CHAT WITH: Ellie Kerr from MWOTY Awards

Merseyside Women of the Year Awards (MWOTY) is back to celebrate shining stars from across the region, after a two-year pandemic-induced hiatus, with nominations open until Sunday 24th April. We speak to Ellie Kerr, original ‘woman of the year’ and now sole Founding Director of the MWOTY Awards to find out more about this year’s event and how the last two years have shaped the awards’ future.

For those who aren’t familiar, can you tell us a bit about the awards?

The MWOTY awards are a platform for all those women making a difference in Merseyside and Liverpool City Region, particularly those superstars that plough on, head down getting things done and never asking for anything in return. The MWOTY awards are an opportunity for people who see this work, recognise it, benefit from it to grab the spotlight and shine it right on them, as they deserve.

So what’s the history, how did the awards start?

Well, I am actually the original Woman of the Year – I was stunned to be named Merseyside Woman of the Year at the first awards in 2003, when I worked at Business Link and I then went on to win three other awards too!  

Back then MWOTY was run by two gentlemen, but after seven years they decided they could no longer keep the awards going. Winning had meant so much to me and had provided a platform for so many other brilliant winners, that I couldn’t bear to see it disappear, just like that. 

Jean Gadsby, who was head judge for the original awards, and Elaine Owen also felt the same, so we came together and used our shared passion, professional skills and networks to make sure the awards continued. Jean and Elaine have moved on to other projects now, but that decision to keep the awards going was so important to all three of us. 

Over time, we gained a reputation for social impact, integrity and values. MWOTY’s foundation was a total desire to ensure that women who would not ordinarily be in the spotlight were found, seen and heard on the MWOTY platform. After we took over, MWOTY really took on a life of its own and our past winners, who include Gee Walker, Laura Hughes, Angela Samata and many more, have gone on to do some amazing things!

As the sole Founding Director remaining, what does your role entail?

What doesn’t it? In a nutshell, I am responsible for making the awards happen – everything from planning the event and ensuring we have fantastic sponsors on board who provide the funds and support to deliver the awards, to hosting our finalist’s evening and supporting our network of winners, long after the awards have finished.

How have the last two years affected the event?

We haven’t been able to come together to celebrate for a start! In 2020 we had a mini virtual event, the MWOTY Marvels, which focused on women and men who were doing astonishing things to support their communities during the pandemic. It was great fun to recognise five individuals who were making a difference to others and a breath of fresh air in pretty dark times. Like many, we had hoped that the 2021 event would be able to take place, but that wasn’t to be. It’s felt like it’s taken a long time to get here and a great deal has changed since our last awards in 2019.

So many organisations’ circumstances have changed, but we’re really lucky to this year have a new headline sponsor, Hill Dickinson, on board. As a company, they have such a focus on equality, diversity and inclusion and their values are really strongly aligned with ours. We’re also welcoming back previous sponsors like Neo Community, ADDvanced Solutions, Courage & Sparkle, Community Foundation for Merseyside, Everton FC and Financial Planning Corporation. Without this support the awards would not be able to happen. 

We’re a non-profit and everything we bring in goes back into the awards for our Legacy Fund which supports our winners throughout the year.  We also raise funds for The Women’s Fund which is managed by our charity partner, The Community Foundation for Merseyside.

For me, the last two years have only served to show me just how important the MWOTY awards are in the region and we are absolutely thrilled to be getting everyone back together in July!

Prior to the pandemic, MWOTY highlighted its aims to attract more diverse nominees, how important is this objective now? 

Diversity in our nominees is more important than ever and we still have work to do in this area. We’re an incredibly diverse region – Liverpool is home to the oldest black community in the UK and the oldest chinese community in Europe. It is home to Yemenis, Somalis, Greeks, Ghanians, Latin Americans, South Asians and many more –  we want our awards to reflect that richness. 

Diversity doesn’t stop at race and ethnicity either, we want to see our LGBT+ community represented, different ages, people who are disabled or from the neurodiverse community, people from all social backgrounds. Within all these communities and at the intersections between them there are activists and entrepreneurs, women fighting poverty and injustice, people who should be on the MWOTY platform and we’re going to continue to work to ensure we make that happen.

Who can enter the MWOTY awards and what kind of nominations are you looking for?

We get such a wonderful variety of nominations, from high-profile businesswomen, sportswomen, women in arts and culture, community activists and people nominating their Mums and foster Mums, we consider every single one. MWOTY is open to anyone who identifies as a woman or non-binary and who makes an impact in Merseyside – so they don’t have to be from Merseyside, although many are. If they are from elsewhere but what they are doing is making a difference in Merseyside, they are eligible and we want to hear about them!

When people ask what kind of nominations we are looking for, we suggest that people look at some of our categories for inspiration, but not worry too much about fitting the person to the category. We’ve been known before now to create a category to fit an absolute superstar once we’ve seen all of our entries. It’s most important to just clearly explain what the person you are nominating and why they deserve to be recognised.

I always say that when it comes to entries, we want, as in Bridget Jones, a pair of big knickers, not a thong – by that I mean we want big details. Because of the volume of entries we get, we have to go based on the information we have presented to us. If we get a skimpy entry that piques our interest we sadly don’t have time to get more information, so we want as much information as possible in the nomination when it lands!

How can people nominate for the MWOTY awards?

You can nominate via our website, where you can enter by filling in the form. There’s loads of information on nominating, including hints and tips and the judging criteria, so it’s not a big and scary process and there is plenty of help!

If you find it difficult to nominate online due to disability or other reason, you can contact us at [email protected] or call 07966 308 405.