Champions all! The winners of our first ever Wearside Women in Business competition are revealed

They are the champions! And what a wonderful line-up of entrepreneurial elite they are.

Saturday, 28th September 2019, 4:19 pm

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Here are the winners of the first ever Wearside Women In Business competition and they range from an outstanding apprentice to someone who has led the way in industry for more than two decades.

It was a finale to remember at the Ramside Hall Hotel in Durham and there were many highlights.

There were standing ovations and inspirational stories galore.

The line-up of winners in the Wearside Women In Business Awards.

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And there were trophies for 13 of the area’s finest women in business.

They included;

l Jacqueline Emmerson who launched a town centre solicitors firm more than 21 years ago and has helped it to grow into a flourishing firm which is outstanding in its support for charities and Forces veterans. Jacqueline won the Lifetime Achievement Award.

l Sharon Lashley who, as well as running two of her own businesses, is spearheading the fight to promote a greener Wearside through initiatives such as a rewilding hub at Maiden Law and a Pollinator Park in Sunderland. Sharon is the first ever winner of the Environmental Special Recognition Award.

Fiona Simpson from Artventurers proudly holds her trophy after being announced as the Business Woman of the Year, in the category sponsored by Gentoo.

l Kirsten Lapping who runs the Crystal Moon Emporium, backs numerous charities, encourages skill swaps with other firms and does it all despite facing a daily fight with ME and fibromyalgia which leaves her in crippling pain and suffering from severe fatigue. Kirsten won the Judges’ Choice Award.

l And Michelle Meldrum who is an integral part of Gentoo, and goes so much further than just being a leader.

She champions a number of key agendas in Sunderland including housing and child safety, pouring her time, enthusiasm and energy into projects and inspiring others to do the same. She won the Special Recognition Award.

They were four in a whole host of winners.

Jacqueline Emmerson who won the Lifetime Achievement Award. She is pictured receiving the trophy from Julie Barnes, managing director of the category sponsor TCL At Home.

Female Apprentice of the Year was Amy Kelsey from Gentoo who has developed her professional skills and knowledge massively since joining in 2017.

The Start-Up Business of the Year is Breakfree Counselling – run by former Sunderland University pals Tracy Woodhouse and Helen Lumley – who first came up with Breakfree when they were asked to create a fictitious company as part of their uni course.

One year on, it is a hugely successful reality and offers professional therapies for all your needs.

Club Zest, which is a thriving gym with more than 900 women members, was highly commended.

Michelle Meldrum won the Special Recognition Award and received her trophy from Joy Yates, Editorial Director of the Shields Gazette.

Fiona Simpson’s Artventurers is a way for children to enjoy creative play and was formed in 2011. Now, its a UK-wide business with 30 franchise branches – and Fiona is the winner of the Women In Business Award.

Natasha McDonough, who started marketing agency MMC 3 years ago and has grown the business to 5 employees, was highly commended in the same category.

The winners just kept on coming and another was Louise Riddell of Fausto. The seafront coffee shop was praised by judges for offering a wide range of groups such as a bathing club, cycling club, running club, and Spanish, French and Italian clubs. Louise took the trophy for the Contribution to the Community category.

Christina Armstrong and Fiona Waistell started Geo Journey in 2017 to educate children from 4 to 10. And what a journey it is. Children can start off with an adventure kit to Travel the Globe or Blast into Space. Their business won them the Women In Education Award.

Mentor of the Year is Denise Hepplewhite from Apextra which helps individuals, schools and families to deliver creative learning opportunities.The nomination for her came from an extremely grateful client who was struggling with agoraphobia, anxiety and depression. But their life changed forever when they met Denise who helped them develop in huge ways.

And the Inspirational Woman of the Year was Janette Husband – a 'superwoman' who has motivated staff and kept her head held up high in the face of personal tragedy and despite her own health struggles.

The line-up of sponsors for the Wearside Women In Business competition.

We will have much more from the awards in further coverage over the coming days, including a supplement packed with photos and more news next week.

In the meantime, our thanks go to all our sponsors and they include Sunderland BIC, Gentoo, Club Zest, TCL At Home, MBC Arts Wellbeing, UK Fostering North East, Durham County Council, The Bridges, Learning Curve and Northern.


Start-up Business of the Year (sponsored by Sunderland BIC) – Winner, Breakfree Counselling; Highly commended, Club Zest.

Women In Business (sponsored by Gentoo) – Winner, Fiona Simpson; Highly commended, Natasha McDonough.

Female Apprentice of the Year – Winner, Amy Kelsey.

Contribution To The Community (sponsored by MBC Arts Wellbeing) – Winner, Louise Riddell.

Women In Education (sponsored by Durham County Council) – Winner, Christina Armstrong and Fiona Waistell.

Mentor of the Year (sponsored by The Bridges) – Winner, Denise Hepplewhite.

Inspirational Woman of the Year (sponsored by Learning Curve) – Winner, Janette Husband.

Judges’ Choice Award (sponsored by UK Fostering North East) – Winner, Kirsten Lapping.

Environmental Special Recognition (sponsored by Northern Rail) – Winner, Sharon Lashley.

Special Recognition Award (sponsored by Sunderland Echo) – Winner, Michelle Meldrum.

Lifetime Achievement Award (sponsored by TCL At Home) – Winner, Jacqueline Emmerson.