For International Women's Day 2022 we wanted to celebrate women in positions of influence who are driving change and stronger communities in Lancashire. The theme this year was #BreakTheBias, calling on all of us to collectively forge women's equality and a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. Take a look below and have a read of the amazing women we showcased this year.

Starting with...

Sarwat Jaleel - Entrepreneur - Owner of Kushboo Soaps

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Born in the U.K as a child of Indian parents, I grew up in Burnley, Lancashire with a mother who only ever used natural products for the family, reflecting centuries of eastern health and beauty care.

I had my first daughter during my first degree, my second daughter whilst studying for my Masters and my third daughter whilst working as a Broadcast Journalist, Producer and Reporter for BBC Radio Lancashire. Over several years, I moved into television working on various BBC & ITV television programmes including Blue Peter.

An illness and long spell in hospital was a turning point in my journey. I was amazed how the beautiful scent from a bar of soap lifted my spirits - a reminder that the basic things can sometimes make a big difference, even for just a few moments. This was a lightbulb moment - if the power of scent and aromatherapy could improve positivity for me then it could for other people. I decided, there and then, that as soon as I could leave hospital, I would begin to make soap specifically for a local homeless charity in Blackburn - called Nightsafe. But the soap would be no ordinary bar, I would create the very best ethical soap using natural ingredients, the knowledge and wisdom of herbs and spices passed down from parents and it would be made with love.

As a Broadcaster Journalist and Reporter for nearly 20 years I had seen and reported on all that is good in the world but all that is awful too. At times it was overwhelming and frustrating as it was impossible to help every individual or charity I had encountered. Making soap for the vulnerable was the perfect combination of my creativity, heritage and giving back.

Soon my soap making developed into a successful business and I expanded my soap donations to a wonderful Women’s refuge in Manchester and various food banks. For me soap is dignity and I firmly believe that everyone should have the right to a bar of soap - after all, we all feel better after a wash. Today Kushboo soaps and skincare products are stocked all over the UK and abroad but the giving of soap bars to the vulnerable remains central to the business

Next up...

Julie Gunn - Executive Member for Children, Young People & Education at Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council.

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Having studied for my degree as a mature student, married with two young children I became a lecturer in Higher Education in my early forties. Being able to help people to achieve their goals through education is an incredibly rewarding experience and in my role as a councillor, I have an opportunity to help shape the future of the borough but most importantly the future of the children and young people who live here.

A typical day doesn’t really exist for me; sometimes I spend hours at the laptop attending virtual meetings and other days I am able to get out and see residents or our incredibly hard working council staff and some of the fantastic organisations that work alongside the council. We are lucky to have such a strong and supportive community and I am especially proud of our young people who spend such a lot of their time helping to improve the lives of their peers, older members of the community and to be honest the whole borough. Seeing them thrive is fantastic and supporting them when they are in need is incredibly important. Being able to meet young people and listen to their ideas is a privilege that I am lucky to have in my role and one that makes the job all the more rewarding.

Membership of committees and boards like the Health and Wellbeing Board, The Children’s Partnership Board and Chairing the Oral Health Strategy Group gives me the chance to represent residents and their needs, aspirations and priorities; so opportunities to engage with residents are vital; luckily I have many more now that we are able mix more freely. It is amazing to see that Blackburn with Darwen has gone from being the authority with the highest case rates of Covid to now being one with the very lowest. Two years into the pandemic, I would say that this is something we should all be proud of. My proudest achievements will always be my two sons, but I am also extremely proud to work alongside some of the most caring and professional people at the council.

Have a read...

Jan Larkin - CEO Nightsafe

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I’m so proud to be the CEO at Nightsafe particularly when I think about my first job. At the age of 19 I inherited a Fish’n’Chip Shop in North Wales and have to be honest they were the worst 3 years of my life ! I very much feel that I went from the worst job in the World to the best job in the World. Having left school at 17, I started on what was the old YTS Scheme unsure about what I wanted to, this always makes me smile as I spent the early part of my career as a Careers Adviser following my degree in Sociology in Leeds and studying for the Diploma in Careers Guidance in Huddersfield advising young people on their options and choices. I think this is where I became passionate about helping young people. I recall very early on in my career working with a young person who was homeless and thinking they need a roof over their head before they can make any decisions. Since this time I have been driven in working to make the lives of young people better.

Nightsafe has given me so much, each day brings its own challenges but it’s nice to end that day safe in the knowledge that we have made a difference and that we continue to support young people who are homeless between the age of 16 and 25th

Birthday, providing somewhere to go , somewhere to stay and someone to talk to.

Putting our staff into the spotlight!

Lynette Hatton - Refuge Supervisor at The Wish Centre

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International Women’s Day for me is a day to show women united and that women are a strong force and have a voice for change.

I have worked in my role for The Wish centre for 6 years and previously 4 years in the same role within another organisation. I originally got into this sector supporting survivors of domestic abuse after a placement for my social work degree. Having learned so much through my placement and seeing the difference made even if only a small one, I found I could not leave something I became passionate about and felt I made the greatest difference.

My role covers both refuges, and I am responsible for ensuring women or families are secure and safe whilst they are with us and beyond. Predominantly my role has changed over the years with the ever-increasing needs of service users and the involvement from professionals across the board. Managing risk and needs is the focus and supporting women and families to be empowered for the future and live free from abuse. My role also encompasses attending meetings for families who are seen to be at significant risk and part of their time with us is enabling changes in conjunction with social services interventions and work completed by ourselves and other agencies. This is something I find positive to see how changes are made and ultimately women and children remain safe and can start to rebuild their new lives. I feel being an organised person has assisted me immensely in my role as everyday there is something different which keeps the role alive but also allows for consistency in the most challenging times. The service users we meet and share our time with hopefully leave refuge feeling more supported and equipped to move on with their lives.

I am a person who loves a challenge and doing things outside of my comfort zone. I am one of the people who always step up and finds myself saying ‘I will do it’ even before I really know anything about what is being asked! Working for The Wish Centre has enabled me to grow as a person and provides a good work/ life balance in an area I am passionate about and continue to work in a sector that ultimately saves lives.

Last but not least...

Robyn Ashfield - Senior Children and Young People's Practitioner

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A 'typical' day for me varies - some days I am seeing clients, young people, parents and/or families and delivering the RYPP programme, some days involve meetings with the C&YP team, with local authorities, and/or promoting our programmes to in plenty of different areas, some days are spent on my laptop: dealing with queries, supporting the C&YP team, organising referrals, waitlists and allocations. Most days are a mix of everything! The families we work with on the RYPP Programme are in a situation where the child/young person is violent and/or harmful towards their parent/carer. Many families have gone through significant trauma (and still going through or dealing with the effects of). I find the resilience of parents/carer and of the young people incredibly inspiring.

I completed my BSc in Psychology and MSc in Forensic Psychology. I was fortunate enough to start with the WISH Centre as a volunteer in September 2018 as I was starting my final year of my psychology degree (BSc), I thoroughly enjoyed supporting staff especially Julie and Alison with both AIM and C&YP programmes respectfully, supporting clients, and helping out at refuge e.g. playing with the children who were too young for school or hadn't been given a school place yet. My favourite thing about volunteering was seeing the journey our service users took and building the trust and having a 'professional friendship' with our service users. When the opportunity came to become an employee in January 2021, I knew I wanted to continue my journey with the WISH Centre and to help support many more incredible young people, adults, and families.

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