Running the Extra Mile: A Student Doctor’s Journey to Becoming the Face of Modern Medicine

Modern medicine is currently in crisis. The NHS is facing cuts and privatisation, and student doctors are staging a mass revolt against unfair and unsafe working conditions. Catherine Richards is a Medicine student at Cardiff University who is currently taking a year out between her third and fourth year of her studies to intercalate in a Medical Education BSc course. This week, The Female Files will focus on the other side of the stethoscope and will highlight one student doctor and her journey to becoming the face of modern medicine.

Being a sociable, smart and caring person, Catherine decided that Medicine was her chosen career path. She is still deciding on what speciality to follow, but is leaning towards General Practice due to its varied nature and the opportunity to get to know patients and their families. What she does know for certain, is that she does not want to pursue a surgical career. Anyone familiar with the tantrums and turmoil which ensue on Grey’s Anatomy, would not blame her!

Catherine is no stranger to sleepless nights and has mastered the art of creating the perfect cup of tea in the process. She is a skilled time-manager and balances a thoughtful nature with a take-no-prisoners attitude. These traits have proved invaluable when campaigning for the Anthony Nolan charity.

Anthony Nolan is a bone marrow charity, and is a cause which Catherine has championed since a family member was taken ill with a blood disorder, and was in need of a bone marrow donation. When family members were found not to be a match, Anthony Nolan provided support, advice and a greater opportunity of finding a match. She says: “If people are unable to get a transplant from a family member, the only chance of a cure is often via a transplant from an unrelated donor.”

Since this experience, Catherine has become a member of Cardiff University’s Marrow society. She attends many events and encourages students to get involved with the charity. She also volunteers at the Marrow stall during the freshers’ fayre during Blood Cancer Awareness Month. These efforts are invaluable, given that one in five bone marrow donors are recruited at universities.

For the last two years, Catherine has been on the society’s committee and is currently the volunteer coordinator. She arranges cake stalls, raffles, and makes sure that all volunteers are aware of upcoming events and are trained appropriately. “Apart from the amazing work of the charity, I’ve had so much fun over the years volunteering for them and have made many new friends,” she enthuses. This year however, she is literally going the extra mile for the charity, by taking part in the World Half Marathon  on the 26th of March 2016.

If you would like to support Catherine and Anthony Nolan, please visit the JustGiving page.

Volunteering in Cardiff: 4 Easy Ways You Can Make a Difference

Women who make a difference in their communities have been spotlighted on this blog so far. Today’s post however, is not going to highlight the achievements of one woman, but is hopefully going to provide inspiration for many more women to volunteer in their communities. There are so many ways you can help, and the smallest amount of time and effort can really go a long way. Here are some ideas of where you can volunteer your time in Cardiff:


Huggard is a homeless charity in Cardiff, which aims to tackle homelessness in the city and provides a host of opportunities for the people who use its facilities. The centre is open every day of the year and offers a 20 bed hostel and 14 shared houses for people living rough in the capital city. In addition to providing a safe and warm place to sleep, the charity also provides clothes, washing areas, hot meals, medical care, personal development opportunities and support services. These facilities are provided in the hope of facilitating a smooth transition for service users to move from the streets back into wider society. The centre has been helping the homeless for over 20 years, but the services it provides does not meet the growing demand for services needed to help some of society’s most vulnerable people. You can help by grabbing a bargain on Huggard’s eBay site, or popping into Café H for a coffee. Money made from these projects goes towards helping fund the Huggard charity. If being more hands on appeals to you, you can also volunteer at Huggard’s soup kitchen or offer your skills and time to teach marginalised people new and useful skills.

New Theatre

The New Theatre in the heart of Cardiff keeps Wales on the culture map and plays host to numerous shows and plays throughout the year. Due to government cuts to the arts in Wales however, this venue is in need of a bit of TLC from the public. In 2014, the £800,000 a year subsidy it normally receives from Cardiff council was scrapped. A few extra pairs of jazz hands are required to make sure the theatre remains a hub for the performing arts in the future. You can help out by becoming a volunteer, where you will be trained in customer service, and might even get to meet a few famous faces. Those taking part in the volunteer scheme will be asked to commit to volunteering for six months, taking on 3-5 shifts a month. Volunteers will have exclusive access to staff special offers and will get to immerse themselves in the world of show business. With an ensamble cast, Cardiff’s volunteers can show that in spite of austerity measures, Cardiff’s cultural scene’s sparkle will not fade and that the show will go on.

Give Blood

There can be nothing more rewarding than giving someone the gift of health. By giving blood, you can help save the lives of up to three people. NHS Give Blood collects more than 1,700,000 blood donations each year, but more blood is needed, especially for patients with rare blood types. The O blood group is the most common blood type in the UK, with 48% of British people belonging to this group. Yet, in England, less than 3% of people between the ages of 17-70 have donated blood in the last year. During the 2015 Rugby World Cup, the English rugby team campaigned to get supporters to back England in the way that would really make a difference – by giving blood. The BleedforEngland campaign succeeded in getting over 100,000 new volunteers to donate blood between England’s first warm-up game and the end of the tournament. You could fire up the old rivalry, and rub more vinegar in the wound of English rugby fans. You could help by adding to the humiliation of being knocked out of their own World Cup by donating the proportional amount of blood here in Wales. By donating blood you’ll help save lives, be given a lovely choice of squash and biscuits and will be defeating our sporting enemy. It’s time to kick off the competition. Find out where you can donate, here.

Help Refugees

We’ve all been shocked and saddened by the current refugee crisis. Many of us have sat at home watching the 6 o‘ clock news feeling completely helpless watching the hundreds of thousands of desperate people travelling to Europe in search of safety. There are ways you can help right here in Cardiff. The capital city is home to many refugee charities. Oasis Cardiff is a friendly and vibrant organisation helping refugees integrate with British life. The great thing about volunteering with an organisation like this, is that you can choose what you bring to the table. If you’re a computer genius, a scrapbooking pro, a great tennis player or can cook up a storm in the kitchen, your skills and expertise will be greatly appreciated by the organisation and the refugees it helps. You can rest assured that your little act of kindness will go a long way in bringing a little light into the lives of people who have witnessed such darkness.

Where will you be volunteering?

Swapping Combat for the Catwalk: Army Tank Driver in Bid for Miss Wales

Fighting and femininity don’t normally go together. Yet, Victoria Grinall is a royal engineer and is competing for the Miss Wales crown in 2016. The 21 year old tank driver in the 26 Engineer Regiment is entering the competition with the full backing of her commanding officer. The men in her regiment, who Victoria describes as her brothers are also supporting her transition from combat to catwalk.

Victoria, from Newport, is breaking down the stereotypes surrounding women in the armed forces and explains that despite being no stranger to the masculine world of warfare, she is just as feminine as any civilian woman. She says that femininity and socialising are key components of her personality and that fashion, make-up and having her hair done are things which she enjoys. In her free time she also watches rugby, catches up on I’m a Celeb and practices yoga.

From a young age, Victoria aspired to join the armed forces in order to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather, who served in the Royal Artillery. She now drives 40 tonne tanks for a living. Her next goal is to prepare for the realm of pageantry.

Juggling the worlds of the armed forces and fashion must be a challenge, especially as Victoria is soon to be deployed to Poland and Kenya. Yet, as part of her job she is required to remain physically fit. She might even catch a suntan from the African sunshine, which should put her in good stead for when she will compete against 49 women in the Miss Wales competition  in April. If she is successful, she will go on to represent Wales in the Miss World beauty pageant in Indonesia.

Whatever the outcome of her Miss Wales bid, Victoria is proving that 21st century women can achieve the goals they aspire to and that girls can be action women and feminine at the same time!

Will you be supporting Victoria in her bid to be crowned Miss Wales?

Poll Maker


The Magic of Mindfulness: Q & A with Millie Marotta

Mindfulness is becoming more and more popular in the modern world. Most of us are guilty of being constantly connected to our mobile phones, iPads or tablets. Sometimes it is easy to forget where the off button is. Mindfulness has greatly helped people recharge their batteries. It is a fast-growing trend, which unlike many other crazes,  we can all get behind and positively benefit from.

Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing on the present moment and acknowledging and accepting emotions, thoughts and feelings we might be experiencing. Becoming more aware of the present moment means noticing smells, sounds, sights and tastes. Practicing mindfulness can help improve mental wellbeing and can give back  control to people who feel that they have lost it due to outside factors. Studies show that mindfulness can positively change the way people feel about themselves and the world around them.

animal kingdom

One woman who has quite literally taken mindfulness into her own hands, is Millie Marotta. If her name doesn’t quite ring a bell, you are sure to have seen her work during your Christmas shopping sprees. Millie is the illustrator behind the Animal Kingdom colouring book for adults, which has topped Amazon‘s book charts and remained within the top 100 for 100 days. Her work has not only provided her with a form of relaxation and escapism, but has built a creative world within which people can immerse themselves and reconnect with what’s important.

Millie has always been interested in the outdoors, wildlife  and nature, having grown up in Tenby, West Wales. She went on to pursue her passion by studying wildlife illustration as part of her Illustration BA. Millie then took a different path by becoming an art teacher at Pembroke Comprehensive School.

After five years at the school, Millie decided to take the plunge and pursue a career as a freelance illustrator. She worked on numerous projects before being approached in 2013 by her now publisher to create a colouring book.

Eight months later, the book full of intricate  black line drawings of a range of animals was completed. Animal Kingdom has proved to have a global charm. Over 500,000 copies of the book have been sold, with interest in Millie’s illustrations growing worldwide.

The Female Files finds out about the woman behind the pencil:

1) What academic background or experiences do you have with the world of art?

I studied art all the way through school and went on to study wildlife illustration at university. I didn’t really leave university feeling particularly well equipped for life in the commercial illustration world, so took a slightly different path for a few years and trained as a teacher. I went on to spend five years working in the art department at a local secondary school. It wasn’t until that point that I felt ready to brave the world and try my hand at earning a living as a freelance illustrator.

2) Where do you find inspiration for your drawings?

That’s a really easy one…nature! Since as far back as I can remember, even at a very young age, I had this inherent fascination with the natural world and that’s something that has never left me. With such a rich and vibrant theme for my work, I never really have to think too much about where ideas are going to come from.

3) Your illustration books help people relax. How do you unwind?
Before I gave up teaching I used to paint quite a lot. Since working for myself though, I find that I actually have less free time on my hands and work keeps me very busy. Although I have to say that work doesn’t really feel like work for me; I’m one of those very lucky people who get to do something they love for a living. I find any kind of creative activity very calming, so even when I’m working, I do actually find that quite a relaxing process.
4) What benefits do you think there are to taking time to draw and be creative?
Lots. I think it’s important for us as we grow up to remember to allow ourselves the time for creative activities. They can encourage us to be expressive and allow us the time to focus, relax and just be in the moment, whatever the activity. They can also be great in providing us with a sense of satisfaction or achievement as we see an end product or an outcome for our efforts.
5) Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
I have my third book, Wild Savannah coming out in February, which I’m very excited about, and am currently working on my fourth book, so times are very busy. I also have a couple of other very exciting projects in the pipeline but I’m afraid I can’t say too much about those at this stage!
To find out more about Millie’s work, head over to her website, here.

Four of the Most Influential Welsh Female Achievements of 2015

As 2016 marks the beginning of a new year, and an opportunity to make personal positive changes, improvements within the community and global progress, here’s a look back at what contributions Welsh women have made in the last year.

Jess Evans – Organ Donation

After the passing of their baby boy on April 22nd 2014, Jess Evans and Mike Houltson made the selfless decision to donate the organs of their son, Teddy. Living for only 100 minutes, Teddy left an indelible mark on many, by saving the lives of desperately ill people across the UK. He became the world’s youngest organ donor when his kidneys were used to treat a patient in Leeds, whilst his heart valves were also used to help others. Jess and Mike were made aware that Teddy suffered from anencephaly, a fatal condition at their 12 week scan, but continued with the pregnancy in order to spend what precious little time they could with their son. Teddy’s remarkable story was revealed earlier this year, leading to a staggering 378% increase in the number of people signing the Organ Donation Register. That’s an approximated increase of 100,000 organ donors in the UK alone.Teddy’s remarkable story was shared on social media, leading to the #TeddysStory hashtag having a marked impact on the public. According to a survey conducted by NHS Blood and Transplant, an approximated 12 million Brits are now aware of this special little boy and his legacy, with 47% now considering organ donation. This response will help the 6,912 adults and 193 children in the UK who are currently waiting for organ donations. On the 1st of October 2015, Jess and Mike were honoured with a Pride of Britain special recognition gong for their altruistic decision to allow their child to change the face of medicine and save countless lives in the UK and abroad. 

Lesley  Griffiths – Legal Protection for Welsh Women

In April, 2015, the Welsh Government passed the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 which aims to improve public sector response to violence against women. Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Local Government and Government Business introduced the bill with the intention of providing more preventative and protective measures to safeguard against abuse and exploitation of women. A ministerial adviser has also been appointed in order to oversee the effectiveness of the act at administrative level. The bill aims to encourage Welsh Ministers, County and Borough Councils and local health boards to work together in order to prepare strategies to best protect vulnerable women in society.

Reverend Jan Gould – Change of Attitudes within the Church

Gay marriage has been legal in the UK since 2014, but in September 2015 the Church in Wales made the shocking announcement of its support for same-sex marriages in Welsh churches. A secret ballot held by The Church in Wales Governing Body voted 61% in favour of reform. Despite these findings, the votes in favour were too narrow to constitute a formal bill to be drafted. A two thirds majority of each of the three houses is needed in order to effect any changes to the law. 34 members of the church governing body attended a meeting in Lampeter  to discuss the issue for over three hours. The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan explained that the discussion was respectful, but tensions arose between some members. Despite some opposition, traditional attitudes towards marriage are changing in Welsh society and within the church. Christian doctrine and gay rights have consolidated their views over time. Reverend Jan Gould, vicar of Church of the Resurrection in Ely Cardiff explained how she has been positively influenced by the devotion and love she has witnessed between same sex couples and is sad that they are denied marriage within the church. Although allowing homosexual couples the right to marry within the church on the same terms as heterosexual couples is not yet a reality in Wales, this positive discussion has spotlighted progressive views in Wales which could help encourage a greater doctrine of tolerance in Wales and abroad.

Catrin Edwards + Laurie Harries – Six Nations Success

The age old rivalry comes to a head between Wales and England at Twickenham or the Millennium Stadium each year during the Six Nations rugby campaign. Testosterone levels rocket and fans scream and roar for the boys in red. But for the Wales’ senior level rugby boys, their 2015 Six Nations clash did not have the fairytale ending it was looking for. Welsh supporters were left disappointed and defeated. That’s where Wales’ women’s team came in to set Welsh patriotism alight. The Welsh ladies team conquered the English world champion side in an impressive 13-0 win at St Helens rugby ground in Swansea. Scarlets’ tight-head prop Catrin Edwards scored Wales’ first try, with Laurie Harries’ boot keeping the score board in Wales’ favour. Following Wales’ sizeable win over England, Wales coach, Rhys Edwards commended his team’s performance and defense, going as far as calling it one of the best Welsh performances he had witnessed. This Welsh team defeated English world champions on home turf. This was only their second ever victory over an English side, making the taste of victory a little sweeter. This Welsh win by a formidable Welsh female pack kept Welsh passion and belief in its rugby teams alive. Wales’ senior men’s team was forced to raise their game and knocked England out of their own Rugby World Cup. Welsh rugby has never been in such great shape thanks to a little bit of female force.

Who has inspired you this last year?

Women and Power in Wales

We all know Beyoncé’s pop anthem, Who Run the World (Girls), but despite Queen Bey‘s empowering message, it is unfortunately far from the truth. In Wales, universal gender equality is still a long way away.

In 1910, the International Conference of Working Women voted on a proposal to create an International Women’s Day. The aim was to encourage an annual global celebration which would credit women in society and help them hold public office. In 1911, the first International Woman’s Day was held. This was the beginning of recognising the gender imbalance globally and helped tip the balance of power towards women.

In Wales, more than 100 years on, Welsh women are still not holding equal power to men. In 2003, Wales became a world-leader in gender equality when the National Assembly for Wales appointed a perfect balance of 30 men and 30 women to the assembly. But since then, the balance of power has shifted back into male hands. In several sectors across Wales, there are now fewer women at the top than in 2004. There are fewer female assembly members, fewer council leaders and fewer females on the board of Welsh Government sponsored bodies than a decade ago.

The Presiding Officer , Dame Rosemary Butler AM has made this her top priority. Ann Beynon, Commissioner for Wales and Kate Bennett, National Director for Wales have set themselves the ambitious task of ensuring a 50/50 gender split in senior positions by 2020.

There are no shortages of capable women vying for prominent positions, yet old-fashioned values and recruitment strategies dampen the chances of many. Therefore, in many instances women do not reach their full potential and are often barred from reaching the top of the career ladder.

In the police, 28% of its workforce are now female, which is an 11% increase since 2014. Despite this positive move, Wales currently does not have a single female Chief Constable, following the retirement of Barbra Wilding in 2009.

A similar pattern emerges within the NHS. 77% of NHS staff are women, yet only 10% of Local Health Boards and Trusts have a woman in charge. It seems that despite an overwhelming majority of women ensuring that the cogs of the system continue to turn, a glass ceiling often prevents them from reaching the top.

Positive changes are slowly being made, however. The number of female heads of secondary schools has almost doubled since 2004. The first female Vice Chancellor was appointed in Wales in 2011. Julie Lydon now leads the UK’s sixth largest higher education institution.

Gender equality needs to become a reality rather than a policy aim. Inspirational women such as  Dame Rosemary Butler, Ann Beynon, Kate Bennett, Barbra Wilding, Julie Lydon and Beyoncé have all made significant contributions to gender equality and female empowerment. Unfortunately, these women are currently swimming against the tide. As 2015 draws to a close,  we must ensure that 2016 is the year that women break the cycle of inequality. Women can rule the world, but more needs to be done to ensure they do.

Take a look at the balance of power across Wales in the infographic below:

Untitled Report (Conflict Copy) 4.png

A Welsh Suffragette: A Tale of Fearlessness, Lawbreaking, Lawmaking and the Fight for Female Equality

Women in Wales have  made it into history books for centuries. This woman however, not only went down in history, but helped shape its course for women across Great Britain.

lady rhondda pic

In the wake of suffragette martyr, Emily Davison’s death at Epsom racecourse in 1913, the fight for female enfranchisement in Wales was only just beginning. Welsh women had exhausted every avenue to gain the vote legally. But when the law refused to work with Welsh women, Welsh women refused to work within the law.

On Risca Road, Newport, Margaret Mackworth– later Viscountess Rhondda (1883-1958)- walked the familiar streets of her hometown, approached a postbox and tried to blow it up with a homemade chemical bomb. Margaret was a Welsh suffragette, and had now committed a crime for the cause.

Margaret came from a powerful and liberal family in Newport. She debated social and political issues with her father, with the intention of Margaret becoming trained as a businesswoman in her own right. Her mother was equally as liberal and was a member of the Central National Society for Women’s Suffrage. In her 1933 autobiography, This was my World, Margaret recalled how her mother “prayed passionately that her baby daughter might become a feminist.”

In 1908, her mother’s wish became a reality when Margaret joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in Newport; by the following year she was the branch’s secretary. She travelled across Britain promoting female suffrage, sold the Votes for Women newspaper and wrote a column for The Western Mail. She even invited Emmeline Pankhurst to speak at Newport’s Temperance Hall.

Margaret’s militancy escalated quickly. She began encouraging women to smash windows, cut telegraph wires, attack areas of male recreation and frighten cabinet ministers. “They wouldn’t have perceived themselves as terrorists. They believed they’d been forced into it,” explains Margaret’s biographer, Angela. V. John. During the 1910 General Election, she jumped on the running-board of Prime Minister Asquith’s car. She became known as ‘The Welsh Boadicea’. Angela says: “They were not seen as citizen, so they had to bring attention to their plight. They attacked property, not people. They saw it as valid to set letterboxes alight.”

By 1913, Margaret was imprisoned at Usk Gaol for the explosive device she attempted to detonate. She refused to let her husband pay the £10 fine for her freedom. Instead, the Cat and Mouse Act enabled her to secure release on her own terms, after she staged a five-day hunger strike. “The government were worried about people making martyrs of themselves,” Angela adds. From then on, Margaret vowed, “I shall campaign for the suffrage cause until the franchise is given to women.”

Universal female suffrage was not achieved in the United Kingdom until 1928. However, Margaret ensured that time would not deter, but only fuel her fight for legal female representation – a fight which she continued up until her death.

During the outbreak of The Great War, militant activities by the suffragettes were scaled back in order to fight for King and Country. In 1917, Margaret was given the title of Lady Rhondda and she became the Director of Women’s Department of the Ministry of National Service. Due in part, to contributions made by women such as Margaret during the war effort, the vote was given to a handful of women in 1918. Women were required to  meet strict property specifications and had to be over 30-years-of-age to gain a political voice. “The campaign for rights for women over 21 carried on more peacefully, but they carried on… She advocated for legal changed alongside the voting rights,” Angela says.

By the time of her father’s death in 1918, he had been made a Viscount. Margaret inherited his property, commercial interests, and his title. She attempted to claim her hereditary right to take her seat in Parliament as Viscountess Rhondda by citing the 1919 Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act. The notion of a female sitting in Parliament disgruntled many old-fashioned peers however, leading to her request being swiftly denied. Despite impassioned attempts by Viscountess Rhondda and Viscountess Nancy Astor, the first female MP to take her seat in Parliament, efforts to remove the sex bar proved fruitless.

Despite her inability to take her seat in the House of Lords, Viscountess Rhondda ensured that her voice would be heard by other means. She did this by breaking the boundaries of many gender constraints. In 1920, she founded Time and Tide, a political magazine which she edited from 1926. Famous figures and thinkers of the time contributed to the publication including D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Nancy Astor, Emmeline Pankhurst and George Orwell. She also divorced her Conservative husband, Sir Humphrey Mackworth who clashed with her own liberal views in 1922. She rejected the constraints of a respectable, conventional and loveless marriage and formed an intimate relationship with Helen Archdale, a fellow militant suffragette. She later developed a close relationship with writer, Winifred Holtby, a woman 15 years her junior and eventually setup home with Theodora Bosanquet in 1933, the woman with whom she would spend the rest of her life.

The Six Point Group of Great Britain became her next venture, which focused on the six key issues facing the women of the time. These issues included satisfactory legislation for child assault, statutes to protect widows, laws to defend unmarried mothers and her children, equal rights of guardianship for married parents, equal pay for teachers and equal opportunities for men and women in the civil service. Angela clarifies that, “She exposed problems. Changes don’t happen overnight. Social change is needed first. Change comes from within. She enabled people to see for themselves the injustice of something.”

In 1963, five years after Viscountess Rhonnda’s death, the House of Lords finally allowed women with hereditary peerages to take up their seats. The bill became informally known as ‘The Lady Rhondda bill’. In her lifetime, she had made an indelible mark on the campaign for equal rights for women. She had been a suffragette, a wartime leader, a businesswoman, a peer, a journalist and spokeswoman for women across Great Britain. She proved that Welsh women were not willing to sit idly by in a man’s world, but were prepared to shape it.

Derith Powell: The Community Queen

This week, The Female Files will be profiling Derith Powell MBE, an inspirational woman who has been inspiring her community for almost 40 years. Living in an economically and socially deprived mining valley in Ammanford, Carmarthenshire, Derith makes a difference by encouraging people in her community not to be held back by their past, but to be propelled forward by the possibility of a better future.

Derith Powell has dedicated most of her life to community service. She says she’s always been interested in social inclusion and helping underprivileged people succeed in whatever way they can. Her impressive career began in Swansea when she researched homelessness in the area, which contributed to the establishment of Shelter Wales. She also aided the creation of a halfway house for people with learning difficulties in Swansea.

From there, Derith’s passion and aptitude for community development, coupled with her amiable demeanour, deep ability to care and wicked sense of humour made her the perfect candidate to work with seriously deprived families in the Afan Valley. Derith explains: “Because I worked with the volunteer sector, they weren’t scared of me. It was an enabling and befriending relationship.”


Derith Powell has dedicated almost 40 years to serving her community

Derith also broke down stigma surrounding mental health issues by encouraging people to befriend the mentally challenged. She achieved a positive relationship between both parties by showing the public the realities of a taboo illness rather than the misconceptions and exaggerations often associated with the disease. Integration of the mentally ill back into mainstream society was also supported.

As time progressed, Derith began taking on more responsibility within the community and started teaching childcare courses. She felt a duty to show young mums that they were capable of achieving academically despite having children at a young age. Derith herself is a walking testament to this, having given birth to her first child at 19. “Young mums thought they had no academic abilities, but just holding it together was a skill”, she states. Derith’s motivational presence worked wonders with young women as many went on to become teachers and social workers and gave back to the community which supported them in their darkest moments.

The 1984-85 Miners’ Strike invigorated Derith’s mission to provide equal opportunities for all. The industrial action had a hugely negative impact on her hometown as men were out of work, children were going hungry, a cultural legacy was slowly eroding away and the future of the mining valley was tainted by the unknown. Despite coal’s future as the UK’s leading energy source looking bleak, it fuelled Derith to fight back against the decimation of her valley. She undertook responsibilities as a community director of community development and lifelong learning. Amman Valley Enterprise was developed and overseen by Derith. Women rallied together to gather resources within the community. “Sisters began doing it for themselves”, she enthuses. Childcare facilities were provided, along with  adult education classes and community projects.


The 1984-85 Miners’ Strike led to social and economic deprivation in the Amman Valley

Championing women’s rights is still an important cause for Derith. She explains that traditionally in Wales, men held the power. Therefore, “the involvement of women is sometimes tokenistic” , she muses. The teaching of gender equality in schools has helped raise awareness of the issues, but there is still disenchantment amongst women within the political arena. Derith explains, for these norms to change, flexible childcare and care for the elderly need to be addressed in order to allow the pathways to remain open to women with family commitments. More resources, confidence building and enhancing potential also need promoting. “There’s still a lot to do in raising awareness of women as citizens” , she argues.

Following this role, Derith’s duties took an unexpected turn as she became the youngest Justice of the Peace at 33 years of age for Ammanford and Llandovery. This was a challenging role for a woman who was used to helping the vulnerable, not punishing those who commit crimes of desperation. Recalling her time as a JP, Derith expresses her dislike for the role. “I hated it. I was so used to helping, not punishing people. If you lived on £2 a week, you’d steal a chicken from Tesco” , she adds.

Derith returned to her passion of helping the community after a brief stint on the other side of the negotiating table.  From there, her powers of persuasion went national. Now, as the chief executive of Community Development Cymru, Derith oversees projects across the whole of Wales. Remembering one of her first tastes of community work helping the homeless, Derith still fervently tackles this issue on a larger scale, along with concerns such as child poverty. A major part of her role is changing perceptions of the disadvantaged, working-class person. She also  strongly believes in education and explains: “We try to raise awareness of how economic disadvantage influences how you feel in the morning.” This is in order to help the general public understand the causes as well as the effects of deprivation and see disadvantaged people as victims of factors beyond their control rather than demotivated burdens upon the state. Human rights courses are also put in place to equip people with the tools needed to help themselves.


Derith is now the chief executive of Community Development Cymru, which is sponsored by the Welsh Government

These initiatives, which tackle the core and root of social and economic issues are so effective, that they are sponsored by The Welsh Government. The BACSI initiative is one of the latest and most successful. “It aims to raise awareness within the public sector of what it is like to be poor. We represent the communities across Wales and act as a link between practice and governmental level” , Derith elaborates.

These back-to-basics approaches are proving to be highly effective and are enabling deprived people to be humanised, and facilitate a more understanding and cooperative relationship between people living in poverty and those working at administrative level. Derith’s innovative ways of dealing with deprivation and social inclusion have been in practice for decades. They were used during her charity work for Christian Aid, her first experiences of helping the needy in Swansea and are continuing to positively impact communities across Wales. In 2003, she was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II for her significant contribution to aiding the impoverished.

When asked who inspires her, Derith answered by naming Mother Teresa due to her selfless existence, Dr Claire Weekes for demystifying mental illness, and Annie Lennox for her work oversees helping women access contraception. She also mentioned Kate Roberts for demonstrating the plight of women through literature, Nicola Sturgeon for her intelligence and passion and Dr Anita Huws for her research into the effects of breast cancer in a male-dominated environment. Most importantly though, she credits, “The women I meet every day who live on nothing and sacrifice everything to be decent people.”

Summarising her work, Derith simply states: “I basically work for people in need. I can now link to policy making at government level. I can kick ass.” And kick ass she sure does!

Four Welsh Women Prove that Community is Cool

Last weekend, The Western Mail published its 2015, The Cool List which features 50 women in Wales who are considered to be ‘cool’. But, what is the definition of ‘cool’? Does ‘cool’ equate to being constructive? The Female Files reassesses the hierarchy of ‘cool’ girls to focus on the top four women making a significant and positive impact in their communities:


Rowena Kincaid

The 39-year-old former BBC picture editor was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. She endured chemotherapy and radiotherapy. By 2012 she had returned to work, started exercising again and was spending time with her friends. Rowena’s health took a turn for the worst in 2013, however. This time, she was diagnosed with secondary stage four cancer and was given between three to six months to live. The cancer went into remission after another round of chemotherapy, but her illness was terminal. Rowena found that many people were unaware of the realities of secondary cancer. Friends and family assumed that she was getting better because she looked well; they did not realise that her condition was incurable and that she was in considerable pain. To raise awareness of the true face of her illness, she made a BBC documentary named Before I Kick the Bucket. During filming of the TV programme, Rowena met numerous cancer sufferers like herself, struggled with her own health, but thoroughly enjoyed the process. When asked about her personal bucket-list, she says it does not include grand things, but places value on lots of little things. Her main goal is to reach her 40th birthday in December, when she plans to celebrate at Castell Coch. Rowena sheds light on what it is like to live with a terminal illness and displays that cancer does not have to define who you are.

Take a look at Rowena’s inspiring story:

Captain Hannah Winterbourne

Hannah Winterbourne is a captain in the army, 100 soldiers are under her command, and she is the British Army’s most senior transgender officer. While serving in Afghanistan as part of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, Hannah realised that she was acting for the benefit of others, and accepted her true female identity. After years of struggling internally with her gender – which became profound at the age of 23 while at Sandhurst – she made the brave decision in 2013 to transition into a woman. At first people within the army were shocked by her transition, but Hannah went on to prove that her gender did not impact upon her ability to do her job. She explains that she chooses not to disclose her previous male name as she believes it to merely be a label. Despite perceptions of the army being that of a masculine and traditional organisation, Hannah credits their attitude towards her transition by calling them forward-thinking and accepting. Since openly living her life as a woman two years ago, Hannah has also gone on to become the transgender representative within the army. She now deals with welfare, education and any issues that the transgender community might be facing. Hannah is proving that nobody should have to choose between doing their job and living their true identity.

Watch Hannah in action below:

Professor Meena Upadhyaya

There aren’t many things which Professor Meena Upadhyaya has not achieved. She has a PhD from Cardiff University and is now a professor of Medical Genetics. She is a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists in Molecular Genetics. She has been a trustee for Women Equality Network and Governor for Hindu Cultural Association. In 2010, she also won the Inspire Wales Award for Science & Technology. Arguably, her most significant achievement is founding Wales Asian Women Achievement Awards, which brings recognition to the  contributions Asian women make in communities throughout Wales. Meena explains that it is important for women to make a  difference within their communities. However, she also stresses the value of providing role models for young women from ethnic minorities across Wales in order for them to succeed in the future. She hopes that she can help level the gender balance in different spheres of life including science and politics. She recognises that women aren’t always provided with the same opportunities as men, with ethnic minority women being doubly disadvantaged due to their culture, appearance, language and religion. Meena encourages women to believe in themselves, support each other and not allow prejudice of any kind stop them from reaching their potential.

Meena explains her motivations for creating Wales Asian Women Achievement Awards:

Tori James

Only a handful of British people can say that they have reached the summit of Mount Everest. Tori James can even say that she was the youngest British person to do so. At the age of 25 she achieved this victory. She developed a taste for adventure whilst working for British Exploring and went on to make history. In 2014 she was also part of the Beeline Britain Team which travelled from Land’s End to John O’Groates in aid of BLESMA (the Britsh Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association). During both quests up Everest and across the UK, Tori documented her journey. On Top of the World is a BBC documentary following Tori’s path to reach the top of the world, and As the Crow Flies is an award-winning film which trailed the team as they travelled from one end of the UK to the other. Tori is now a motivational speaker, provides leadership training, and works with team and youth development projects. She is also an ambassador for the Duke of Edinburgh Award and Girlguiding UK. By documenting her own experiences and providing first-hand accounts of her adventures, Tori is showing people everywhere how exciting an active life can be and that every mountain appears unconquerable until it is conquered.

The trailer for As the Crow Flies is available here:

It’s safe to say that these inspirational women have proved that making a difference in your community is the definition of cool.

Which women inspire you?

Science’s Superwoman Supporting Schoolgirls and Working Mothers Achieve Their Potential

Inspirational women are everywhere, they have different passions and hail from a range of localities across South Wales. This week, The Female Files will be spotlighting Professor Julie Williams CBE. Williams has carved herself a career in science and is now paving the way for many more women to enter the scientific sector.

The Female Files visited Professor Julie Williams at work at Cardiff University’s Hadyn Ellis Building. This is what we found out:

A stylish woman donning a black pencil skirt and a pixie haircut is chatting about Doctor Who, rugby and the Pembrokeshire coast. You could be forgiven for thinking that these were the musings of an ordinary woman. They are not. Although Professor Julie Williams CBE, is down-to earth and approachable, she is anything but ordinary.

Julie Williams is a professor of neuropsychological genetics at Cardiff University. She is a world leader in Alzheimer’s research. She has received a CBE from the Queen.

Supporting women in science

Williams’ next mission however, is to use her role as chief scientific adviser for Wales to open up the scientific frontier to more women across Wales.

The 58-year-old scientist states that one of the ways in which she aims to achieve this is through the 12 Recapturing Talent fellowships which were announced by the Welsh Government last week.

These three year fellowships, which can be both full-time and part-time, have been created in order to help scientists reengage with academia after a hiatus from the field. These initiatives will largely help women who have left scientific research due to family commitments.

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Professor Julie Williams in her science laboratory in Cardiff University’s Hadyn Ellis building

Williams explains that these fellowships hope to help scientists compete on an “even playing field.”

Her own personal experiences have fuelled her passion for this cause. Williams studied psychology at university before securing a PhD research post. However, she struggled to secure research work for seven years after putting her career on hold to start a family.

“It almost killed my career” she muses.

Encouraging schoolgirls

Changing schoolgirls’ perceptions of themselves and of science is also a cause which Williams has championed.

“Girls do tend to underestimate what they can achieve”, Williams explains.

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Genetic research being conducted under the supervision of Professor Williams

As a result, physics labs are being commissioned into schools across Wales in order for young girls to consider the possibilities of science before sitting their GCSEs.

Inspirations and motivations

Williams herself showed a keen interest and aptitude for science from an early age.

As a young girl, she was inspired by Jacob Bronowski, the historian who presented the BBC documentary series, Ascent of Man.

“He showed me that curiosity is amazingly exciting and is something you can have as a core part of your life in the future” she explains.

Having grown up in Cefn Coed, Merthyr Tydfil in a community where gender roles were very traditional, Williams went on to break the mould.

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Professor Julie Williams’ all-female research team working hard on their next scientific breakthrough

“I was the only girl in the physics class when I sat my GCSEs”, she recalls.

Williams’ decision to pursue a scientific line of work was also inspired by her biology school teacher, Jan Williams who instilled in her that if you want to achieve something, you just go and do it.

Williams has used her past experiences to shape the future of the scientific sector globally and in Wales. She is ensuring that women across Wales are given the same opportunities as men at every level. She is science’s superwoman.

When she is not working however, Williams says her favourite hobby is “lying down”, with boat trips in Saundersfoot coming a close second.

Next on her agenda is reading To Kill a Mockingbird.

Needless to say that Professor Julie Williams is the Atticus Finch of science in Wales.