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Dyamism and initiative that spurs Wales' top achievers; The nominations are in for this year's prestigious Welsh Woman of the Year Award, with inspiring stories from every entry. Here are the first finalists for 2008 Western Mail WELSH WOMEN OF THE YEAR 2008.

Su Worlock

Leaving school with no qualifications, Su got married at 16 and quit her job as a pub cleaner to start a family.

Spending the past eight years as a single parent has been a tremendous struggle for the A berdare mum. Surviving on benefits, she handmade knitted soft toys and clothes for her three children so they would never go without.

A friend who was studying at a local college inspired Su to study art and design. She also studied to improve her communication and number skills before embarking on a BA in contemporary textiles practice at Uwic. After finishing university, Su began selling her knitted designs from home and studied teacher training part-time.

Despite suffering from Meniere's disease, which causes dizziness and hearing loss, Su later gained a 2:1 degree in business from the University of Glamorgan.

She also undertook voluntary work in the community as an artist and tutor, giving her the opportunity to teach art in three local schools.

After establishing her own business from home - Su Worlock Contemporary Textiles Design - Su hopes to give her employees a stepping-stone to developing their own businesses.

Isabelle Durance

Isabelle had a series of breaks from her career as an agronomy lecturer to raise her three children and moved from France to Wales.

Determined to maintain her skills, she conducted tasks such as surveys and data analysis from home, in addition to some hourly-contracted teaching at the universities of Cardiff and Newport. In her spare time, she also managed to publish two scientific papers, including one on the effects of climate change in Welsh rivers, which was regarded as a major breakthrough in ecological science.

The huge response gave Isabelle the confidence to contact the Daphne Jackson Trust, which supports women returning to careers in science or engineering.

The trust is now supporting her through a two-year part-time fellowship, funded by the National Environment Research Council.

Laura Speake

When Laura's husband was offered the job of a lifetime in Thailand, the mother-of-two left her job as an engineer in a multinational chemical company to start a new life abroad.

After 18 months of experiencing a new culture and being a full-time mum, Laura decided to start her own business, the Nalan Collection, selling organic children's clothing.

Starting the business from scratch meant Laura needed to develop her business acumen and knowledge of how to manufacture clothing.

After suffering the major setback of her business partner deciding she no longer wanted to be involved in the project, Laura made the decision to return to Cardiff and take on all aspects of the business single-handed so that the company could survive.

From a personal perspective, Laura has found that she can successfully fit her working hours around family life and works from home.

Mary Lovell

As business development director for 7Side Ltd, Mary has transformed the company from a slow growth business with autocratic leadership into a vibrant and progressive organisation which values its staff.

It was also one of the earliest Investors in People accredited companies in Wales, helping staff members achieve personal aspirations alongside company goals.

Mary has encouraged and led more inclusive meetings and staff conferences, identified new markets and procured contracts with leading global organisations.

The business won and was runner- up in several major awards, including Small Welsh Business of the Year 2003-04. The company's turnover has nearly doubled in four years, but Mary is most proud of helping to create a happy and involved workforce.

Jo Farrar

During her 20 months as chief executive of Bridgend County Borough Council, Jo has restructured senior management and is driving towards a more business- like culture amongst managers.

Quarterly business reviews and project monitoring were implemented to assess the progress of key priorities.

Passionate about the need for clear communication, Jo makes a point of having personal and regular contact with managers and staff, including meetings and briefings, special newsletters and notes in payslips.

Jo is very proud of her lead in the establishment of the new inter-agency Local Service Board for the Bridgend area, creating a new vision and brand for Bridgend.

She hopes to expand on the Work she has done with the LSB in relation to the recent suicides of young people in the area in the last 12 months.

Deborah Jane Cooper

Detective Chief Inspector Debbie Cooper is seconded from South Wales Police to Operation Tarian, a regional unit responsible for the investigation of all serious and organised crime in Wales.

Deborah has taken the force back to basics, creating a performance culture and allocating staff to relevant training courses, giving them the confidence to seek promotion.

She has also made attempts to rid the force of its male-dominated culture, doubling the number of female employees and introducing flexible working hours. She hopes to continue improving these policies and to encourage more people from ethnic minorities to join the force.

Deborah says morale within the force is now at an all-time high and she believes she has changed police culture and public perception.

She describes her management style as transformational, making decisions and taking responsibility for them.

Most effective returner to the workplace sponsored by Chwarae Teg

This category is aimed to demonstrate the achievement of women returning to work in the last five years after a minimum nine-month career break taken to raise a family, care for a relative, or travel.

The career break must demonstrate the importance of retraining and the benefit of utilising experience outside the workplace.

Management achievement sponsored by the Wales Management Council

This category is for successful women who perform a managerial role within the private or public sector who have shown strong leadership and initiative in introducing innovative practices into their working environment, taking the diversity of the workforce into account.

CAPTION(S):

DESIGN: Su Worlock; RESEARCH: Isabelle Durance; CLOTHING: Laura Speake; DEVELOPMENT: Mary Lovell; COUNCIL CHIEF: Jo Farrar; POLICE: Debbie Cooper
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 9, 2008
Words:987
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