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Public Health and the St Helens Star are currently running the We Can Women's Wellbeing Campaign, sharing local women's inspirational stories and how they've overcome challenges in their lives. Read the full stories below:
66 year-old Mary Ellison is a brave woman. She was involved in a terrible road traffic collision and was injured horribly, but despite this, Mary has gone on to recover and maintain an active lifestyle. Her story is one of many we’ll be sharing about inspirational women and girls in St Helens as part of the We Can women’s wellbeing campaign.
Born in Thatto Heath, Mary’s life is a familiar one to many of her generation in St Helens. Her father worked the coal mines and she left school at 15 to work at Pilkington. Mary married husband Denis at 20, and served with the police for 30 years.
Later in life, Mary decided she had to do something about her weight. “I went to Weight Watchers and took up cycling,” Mary said. “Denis and I were part of the Birkenhead North End Cycling Club and we’d meet up at least twice a week at a café in Chester and do 50-60 miles a day!”
Mary and Denis were on top of the world with a new grandchild to celebrate, but their lives changed in the blink of an eye. “In 2009 Denis and I were cycling when we were hit by a 7 ½ tonne lorry. They thought it would be fatal.”
The couple suffered horrible injuries and spent months recovering, but have since regained their independence.
“I believe my faith and a lot of laughter got me through it. There’s a lot of things I wanted to do with my granddaughter that I can’t do now but I don’t dwell on those, every day is a blessing.
“Being active takes my mind off it. I love being out in my garden and I’ve got a good social life. I go to the gym and to falls prevention classes with the council’s Healthy Living Team. Ultimately, we’re a family that just tries to get on with things!”
Local poet Lynn Gerrard – aka the Grumbling Gargoyle – is a well-known St Helens figure, notorious for her sharp wit and dark humour, but behind the moniker Lynn has struggled with some serious and deep-rooted mental health problems.
Anxiety, depression, panic attacks and OCD leave her reluctant to go anywhere, but despite this Lynn has forged a career out of expression and performance. Her story is one of many we’ll be sharing about inspirational women and girls in St Helens as part of the We Can women’s wellbeing campaign.
Lynn’s creative new life began in Central Library with the Stand Up to Stigma project, which encouraged participants to create and perform comedy routines to improve their mental health. It paid off in a big way.
With this boost of confidence, and stalwart support from partner Michael, family and friends at the library, Lynn started to publish micro-poems on social media, which soon caught the attention of a publisher. Lynn’s sardonic voice was suddenly able to reach many more people. She’s gone on to publish two successful poetry collections, has performed countless gigs and is in the process of penning a play around mental health issues.
While this freedom of expression has helped, Lynn’s own mental health is an ongoing battle, she says: “Being 'out there' frightens me for a number of reasons so, rather than decline into a vegetative state I write and recite, but it's far from easy for me to do so.
“The terrors are always with me and I really struggle to keep myself together but I do my best by applying the mask I've worn for years and by using humour as my crutch.”
Ultimately, the Grumbling Gargoyle is driven by an artist’s desire to “communicate with others, to share and perhaps reach out to similar like-minded souls. But I'm also inspired by the want to better manage my mental health.”
Local woman, Joanne Griffiths has been volunteering for nearly 40 years despite suffering serious illness, and was recently awarded an MBE for outstanding service to the community. Her story is one of many we’ll be sharing about inspirational women and girls in St Helens as part of the We Can women’s wellbeing campaign.
Joanne (50) grew up near Beecham’s in the town centre. From an early age, Joanne was whole-heartedly engaged in the community; joining her local Brownies and Guides troupes and the local church choir. This was her first volunteering experience, and it shaped the person she would become.
“The volunteers at the church inspired me to become one,” Joanne said. “If there was a job to be done they just did it!” She continues to volunteer with local charities and youth services.
Joanne has also been a voluntary Girlguiding leader for 29 years. She believes Girlguiding to be an excellent programme for girls’ development.
In 2011 Joanne started noticing dizziness and breathlessness and after tests, underwent a major operation on her heart. Though the operation went well, the symptoms came back more severely and doctors discovered she had contracted a heart infection. Her husband was told she might not survive. But Joanne underwent another major procedure, which happily got to the root of the problem.
“My time wasn’t up yet! I’ve had to adapt my life and I’m more limited now but I’ve not let the illness take over. My faith has got me through it and you’ve just got to keep going no matter what adversity comes before you.
“When I heard that I was getting an MBE I was completely shocked! I volunteer because it’s good for me as a person to help others but to also help myself develop. For anyone thinking of becoming a volunteer I would say to definitely give it a go, it doesn’t matter how much time you give, it benefits both you and others.”
PICTURE: Jenny (front right holding the Challenge Cup) with the Thatto Heath Ladies Rugby First Team
Jenny Welsby has led Thatto Heath Crusaders ARLFC team to victory locally and on the international stage, and encourages more women to get into sport. Her story is one of many we’ll be sharing about inspirational women and girls in St Helens as part of the We Can women’s wellbeing campaign.
Jenny and the women of the Thatto Heath Crusaders club are demonstrating what can be achieved by women in sport, when locally only 16.9 per cent of women take part in adequate weekly activity, lower than the regional and national averages.
Growing up in Rainhill, she was first introduced to rugby through her dad, who would take her brother to watch Saints, before Jenny asked to go too. For her, rugby wasn’t a ‘boy’s game’ – showing a competitive streak, Jenny would want to do whatever her older brother did.
She started playing rugby around the age of 6 for Thatto Heath – then called St Helens Crusaders – on the under 12s mixed team, and has been involved in rugby league since.
Last year, as captain Jenny led the team to victory against French cup-holders Biganos XII to be crowned European Champions. The Crusaders also have four Women’s Rugby League Grand Final victories to their name, most recently with a 36-8 win against Bradford Bulls, in what was an unbeaten season for the local team.
“My next goal is to go to the World Cup with England in November 2017. I started playing for England when I was 19. It’s really special to play for them and means a lot to put on the England shirt.
“Ladies’ rugby league is getting better at raising its profile but it’s still a bit behind other sports like football, rugby union and cricket. I’d say to any girls or ladies that want to play rugby to just try it. You get health and social benefits and it’s really good for your mental wellbeing too.
“In terms of encouraging women and girls to be interested in sport and exercise, it needs to be enjoyable and something they want to do rather than something they feel they have to do. Doing exercise with friends or family can make it more enjoyable – find something you enjoy whether that’s dancing, rugby league or anything in between.
Despite only forming in 2013 the team has certainly come a long way in a short space of time, and more young women and girls are taking an interest in the sport.
Jenny added: “I am extremely proud to captain such a great group of girls and to have lifted so many trophies with them. It’s an exciting time to see so many young players coming through and the future is definitely bright for the team.”
If you’re interested in joining Thatto Heath Ladies’ or Girls’ sides email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.