Laura Whitmore, Sue Perkins and Emma Barnett among stars at Women of The Year awards

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Laura Whitmore,  Sue Perkins and Emma Barnett  (ES Composite)
Laura Whitmore, Sue Perkins and Emma Barnett (ES Composite)

Laura Whitmore, Surrane Jones and Emma Barnett were among stars at the Women of The Year awards that celebrated 400 women from across the UK who have achieved remarkable things this year, many in the fight against Covid.

The award ceremony, held in central London, focused on Covid-19 workers with around half the guests being key workers such as bus drivers, supermarket workers, caterers, taxi drivers, pharmacy workers and cleaners, as well as frontline NHS staff and officials.

It also paid tribute to the Toyko 2020 Olympians and Paralympians for their strength and determination over the summer, with athletes including Kate French, Sophie Hahn, Emma Wiggs, Eilidh McIntyre, Kathleen Dawson and Kylie Grimes all in attendance.

Watch: Laura Whitmore shares breastfeeding story to raise awareness

The event was hosted by comedian and presenter Sue Perkins and awards were presented by actress Jones, TV host Lorraine Kelly and broadcaster Cat Deeley.

The innovation award went to Heba Bevan, founder of revolutionary smartsensor technology company UtterBerry, and Mursal Hedayat, refugee founder of online language school Chatterbox, accepted the women in the community award.

Suranne Jones (left) and Vodafone's Woman of the Year Innovation Award Winner Heba Bevan arrive (PA)
Suranne Jones (left) and Vodafone's Woman of the Year Innovation Award Winner Heba Bevan arrive (PA)

While Dame Esther Rantzen hailed “the work, the commitment, and the passion” of the volunteers and staff of the charities she set up after being honoured with the lifetime achievement award. 

The broadcaster is a long-time activist and founder of children’s charity Childline and The Silver Line, a service which helps older people in the UK battling loneliness.

Dame Esther, 81, told PA at the 67th edition of the awards: “It’s obviously an extraordinary honour, the Women Of The Year lunch is a unique event.

 (PA)
(PA)

“I’ve been lucky enough to attend it many times and I’ve always been hugely impressed by all the women there, but, of course, particularly the winners, who are extraordinary achievers.

“I have learned so much about causes that they’ve campaigned for, the difference they’ve made to vulnerable people, people who’ve needed help.

“So it is an amazing honour to be included among those outstanding women.”

The former That’s Life! presenter and producer who has also been a trailblazer for female broadcasters, insisted on the importance of the to turn, She also reflected on the “huge challenges of the pandemic years” on the services, particularly on children and older people, which increased the demand on the charities.

Some children lost their “safe haven” of school and faced violence, abuse or neglect, while older people were especially affected by the illness and faced heightened issues surrounding care and loneliness.

 (PA)
(PA)

“But the wonderful thing has been that, and I think this is reflected all over the country, that volunteers have come forward to do everything they can to try and support people,” she added.

“The community seems to have come together and in some ways, I think the inspiration of people like Captain Sir Tom Moore has reminded people how much difference we can make as individuals.

“And I think that there’s been very tough times, but also some extraordinary examples of terrific work.”

Comedian Sue Perkins stepped in for Mel Giedroyc to host the Women of the Year Awards on Monday after the other half of the comedy duo took ill at the last minute.

She said at the awards that “communities are unsustainable” when they are based on the sense that “women are not equal”.

She added that change needs to start at an educational level and extend to policing and the legal system.

 (PA)
(PA)

Perkins, 52, told the PA news agency: “I think so much needs to be done about sexual violence and violence towards women and it needs to start in school, it needs to start with basic ideas of decency, it needs to then evolve into proper sex education, to ideas of consent, to an understanding that we’re all equal, that women aren’t property, that women aren’t goods and chattels to be used and abused.

“It needs to extend to policing, to sentencing, to the legal system, to understanding there are consequences for actions and that communities are unsustainable when they’re predicated on the sense that women are not equal and they are there as placings.

“So we need a holistic approach. I think for those who felt that that was all done and dusted with the #MeToo movement, the awful recent tragedies that have occurred have alerted us to the fact that everything needs to be done. Much more needs to be done.”

 (PA)
(PA)

The TV presenter spoke of how “extraordinary” it was to be physically surrounded by women and “celebrating the extraordinary genius of ordinary people” while at the ceremony.

She added: “So often we’re used to celebrities being lauded and people ‘of note’, this is almost the opposite of that, this is people who you won’t have heard of, but have done things that have absolutely changed the world, changed the environment of people around them, and it’s wonderful.”

TV host Lorraine Kelly, 61, who presented the Lorraine Kindness Award at the ceremony, also recalled having to talk to her daughter about taking greater safety precautions, such as not walking home alone or not leaving her drink unattended, when she returned home from Singapore to the UK.

 (PA)
(PA)

She told PA: “I hated having to have that conversation with her, and I don’t think I would have had that conversation had she been a young man, and that’s not right, and we have to change our attitudes.

“I mean it shouldn’t be down to women to be worried where we’re walking and to be concerned about all the stuff we’ve got going on in our lives.

“And I don’t think people appreciate what it’s actually like for women now and it has to change and it has to change from the top.

“It can’t just be platitudes, they’re actually going to have to put their money where their mouth is and start changing attitudes and they can start with the police.”

 (PA)
(PA)

Laura McSorley, Maureen Wilkes and Emma Henderson, who all set up projects to help people during the pandemic, have been shortlisted for the Kindness Award, which was voted by viewers of the morning programme Lorraine.

Kelly added: “A kindness award I think is really important, especially now we’re all looking for little bits of light in the darkness.

“And our three finalists are amazing, they’ve all done incredibly different things, but what they have in common is they’ve got giant hearts and they just want to help people, it’s simple as that, they just want to help people make it a little bit easier for them in these tough times.

“I’m really glad I didn’t have to vote for the winner because as far as I’m concerned they’re all winners, they’re incredible.”

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