School in favour of Latin, she resigned herself to only being able to express herself artistically through her home: ‘All those years my love of art came out in my home where I collected pieces and loved interiors. I thought it was the only way I could use my creative interests.’

Studying sociology in college, she envied her friends with artistic jobs and always regretted not pursuing her passion, knowing she wouldn’t be able to afford another degree.

But in 2016 she went to an open studio and met a former nurse who had completed a foundation course at art college - and explained how she could get a student loan.

So, exactly 50 years after saying goodbye to her artistic dreams, Carol enrolled in an art foundation course at York College. Being the only mature student amongst her 18-year-old peers didn’t faze her, and she gained a distinction and an award.

‘I always wanted to paint, so as soon as I could, I did. Once I left college, I got a studio on Acomb high street where I just painted all day.’ Her forte became figurative paintings with abstract shapes and ‘slightly muddy, soft colours’.

Some staff from clothing store, Toast, had commented that Carol’s work complimented the store’s style and from there the manager of the York store asked if she would display her work in the store.

This spiralled and Carol was invited to collaborate with the brand. This saw her work displayed in all the UK stores with information about the artist.

More commissions followed along with an exhibition at Sunny Bank Mill. It was here that Amanda Peach stumbled across her work and bought some of Carol’s paintings. She then offered her an exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park this coming July.

Amanda fell in love with Carol’s story, just as much as she did her paintings. The show’s title will be ‘Actually, I can’. These words were stencilled on a studio canvas when Carol was at college.

‘I joke that I waited 50 years to do what I love’, says Carol.

‘Sometimes when I have open studios women come in their 60s and 70s and say they’d love to go away and try to apply to art college. Even if just one person was inspired by my story I’d be over the moon.’

A woman you admire: Rose Wylie, always loved her work and she came to art later in life too.

Wise words for women’s day: Never think it’s too late. And just say to yourself ‘Actually, I can’

Great British Life: Anna Spreckley Anna Spreckley (Image: Anna Spreckley)

Anna Spreckley – Fashion

Anna, 34, from York is on a mission to change women’s lives, one item of clothing at a time.

It might sound simplistic but after her own negative experience of modelling in her teens, Anna suffered body dysmorphia. She started to wear men’s clothes and cover up so she wouldn’t be seen: ‘I suffered with a kind of body dysmorphia and wanted to disappear.’

Moving to California was a massive catalyst for Anna, and where her ‘journey’ to rediscovery began.

Without sounding too dramatic – she changed her wardrobe and her life. Colour and confidence was a big part of it and throwing away the idea that ‘society’s version of beauty is about what’s trending’.

After returning to Yorkshire, Anna wanted to use her experience to empower women.

In her early thirties she trained to be an image consultant, making it her aim to boost womens’ confidence and make them ‘feel like they are enough’. She works with women on a one-on-one basis doing colour analysis, style analysis, wardrobe edits and shopping trips.

‘I see my clients come in and put a cushion in front of themselves because they feel insecure about their bodies to then seeing their stature change because they suddenly know how to dress rather than trying to fit into a box that social media dictates.’

‘A lot of women feel like they’re past it or they don’t feel ‘cool enough’ or their bodies have changed or they’ve gone through something that’s knocked their confidence.

‘They might feel they have lost their identity; a partner might have left them, or they’ve gone through a loss or a career change. They want to dress authentically for who they are.

‘I want them to get self-worth and self-esteem from the experience and most of all self respect.’

Anna hopes to set up a non-profit and start a foundation where she can employ or help other women. She would like to host events and gather a supportive community.

‘If there’s anyone who’s ever felt like I have - where you want to evaporate, I want them to realise that they are absolutely perfectly made.’

A woman you admire: Sandra Bullock – she’s the most fiery, yet tender person and I just adore her.

Wise words for women’s day: Speak to yourself how you’d speak to someone you love. What we say to ourselves is so important as it can define our day.

Great British Life: Victoria Tomlinson Victoria Tomlinson (Image: Giles Rocholl Photography Ltd)

Victoria Tomlinson – Entrepreneur

Refusing to believe that life ends at 50, 60, or even 70 for that matter, tech entrepreneur and mentor Victoria Tomlinson, 68, is out to change the modern-day workplace.

One thing she hates is women who believe there’s nothing left for them once they reach a certain age: ‘Women find themselves wondering what they’ve done with their life and that they’ve wasted it and that’s just not the case. They can do a whole bunch of new things, but they think it’s too late. They’ve supported their husbands, brought up children, and it’s all about putting others first rather than themselves and they can’t get their heads around being able to do something for themselves which I think is a tragedy.’

This is what led to Victoria creating Next Up, a company which is redefining the 50 plus workplace through helping employers maximise the value of 50+ workers, and help to remotivate employees in their last years.

As Victoria so passionately explains: ‘everyone has experiences that are helpful. I want people to use their skills, I don’t understand why people are stopping work. Employers need to encourage older people.’

Victoria lives life with a glass half full outlook after a career covering everything from aerospace to PR and becoming a director for Ernst&Young. She travelled around as a woman on her own with the mantra: ‘if the boys do it, I do it.’

At one point she was seen as a bit of a LinkedIn guru and would help those who had retired, but didn’t necessarily want to give up working.

‘It’s a really difficult time for people, it’s like a bereavement. They don’t realise how much of their identity is wrapped up in work. When you take that away overnight people struggle as they don’t know how to describe themselves anymore.’

Harnessing the wealth of knowledge and experience of an older generation, she started Next Up to help people by offering two approaches; one is workshops for partners in professional firms before they retire. And also a tech platform to help any employee to think about their future and develop new skills.

‘I want people to realise that when they reach 50 they’re not a ‘has been’ – people still have so much experience to offer, but I want employers to understand that too.

‘What we need to be doing is give people the confidence to go and retrain. That’s my desire.’ With plans to work for another 20 to 30 years, Victoria very much hopes to take a leaf out of the late Queen’s book and ‘work right up until the day I die. If you’re doing something rewarding and satisfying it doesn’t feel like work.’

She does stress, however, that it’s not about working right up until the end, but about doing something that makes you happy. ‘As individuals we can still influence and change the world. We could all be helping others, and you can get a lot back from that.’

A woman you admire: The Queen – she kept going and was still active three days before she died doing something worthwhile and thoughtful of others.

Wise words for women’s day: You can do more than you think – believe in yourself.

Great British Life: Evie Jackson-Morrell Evie Jackson-Morrell (Image: Charlotte Nelson)

Evie Jackson-Morrell – Women’s Health

After suffering a traumatic birth with her baby daughter Iggy, and not knowing where to turn, Evie, a former PE teacher, sought to offer support to women in a similar position.

Following Iggy’s birth, at eight weeks Evie had a ‘brief 10-minute checkup’. While she was asked if baby was OK she felt there was something lacking in the care for post-birth mother.

No physical examinations, no detailed conversations, just what felt like a dismissive, “OK, off you go then”.

‘We’re one of the only countries that has this kind of approach, whereas others really look after women post-partum. It made me realise we need to do something’, she recalls.

Speaking to friends with newborns, she realised, ‘Many of us have suffered embarrassing leaks at the gym and often brush them off with humour. I know I hear it at least once a week where I go. But why do we just accept it?’

Evie discovered that a female physiotherapist can give women an internal check – properly examining the pelvic floor, abs and general physical health. With this knowledge, she set up a women-focused clinic, with a female physiotherapist in Harrogate to advise and support women.

‘Women’s lives should be able to continue before and after having a baby in a way that suits them. I realised this wasn’t possible for all women and wanted to do something about it.’

She also realised that women were not necessarily exercising in the right way for their bodies and hormones following birth.

Working with the physiotherpist and a team of experts, she created a reformer Pilates studio.

‘I want the space to cover everything from menopause to post-partum. Eventually I want it to be a state-of-the-art facility for women which will cover all women’s issues.’

This, mixed with the desire ‘to make things right and help others’ has been the driving force in creating Harrogate Women’s Health Clinic. ‘I want it to be a place where people feel safe to tell us their problems as I think we’re getting to a point where so many women are getting dismissed, or they’re embarrassed so they’re not doing anything about it. We’re just left to get on with things, and I want to change that.’

A woman you admire: Dr Hazel Wallace, aka the Food Medic, a former A&E doctor and educator.

Wise words for women’s day: Don’t be scared to follow your passions.

Great British Life: Lydia LeylandLydia Leyland (Image: Lydia Leyland)

Lydia Leyland – Community

After travelling the world and working remotely for a few years, Harrogate’s Lydia Leyland, 31, realised she was missing a female support group. Yes, she had friends, but she was looking for a different kind of advice. After searching the web, all she could find were groups of women that were supporting each other in business, and it was all a bit serious. ‘So, I decided to create something myself and in 2020 I launched We Got You Boo, a forum based platform where I gathered a bunch of members and we all started supporting each other.’

Fully aware of how tricky it can be navigating womanhood with changing relationships, career moves, friendship break ups, children, grief, she knew she needed to create a space where women just could fully be themselves and receive the support they craved.

Now We Got You Boo has grown into something much bigger. ‘We have the meet ups, events, and ways women can have fun and meet each other,’ says Lydia whose global network brings women through WhatsApp groups by region and subject such as relationship advice or business talk for example.

While travelling the world and also spending time in her Harrogate hometown, Lydia arranges sociable meet ups for women all around the country and further afield.

There have been axe-throwing sessions, doggy yoga, brunches, and retreats. You can even join in virtually by taking part in the monthly ‘Sisterhood Speed Dating’ events. ‘There’s a lot of fun being had and people meeting each other all over the world, but the main thing is definitely support, she says.

‘My big goal with it is to have a space for people to get support whenever they need it. As well as being there for the high points, I want us to be there for the lower times as well. Today everyone’s looking at how to make friends as an adult – I aim to provide a space in which to do so.’

A woman you admire: Kellie Gerardi - she’s an astronaut and a mum.

Wise words for women’s day: Make time for the women in your life and always make the effort to keep the relationship strong. The women in your life are always there – through the thick and thin.