The 2015 Cheshire Woman of the Year Award, Eaton Park

WofY steering committee; Ann Rowe, Alison Blackler, Christine Owen, Angie Mounsey, Ruth Richard

WofY steering committee; Ann Rowe, Alison Blackler, Christine Owen, Angie Mounsey, Ruth Richards, Janet Hetherington, Sylvia Cheater (Chair), Angela Dewey, Clare Casson, Rebecca Mellor, Suzanne Jones, Liz Redding and Abigail Shrigley-Feigl - Credit: Archant

Pat Rice from the Wirral was declared Cheshire Woman of the Year 2015 at Eaton Park as the organisers celebrated their 30th event. Emma Mayoh reports

When the Cheshire Woman of the Year committee and Cheshire Life got together 30 years ago they had one sole purpose. To celebrate the achievements of women in Cheshire, those unsung heroes whose efforts may otherwise go unnoticed. Three decades on and nothing has changed.

The dedicated volunteers who organise the prestigious Cheshire Women of the Year event and your favourite county magazine are still recognising the unwavering dedication, commitment and support women from this beautiful part of the country give in many settings.

It was a very special celebration at this year’s 30th anniversary event at the stunning Eaton Park. Dozens of nominees and their guests gathered in the Wolf Room to discover who would be named Cheshire Woman of the Year on its 30th anniversary. Women from all walks of life, including renowned interior designers, charity champions and women who were leading the way, including the Right Reverend Libby Lane, the first female bishop in the Church of England, gathered together.

This year, the accolade went to Pat Rice, a dedicated youth worker. Her win was not only remarkable because of what she has done to help young people in crisis but it was also a landmark award as it was the first time someone from a local authority has received the honour.

Sylvia Cheater, chairwoman of the Cheshire Woman of the Year Committee, said: ‘Pat is a remarkable woman, she is wonderful. We felt that she truly makes a difference with the help she gives to young people in providing them with a safe haven. It’s not just her job; it’s something she does all of the time.

‘For Cheshire Woman of Year to still be running for all of these years shows the dedication of the committee who bring it all together as well as the high number of women who make a huge contribution and difference in Cheshire. I think it is amazing.’

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Pat, 58, is head of Wirral Council’s Response Service which offers help to vulnerable young people who are homeless, at risk of sexual exploitation, struggling with mental health issues, self-harming and contemplating suicide or who may be struggling with substance abuse and addictions.

She has worked at an Aborigine mission in Australia doing community work. She then did volunteer work back in Wirral before training as a youth and community worker.

That was 26 years ago. Even now making sure young people are safe is a crucial part of Pat’s personal philosophy as well as her job. She ensures the service offered to young people is creative, effective, innovative and responsive. Meaningful, supportive relationships are built, not only with young people but with their families, schools and communities.

Pat said: ‘I’ve always wanted to help, right back to walking dogs and doing shopping for my neighbours when I was a girl. And I have carried on. It is hard. A young person can turn up with a bin bag of clothes at our office and nothing else. To see them get themselves back on their feet, come back from the brink and enjoy their lives is just brilliant.

‘Keeping young people safe is a crucial part of me as well as it being my job. It is a demanding, challenging and often emotional job, but infinitely rewarding. I am indebted to my team at Response, all of whom are prepared to go the extra mile to make a difference to the lives of young people. This is not just an award for me but it is for all of the team too. I am so honoured. I just can’t believe it.’

Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads star, Bridgit Forsyth, attended the celebrations for the second time. The talented actress, who lives in Broadbottom on the Cheshire border and stars in Still Open All Hours, gave a speech on her experiences throughout her career as well as recognising all of the nominees.

She said: ‘It is an honour and I am quite overwhelmed to be in the same room with so many incredible women. It really is an honour to be here.

‘It is the second time I have been invited to this wonderful event and I couldn’t wait to come back. I would not want to miss an opportunity to celebrate all of the remarkable work that is being done by so many women.’

All of the guests enjoyed champagne, a two course meal and entertainment from band Cookin’. With. Gas. The raffle included incredible prizes donated by the Cheshire business community. Since 1985 over two thousand nominated women have been invited to enjoy this very special day. The event has also raised £270,000 for children’s charities, for Barnardo’s from 1985 to 1994 and for the NSPCC since 1995. This year’s raffle raised £586. Chairwoman Sylvia was also honoured by her committee members for the commitment to the event for more than a decade.