15 inspirational Manchester women who have made their mark


From cutting edge science and enterprise to poetry, these local women are leading the way.

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester

When appointed in 2010, Lancashire-born Dame Nancy became the first woman vice chancellor of the University of Manchester – the UK’s biggest. She is Professor of Physiology and her recent research has focused on strokes. Dame Nancy has also been involved with running and advising various research and funding bodies including the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK and the Biotechnology, Biological Sciences Research Council. She is also a non-executive director of the pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca and actively encourages women to pursue careers in science.

Joanne Roney OBE, chief executive, Manchester City Council

From her apprenticeship in local government at the age of 16, Joanne worked her way through the ranks to the top, with a strong track record in transforming public services and delivering major regeneration initiatives. Along the way, her part-time studies earned her an MBA in Public Sector Management, and she was awarded the OBE in 2009 for services to local government. Joanne was appointed CEO of Manchester City Council in April 2017 when Sir Howard Bernstein stepped down. “Manchester is the birthplace of the modern Suffragette movement and I’m proud to be the first female chief executive in the city’s history.”

Julie Hesmondhalgh, actress

Best known for playing Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street for 15 years – her final screen appearance in the role on 22 January 2014 was the night she won a National Television Award for Best Actress in a Serial Drama – Julie had major parts in acclaimed TV series Broadchurch and Happy Valley.  A regular performer at the Royal Exchange and theatres throughout the country, she is a founder member of a Manchester-based grassroots theatre company creating work about social issues, Take Back, which she runs with Rebekah Harrison and Grant Archer, and to which she has contributed as a writer and actor. She is also a member of The Gap collective, a new writing company in Manchester.

Rowetta Satchell, singer

Born in Manchester, made in Madchester.  She is best known for her work with the Happy Mondays, recording and touring with the band for nine years between 1991 and 2000. She made a cameo appearance in the film 24 Hour Party People and finished fourth in the first ever series of TV’s X-Factor in 2004. She reunited with the Mondays for their tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of the album Pills n Thrills and Bellyaches. Her courage in the face of domestic violence has made Rowetta an inspirational figure and she become a spokesperson for domestic violence awareness.

Stacey Copeland, professional boxer

Stacey, recently turned professional, began training at an early age at her grandfather’s gym in Stockport, following in her dad Eddie’s footsteps. Eddie was an BA Champion in 1979. With no opportunities for female boxers at the time, Stacey successfully took up football, playing until 2010 when she decided to commit her sporting ambition to boxing again.  She made her amateur debut in the ring the following year and became a three-time national champion. Outside the ring she runs a project called Pave the Way, giving motivational talks at schools and colleges.

Mary-Ellen McTague, chef

Bury-born Mary-Ellen was so determined to pursue a career as a chef that she took a job cleaning rooms at the Michelin starred Sharrow Bay Hotel in the Lake District until an opportunity in the kitchen arose. She worked her way up to chef de partie before spending four years working for Heston Blumenthal, developing dishes for his pub, the Hind’s Head.  With her husband Laurence Tottingham, she opened Aumbry in Pretwich in 2009 and swiftly won national recognition. Last year she re-opened and transformed Manchester Art Gallery’s cafe with a focus on local culinary heritage.

Jane Luca, TV executive

Thirty years after joining Granada Television’s drama department in Manchester as a production secretary, Jane Luca is now director of public affairs for ITV with overall responsibility for the broadcaster’s relationship with MPs, key stakeholders and other organisations with a specific focus on public policy issues. Outside her TV role, she is a board member of Marketing Manchester, chair of Women of the Year, a governor of the Manchester Grammar School and a member of the Council of the University of Salford.

Dame Carol Ann Duffy, poet

Glasgow-born Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate since May 2009 is the first woman, first Scot and first openly LGBT person to hold the celebrated position. She is Professor of Contemporary Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University. She moved to Stafford with her parents and siblings when she was six and later, as a pupil at Stafford Girl’s High School, her literary talent – she produced poems from the age of 11 – was recognised and encouraged by two of her English teachers. Never shy of tackling contentious issues in her work, her first poem as Poet Laureate addressed the scandal over MPs expenses in the format of a sonnet.

Carol Kane, online fashion tycoon

Born in the north east, aspiring designer Carol Kane arrived in Manchester in 1993 after a spell working in London for import companies. She landed a job as a senior designer for Pinstripe Clothing, owned by the Kamani family. In 2006 Carol set up the online fashion house boohoo.com with business partner Mahmud Kamani. Pioneers in e-commerce at the time, they made the most of what she calls “a huge opportunity”. Their success has been astonishing with the business and its massively growing offshoot, prettylittlething.com, worth an estimated £2 billion.

Caroline Stevenson, social entrepreneur

Chorlton-born Caroline, still in her 20s, is a multi-award winning social entrepreneur and founder of Foodinate. The not-for-profit enterprise, aimed at creating a sustainable impact on food poverty in Manchester, is being introduced into five more cities. Every Foodinate beaded meal sold on the menu of participating restaurants results in a meal for a local person in need served at the Booth Centre in Manchester. The scheme has provided 20,000 meals for homeless people across the north west so far and has celebrity endorsements from Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio.

Joanne Houlcroft – events and marketing professional

Cheshire-based Living Ventures is one of the most successful bar and restaurant operators in the UK through popular brands including Grill on the Alley, the Alchemist, Australasia, Grand Pacific, the Botanist, Artisan and Manchester House and Jo Holcroft has been a key member of the team founded by Tim Bacon and Jeremy Roberts. She has handled all the important launches and kept the brand at the forefront of media attention. Jo has also played major marketing roles for the Manchester International Festival, the StreetSmart campaign for the homeless and the Manchester Food and Drink Festival.

Dr Tasneem Perry, coach, writer and storyteller

Born and raised in Sri Lanka, Tas came to Manchester in August 2005. Since then, she has finished a Masters degree and a PhD. Her first community project was setting up a reading group, and her lifelong passion for words and stories led to writing too. Along the way she learned to speak up, speak out and write about the truths that matter to her. Since 2015, her Women’s Words project encouraged women across the city to get involved in the telling of their own stories; how Manchester has shaped the women they are today. “Manchester is the city of the suffragettes and Peterloo. We don’t take things like injustice, inequality or bigotry sitting down.”

Dr Radha Boya, scientist

Named one of the Massachusetts Institute of Technologies “ones to watch” under the age of 35, Dr Boya currently works at the University of Manchester’s Graphene Research Institute, researching how to fabricate structures containing unimaginably narrow tubes – so narrow than a single water molecule will not fit through without the application of pressure.  Her office is in the same corridor as other of Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov who won a Nobel prize for discovering graphene, the material single carbon atom thick.

Dr Jane Cocking OBE, chief executive, MAG

Derbyshire-born Dr Jane Cocking was appointed chief executive of the Manchester-based charity, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) in January 2017. The charity,  which inspired the late Princess Diana’s highlighting of the devastation caused to civilians by land mines in war zones, became a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace prize in the 1990s. After studying at the University of Manchester Dr Cocking spent 25 years in the international development and development sector, living in East Africa, the Balkans and Southern Africa. MAG has helped  18 million people in over 40 countries since 1989.

Carley Jones, Kettlebell Kitchen

Geordie Carley Jones, fitness fanatic and crossfit enthusiast, asked herself the question: “why doesn’t a healthy fast food takeaway and restaurant exist?”  Then the call centre manager set about answering it – by risking everything to set up Kettlebell Kitchen, in her words “great eats and cool beats, gym/crossfit themed – the perfect combination for me.” She launched the first Kettlebell Kitchen in March 2016 in Ancoats and was soon serving 300-400 people a day on her gluten-free pizza and natural home-made sauces. She aims to have a Kettlebell Kitchen in every major city by 2020. Who would argue?


Manchester is a successful city, but there are many people that suffer. The I Love MCR Foundation helps raise vital funds to help improve the lives and prospects of people and communities across Greater Manchester – and we can’t do it without your help. So please donate or fundraise what you can because investing in your local community to help it thrive can be a massively rewarding experience. Thank you in advance!

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