It’s ladies night!

COMMUNITY workers, a writer and a former breast cancer patient were among those celebrated as legendary Women of the Year on Friday in the City Hotel.

The top award, the Woman of the Year 2011 trophy, went to cancer survivor Michelle McLaren, who devotes her time helping others recover from the life-threatening disease. The awards, run by Derry City Council have gathered momentum since their introduction four years ago.

Michelle, who is from the Brookhill area of the city, provides a weekly voluntary service to the Pink Ladies Breast Cancer Support Group, and was praised for the significant role she has played in creating awareness of breast cancer and providing support to women who are diagnosed with the disease. She was also acknowledged for her work in lobbying to secure the radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin and to campaign for better cancer services.

Paying tribute to Michelle McLaren, the Mayor Councillor Colum Eastwood said she truly deserved the accolade for the important role she has played over the years supporting women with breast cancer and raising awareness of the disease.

“Michelle McLaren is a tireless worker for cancer services. Having experienced breast cancer herself, Michelle has a unique understanding of what women are going through by offering help, support and advice. She is an inspiration to women across this city for her bravery in dealing with cancer and her commitment to helping others.

“She has also played an important role in campaigning for better cancer services for the people of the North West whilst studying at Magee and being a full time Mum to two young children. “

He added: “This is a fantastic event and I am delighted that the role of women in the community and voluntary sector is recognised”

The awards were presented by Joanna Boyd, the Council’s Women’s Officer, assisted by the Deputy Mayor, Drew Thompson.

In his address, Mr Thompson said he was delighted to attend, and stressed how important it was for women to be represented in public life and particularly in the political arena.

“I do know there is a push on to get more women into public life and politics, and that has been very noticeable in recent years. It is very very important that this happens. There was a time when you went to a meeting that all you had were men around the table. That is now changing and it is a positive move, and it is tremendous to see women being appreciated for all the work they do in this city,” he said.

Joanna Boyd, Women’s Officer with Derry City Council, who organised the event, said it was another great success.

“We received a record number of nominations for this year’s event and the interest from the public has been phenomenal. With 13 categories every effort has been made to ensure that all possible opportunities for recognition have been identified. I would like to thank everyone who helped make it such a success and extend my congratulations to everyone involved.”

Category winners

Contribution to Women’s Community Development: Louise McIntyre;

Contribution to Community Relations: Carol Simpson;

Contribution to Health: Michelle McLaren;

Contribution to abuse against women: Bridie Crowley;

Contribution to sport or dance: Ayesha Mailey;

Contribution to Arts: Felicity McCall

Contribution to Formal/Informal Education: Betty Davis;

Contribution to Older People: Mildred Garfield;

Contribution to Youth: Annmarie Bell;

Contribution to Childcare: Hazel Halus;

Contribution to Caring: Mary Robinson;

Young Women’s Award (18-15 years old): Young Women Safe and Sound Group;

Women living with a disability: Teresa McDonough.

Overall Winner

Woman of the Year 2011: Michelle McLaren.

The judges were: Darinagh Boyle, Local Women (sponsor); Erin Hutcheon, Derry Journal; Sarah Brett, BBC Radio Foyle, and Olga Bradshaw, Londonderry Sentinel.