Two inspirational Warwickshire women are among the winners at a national awards ceremony celebrating female achievers.
The Ladies First Network virtual event, in aid of The Katie Piper Foundation, recognised entrepreneurs from across the country, many with tales of overcoming adversity and even tragedy, to achieve success.
Hosted by BBC radio presenter Sandra Godley from a studio in Coventry, the ceremony also featured a message from Katie Piper and burns survivor Catrin Pugh. Katie founded her charity in 2008 while in the early stages of her recovery from an acid attack which left her with permanent scars on her face and body and blindness in one eye.
The winner of the Business Woman of the Year Award was Nicola Smyth from Southam.
The multi-award-winning international colourist, owns salons in Leamington, Warwick, Kenilworth and Knowle, as well as running her own training academy in Kenilworth.
At just 36 years old, Nicola’s hairdressing career has already spanned more than 20 years and she is now a respected educator and mentor in her field. Since opening her first salon, Nicola Smyth Award-Winning Hair, in Leamington in 2012, she has gone from strength to strength, picking up numerous national awards along the way, including UK Colour Salon of the Year, UK Salon Design of the Year and she was British Hairdressing Awards Midlands Hairdresser of the Year 2018/2019.
Reflecting on the past year, Nicola said: “These were worrying times for everyone and our newest salon in Knowle had only been open for six months. All staff were furloughed but we continued to have regular meetings via Zoom and online education was available for everyone.
“The two weeks before we were able to reopen were extremely stressful as we had to organise new systems, procedures, temperature checks, PPE and risk assessments for the four salons, as well as health and safety training for staff.
“We took all team members off furlough when we reopened on July 4 and also took on a new cohort of apprentices, marking our third intake at the Nicola Smyth Academy.
“I think the whole country realised how much they missed their hairdresser during lockdown, and although there was high demand when we re-opened, some clients were anxious. It’s hard work for the team to have to wear their masks and visors all day, but we are extremely proud of the Covid measures we have in place in all salons. Our team feels safe – and so do our clients!”
Reacting to the award, she said: “It’s a real honour to be recognised amongst so many inspiring women and businesses. I’m so proud to have been a part of such a fantastic event empowering women and raising money for the Katie Piper Foundation!”
The winner of the Achieves Through Networking Award was Karen Heap from Rugby.
When she was unable to find the type of network she needed as a micro-business owner, she also created Socially Shared, offering a relaxed and informal networking environment. The network started in Kenilworth and is now active in Rugby, Stratford, Coventry, Alcester and Solihull.
And in January 2019, she introduced her SMART Business Programme, a new option for people who needed ongoing support but were unable to stretch to regular one-to-one meetings.
Karen said: “I can honestly say that starting Socially Shared is the best thing I have ever done. After years of networking across the region, I saw a gap in the market for a network that was relaxed and sociable and that offered support and companionship, providing women with a valuable learning opportunity that would add real value to their business.
“Collaboration, not competition, is at the heart of everything that we do and we actively promote and support other networking groups and organisations. Acting with integrity is key, too.”
Reacting to the award, she said: “To win any award is an achievement but winning this award with Ladies First means so much more due to the other high calibre finalists and it being an award for achieving in networking. Collaboration, connecting and supporting others is always at the heart of what I do. The reward for me is seeing the benefit of the introductions I make for others, the success from those collaborations and the positive, supportive environment that is created as a consequence.”
The finalists of the third LFN Business Awards were chosen from more than 200 nominations, and decided by an esteemed panel of 12 judges from across the UK.
The awards on Friday 19th March also coincided with the launch of a new book Inspirational Women, Inspirational Lives, compiled by Balsall Common’s Tracey McAtamney.
The book features the 58 finalists’ stories and is available from Amazon (also on Kindle) or through Tracey at: firstname.lastname@example.org with all the proceeds benefitting The Katie Piper Foundation.
A silent auction run in conjunction with the awards, also raised nearly £4,000 for the Foundation. The evening’s host Sandra Godley said: “It’s been my pleasure to host this year’s event again. What an incredible way to celebrate inspirational women from across the region who I’m incredibly proud to celebrate!”
Organiser Tracey McAtamney said: “What an uplifting night, we had tears and laughter and it was so wonderful to see our finalists have their moment to shine. I have said from the start that all our finalists were winners in my eyes, chosen from over 200 nominations.”
“I had worried about a virtual event but down to the true professionalism of the iStead Studio team, the event was interactive and we held the attention of the audience until the very end. Ladies First spent Thursday personally delivering Celebration bags to all of the finalists to help them enjoy the event.”
Nominations re-open in September for the LFN 2022 Awards. For further details contact Tracey at: email@example.com
Written by Amanda
Event photos By: Faces and Spaces Photography