Work Hard

7 North East women who made their mark in 2021

We celebrate the ladies who are making a difference to our region.

Written by Rachael Nichol
Published 30.12.2021

Here at HLN, we’re lucky enough to meet hundreds of empowering women every year. From making history to being recognised by royalty, these local women have made a huge impact on our region this year, and are leading by example through their dedicated work.

Beth Dunn & Charlie, Women’s Street Watch

After this year’s harrowing murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa – and thousands more attacks that weren’t as high profile in the media –  many women now don’t feel safe on the streets at night. But as we all sit back in anger, Beth Dunn and her girlfriend Charlie selflessly decided to take the matter into their own hands and do something about it – and we can’t thank them enough.

The duo set up a community volunteer group with three main goals; to make the streets safer in the city at night, reduce sexual violence against women, and reduce the strain on emergency services. Every weekend you’ll catch Women’s Street Watch patrolling in their pink hi-vis jackets around Newcastle’s biggest nightspots between 10pm – 4am, where they offer water, snacks, flip flops, phone chargers, and calls to taxi companies to vulnerable women.



Rebecca Welsh, English Football League

Having entered into the world of professional refereeing at the comparatively ‘old’ age of 27, Rebecca Welch has since made history. She’s become the first female referee to be appointed to a game in the men’s English Football League [EFL] – and took charge of the League Two clash between Harrogate Town and Port Vale.

Now the highest-ranking female referee in English football after only 11 years on the professional circuit, the County Durham native has already officiated the Women’s FA Cup Final twice but credits her appointment at the EFL match as the ‘biggest achievement’ of her career so far.



Lesley Braiden MBE, Newcastle University

Lesley Braiden is a bit of a legend in these parts. For nearly 5,000 graduates from Newcastle University, she’s the reason they’ve even got a degree. The university’s former Academic Registrar dedicated her 32-year career to making higher education more accessible for everyone here in the North East, especially for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, alongside her development of the trailblazing PARTNERS initiative – which helped 4,667 students earn a place on her degree course.

The knock-on effects this has had on their future careers, family lives, social status and ability to contribute back to our local and national community is nothing short of staggering. And her dedicated work has been recognised by Her Majesty, the Queen, when she received an MBE earlier this year.



Anna Heslop, RNLI

At just 25-year-old, Anna has become the first female Helm of the Cullercoats RNLI in the charity’s 170-year history – and only the third female Helm in the whole of the North East, ever. Impressive, right?

Many of us complain after a hard day’s work, but a day’s work is rarely plain sailing for Anna – who braves the perishing North Sea, sometimes working up to 14-hour shifts as she battles stress and trauma to save lives on a daily basis. Now, having taken the reins of the Cullercoats outpost of the charity as Helm, she commands the search and rescue vessel on call-outs while also managing the training and assessments of her crew.



Dot Smith, Recovery Connections

Earlier this year, the Office for National Statistics revealed that the North East was hit by a record number of alcohol-related deaths. It’s clear that the pandemic has had a detrimental impact on our mental health and wellbeing, with drink, drug and addiction problems spiralling for many.

This is where Dot Smith comes in. Having recently been crowned North East Charity Leader of the Year, Dot’s dedicated work as CEO of Middlesbrough-based charity, Recovery Connections, has been recognised as she’s on a mission to challenge stigma, provide peer support and offer therapies that can deal with root psychological or social causes.



Margaret Anderson, Northumberland National Park

Margaret has made history here in the North East this year. She’s become the first female Head Ranger in Northumberland National Park’s 65-year history. Having already worked at Northumberland National Park [NNP] in several different roles for 15 years now – including in administration, planning and volunteer coordination, and being a ranger since 2008 – Margaret will now be responsible for the management of the entire NNP ranger team.

But as well as this, Margaret will take on the task of supporting the ongoing implementation of sustainable land management methods across the Park – something that promises to be both challenging and rewarding in equal measure.



Salha Kaitesi, Teakisi

Salha has dedicated her life to empowering BAME communities. After initially setting up a blog to give African women a voice, she realised she was struggling to make ends meet so decided to make things more sustainable by registering as a CIC.

Now alongside her dedicated team, she runs a community hub for African women, the African community and other minority communities – giving prominent access to free events and helping others learn new skills, ranging from creating their own social media accounts and helping them design their own websites to collaborations. And after Covid pushed the digital divide to the forefront, Salha is currently fighting to spread awareness of how race plays a part in the divide and is on a mission to give BAME communities equal opportunities and easy access to technology.


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