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All-female lifeboat crew and sports instructor who beat a brain tumour honoured

A woman from the Wirral who overcame a life-changing brain tumour diagnosis has won this year’s Cheshire Woman of the Year award.

Mel Kelly, 23, who has been described as a ‘young visionary’, has gone on to inspire other young people in a similar situation.

Over a hundred women gathered at Chester Racecourse for the award, celebrating the professional achievement, community service and personal courage of women across the Cheshire and Wirral.

Six women from the RNLI West Kirby Lifeboat Station also won a Team Award as the first all-female lifeboat crew in the RNLI’s 200-year history.

Funds raised from this year’s event will go directly to the NSPCC and Childline to support children and families in Cheshire and Wirral.

Lady Redmond MBE, Lord Lieutenant for Cheshire was the guest of honour and met many of the nominees at the reception.  

This year’s overall winner Mel Kelly, went to Bebington High School where she excelled in sport, gaining a black belt in karate.

She went on to become a water sports instructor in the South of France and became a teaching assistant at Bidston Avenue Primary School, specialising in sport when she returned to the UK.

In October 2021 Mel joined Full of Beans, a programme that takes sport into schools, and was settling into her role as a sports coach when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour aged 22.

Following immediate brain surgery, she was in a wheelchair and had to relearn all the basics of looking after herself, which was extremely challenging physically and mentally for someone whose passion in life was sport and activity.

Mel has set up a company called Motivating Minds to share information with young patients about what to expect following diagnosis.  

She is an ambassador for The Brain Tumour Charity, and has abseiled down Liverpool Cathedral and taken on the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge to raise awareness.

Mel said:

“I am lost for words - it is an honour to receive this award, thank you. After being diagnosed with a brain tumour at 22, it really makes you appreciate life and cherish the people around you that make life worthwhile. That is why I started my company Motivating Minds, to help young people realise that you can face any obstacle in life with courage and turn adversity into strength.

“This award isn’t just for me; I would like to dedicate it to the brain tumour community - I hope this raises awareness for the cause as a cure cannot wait.”

A new Team Award went to six members of the RNLI in West Kirby; the first all-female boat crew in the 200-year history of the RNLI. 

Only four of the crew could be at Chester Racecourse - Lindsay Gatenby, Clare Hockly, Clare Rogers and Eils Thomas, a presentation at the West Kirby Lifeboat Station is planned when the other crew members, Rachael Harty and Ella Marston, can be there for the presentation of their award.  

Clare Rogers said:

“Everyone at West Kirby Lifeboat is thrilled with our Team award for Cheshire Women of the Year.

“The award means so much to us, we are just ordinary women, doing extraordinary things, we love what we do and are passionate about our charity, our community and our volunteering family.

“We are truly humbled to be recognised and honoured with this award, and grateful to the Cheshire Woman of the Year Committee for shining a spotlight on our lifesaving work.

“The award will have pride of place at the station, and we hope it will inspire other women to take a leap and get involved.”

A Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Sue Higginson OBE DL for her services to further education. Natalie Reeves Billing DL was given a Champion of Childhood Literacy award for her work promoting children's literacy with her Builder Book project, working with children and families in some of the most deprived areas of Liverpool.  

Cheshire Woman of the Year organiser, Sylvia Cheater MBE, said:

“To have so many women together in one room, celebrating the extraordinary achievements of women who are, in many cases, unsung heroines was very special. 

“The atmosphere was amazing and it was a joy and privilege to be part of this wonderful event again. 

“I have been involved for more than thirty years and this has been one of the best.  There was an emotional moment when last year’s winner Ije McDougall, who set up a charity called The Kairos Initiative to support victims of insurgency in Northern Nigeria, presented the award to Mel.

“Nominees and guests had a wonderful day and many contact details were exchanged - women get things done in their communities connecting with others across the county.   And, most importantly, we will have raised several thousand pounds for the work for the NSPCC and Childline in Cheshire and Wirral.”

Organisers are currently looking for sponsors for next year’s event.

To find out more, including how to nominate someone for the 2025 award, go to: 

www.cheshirewomanaward.org.uk 

...or email: 

info@cheshirewomanaward.org.uk

To find out how you can support the NSPCC, through fundraising, volunteering, donating or by sharing out messages, go to: 

www.nspcc.org.uk/support-us

Pictured - Mel Kelly receiving her award.

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