Meet sisters who are doing it for themselves

Last year Bosnian women released balloons to mark  International Women's Day, in Sarajevo, Bosnia. . A few thousand Bosnian women gathered at the main square in Sarajevo, the balloons released at ' Sarajevo's old bridge, as a symbol of equal rights for the female population.
Last year Bosnian women released balloons to mark International Women's Day, in Sarajevo, Bosnia. . A few thousand Bosnian women gathered at the main square in Sarajevo, the balloons released at ' Sarajevo's old bridge, as a symbol of equal rights for the female population.
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Here come the girls? Forget it. Here come the grown women. Deborah Terras knows all about the power of one. She lived in a traditional mining community for her formative years, a school of hard knocks, a harsh economy, where women were tough but men still wore the trousers. Even if it was just for public show.

Today we all know how crucial women were to the fight for Britain’s mining industry.

Deborah admits: “They breed them tough where I come from – Washington in the North East.

“My mum came from a traditional mining family and brought me up as the only girl, and to be strong and assertive rather than aggressive.

“My mother was marvellous, a great role model, and I learned never to apologise for a mistake I hadn’t made and to realise there was always more to learn.

“But there were still entrenched attitudes.

“It was very much a male society. In our village we had a scout hut at the end of our street and I wanted a bit of that, too.

“I became the first female Cub leader and later got my scout Duke of Edinburgh gold but it was an uphill battle back then.”

Today Deborah, director and lead practitioner for community engagement and learning at Blackpool community interest company UR Potential, is one of the key figures behind the organisation of International Women’s Day locally.

There’s another meeting tomorrow (November 13) from 5.30pm to 7.30pm at Renaissance, 102 Dickson Road Dickson Road, Blackpool.

The campaign is on to ensure it never ever passes most of us by again – as it did for many earlier this year.

International Women’s Day is always held in March.

In some parts of the world thousands of women spill onto the streets – to either celebrate or score some political and social points.

Take a look at our pictures of Bosnian women, last year, releasing balloons to symbolise liberty.

Or women and children being released from prison in Khartoum by the Sudanese government to honour the ethos of International Women’s Day.

And who could forget the marvellous moment when Hetty met Eddie three years ago – and former suffragette Hetty Bower, 105, gave Labour Leader Ed Miliband a piece of her mind ... right next to the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in Victoria Tower Gardens in Westminster, London.

And the smiles on the faces of Paloma Faith and VV Brown from an earlier event say it all – it’s also about fun too.

Now thanks to the current local steering team next year’s big day promises to be unmissable.

Deborah has joined forces with all three local councils and communities to help coordinate one Fylde coast-wide response to IWD.

“I foolishly thought to myself that every year women in Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre do three separate events for the day – so why not pull everyone together for one big celebration?

“I got in touch with professional colleagues and everyone thought it a really good idea – and then the meetings and networking started.”

The steering group has already clinched one of the best venues in the country – Blackpool Tower.

“Now we have 40 women, all professionals, ready to put the event on, and the support has been great from the councils, and from the Fairness Commission, and from other groups.”

Supporters include Fylde Coast Women’s Aid, Renaissance (formerly Drug Line), Soroptomists, and more.

But now the challenge is on to find corporate sponsors – and businesses willing to play their part.

“We know women are out there in the community and challenging stereotypical roles,” adds Deborah.

“We want to reach out to BAE Systems, the apprenticeships, the areas that show women can have all the good things in life, families, children, pampering, partners... and still get involved and be inspirational in their own right. Why shouldn’t women have it all?”

International women’s day events already lined up locally for next March include – a feminist fortune teller.

Is that the polar opposite of one seeing a tall dark handsome stranger in one’s future?

“It’s more to do with empowering women to be all they can be, to play to their strengths, than the cliched readings,” adds Deborah.

“It’s about ethics and values and supporting women’s charities and looking for really positive role models in Blackpool.”

The steering group hopes to sign up Linda Nolan to the campaign – and other high profile local women.

“Linda’s already doing so much for charity and not just cancer charities but Tramshed, an inclusive theatre group, which ticks the sort of boxes we want for the event too.

“This isn’t about rampant feminism or paying lip service to advancing women’s rights but challenging the perceptions of how society thinks we should act or behave.”

Deborah said women are already adept multi taskers.

“Blackpool has a massive network of women working together in groups but we need to reach individuals too, not just the movers and shakers, but women who want to make their voices heard within the community.

“In a way it’s getting back to basics – and cultivating the sort of open door policy communities used to have.

“Fylde Coast Women’s Aid bring in the voice of women around domestic abuse.

“We have other groups who work with women and advocacy, and around substance misuse – and caring issues, such as Young Carers.

“We have the youth service involved, and a fantastic parents group at Talbot and Brunswick children’s centre which does peer support mentoring and healthy eating programmes.

“It’s not just about baking cakes – although we can do that too – but having fun and raising our profile and making people realise there’s an army of go-to and can-do women out there.

“We’ve got volunteers who have worked with the Lytham Proms partnership – Cuffe and Taylor – and we’re hoping to get into Blackpool Football Club too.

“We’re looking for people with a social conscience and a will to change the world or our corner of it at least. We started off some years ago with a Fiji link to Weeton Barracks.

“Last year we did zumba at Claremont and listened to some inspirational speakers. And here at UR Potential we lead by example.”

Deborah, a mother of two, went to university at 30 having worked for years helping track down benefit fraudsters.

“What I learned showed me how hard life is for many women.”

As part of her youth work studies she attended the trial of James Bulger’s killers Robert Thompson and Jon Venables.

“It made me look at that from a totally different perspective too – opened my eyes to situations and how they are dealt with that I would have never envisaged before.”

And she encountered sexism in her first bid to get a job in the Prison Service in the North West.

“I was told we’re not having feminists working here and I said I’m not a feminist, I just believe in women’s rights.

“Encountering sexism at that level made me realise the world wasn’t as rosy as I thought.

“International Women’s Day isn’t just some box ticking exercise for us – it should be every day.

“We need to support and engage with young women in particular so they don’t grow up aggressive but assertive, able to stand their ground.

“We have anger, we have frustrations, emotions and every right to feel them all.

“We also have one of the best coping mechanisms in the world – tears. Women have a good cry when they’re angry or upset. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. The secret is to say your piece, walk away – and then have a bloody good cry, if you need one.”

Deborah and business partner Linda Markey run UR Potential.

“We’re now in our third successful year,employing 11 people, and supporting individuals and communities to reach their full potential, and providing training and volunteering for people from 14 years old up - to, well, there’s no cut off age.

“We’re commissioned to deliver training, basic IT, peer mentoring, youth work, volunteering as well.

“We’ve run employability courses, Reaching Your Potential, and looked at image and self confidence, and other issues.

“And many of the women involved, traditionally , had not been working or never worked.

“The last couple we’ve run have attracted women who have been made redundant, who have taken redundancy or lost jobs through other issues , such as mental health.

“And there is nothing more inspirational than seeing women from such different backgrounds sitting and talking together and finding their way forward together.

“You’ll get completely different women – one a woman who’s had, say, eight kids in care and is at rock bottom, alongside a woman who’s lost a powerful job because of mental health issues and is on her knees too.

“It’s the sort of dialogue you cannot quantify.

“Yet they get back on their feet together. They stand together. Because we’re all women and in it together.

“My message is simple. Join us.”

* To learn more visit www.urpotential.co.uk, follow on Twitter at @urpotentialuk or call (01253) 292299, or follow Deborah’s blog at www.iwdbwf14.wordpress.com