Inspirational East Sussex Women

Inspirational East Sussex Women

East Sussex has long been home to inspiring women through history from Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), Muriel Matters (1887 – 1969), a strong supporter of the Women’s Suffrage movement, to Anita Roddick (1942-2007) – founder of The Body Shop.

To coincide with International Women’s Day 2018, we wanted to recognise some of the incredible women in the county today. From creatives, entrepreneurs, businesswomen, educationalists and charity leaders to influencers and community activists, these are just a few of the incredible people who make our communities such dynamic and interesting places to live, work and study.


Photos by Sin Bozkurt© for DLWP.

Kate Adams MBE – Visual Artist and Co-founder of the Project Art Works

Kate is a visual-artist and co-founder of the Project Art Works, an organisation which explores new ways of collaborating with artists, galleries, psychologists, children and adults who have complex neurological impairments and their families to create contemporary art in a meaningful way.

Kate’s experience as the mother of son with complex needs is central to the organisation’s responsive and informed approach. It requires a high degree of knowledge and sensitivity to the ethical issues arising from the inclusion of people who cannot knowingly consent to their involvement in art and culture.

She believes that knowledge is power and informed diplomacy the most effective means of achieving quality of life for people with complex needs and their families. In 2012, Kate was awarded an MBE for her services to art and disability.


Jo Fairley – Green & Black’s Co-founder, speaker and entrepreneur

With six ‘O’ Levels at the age of 16, Jo Fairley went on to become the UK’s youngest-ever magazine editor for Look Now Magazine and then Honey Magazine. After this, Jo began her entrepreneurial journey where in 1991 she co-founded the organic brand, Green & Black’s Chocolate which is now worth £100 million a year.

The success of Green & Black’s has enabled Jo to become a serial entrepreneur, via an award-winning organic and natural food store/bakery (Judges Bakery), The Wellington Centre (a boutique nine-room wellbeing centre) – both in her home town of Hastings – and most recently The Perfume Society.

Jo regularly speaks on topics including entrepreneurism, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and branding, and has received many awards recognising her astonishing success in journalism and business. She has also received an Honorary Doctorate in Business Studies from Kingston University, and The Shackleton Medal for leadership and citizenship, from The Scottish Royal Geographical Society.


Liz Gilmore – Director, Jerwood Gallery

In 2012, Liz Gilmore was appointed founding director of Jerwood Gallery. Liz directs the critically acclaimed exhibition programme at the gallery. Previous exhibitions have showcased work by many British artists including Gillian Ayres, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Rachel Howard, Chantal Joffe and Rose Wylie. Previously Liz was Head of Visual Arts for Arts Council England, South East, where she played a key role in nurturing the development of a network of coastal galleries. An art historian and gallery specialist by training, Liz is also an experienced educationalist, university lecturer and cultural consultant, notably working with artists to establish and lead an acclaimed informal learning programme at the National Gallery, London.

The Jerwood Gallery is known for its holistic design which combines art, architecture, location and operational design making it one of the most environmentally-conscious public galleries in the UK. It uses rainwater to flush the toilets and a heating system built 120 meters into the ground to provide heating and cooling into the gallery.

The Jerwood Galley has won three architectural awards including the RIBA National Award, and attracts 1500 children from schools across Hastings and St Leonards through its education and outreach programmes including one which is funded by The Prince’s Trust – Children and the Arts.


Rossana Leal, Community Engagement and Events Organiser

Inspired by her own experience as a refugee child who arrived in the UK from Chile in the 1970s, Rossana recently founded The Hastings Refugee Buddy Project for the Syrian families arriving in Hastings through the Government’s Syrian Resettlement Project (SRP). A team of Buddies is now working closely with the council SRP caseworker.

As well as running her own successful events company, Mercadito Productions and Owner at The Festival of Heat London’s Chilli Festival, Rossana works with government agencies, arts and charity organisations in community engagement and consultation. Her work with Heart of Hastings in Ore Valley, a community-led initiative, is planning to build low carbon footprint housing, affordable for local people on low incomes, and to create up to 100 long term jobs for local residents.

Known by friends and colleagues for her generous spirit, Rossana works tirelessly for local community causes. She’s an unsung hero who deserves the recognition.


Tamara Roberts, CEO Ridgeview Wine Estate

Second generation CEO, Tamara Roberts took over the leadership role at her family business in 2014, and has since overseen the company’s growth. Ridgeview are now proud winners of numerous international sparkling wine trophies and their wine is served regularly at Buckingham Palace and is the official sparkling wine of No. 10 Downing Street. Leading the way in export of English sparkling wine, Ridgeview can now be found in 12 countries around the world.

Tamara is actively involved within the local business community and is on the board of English Wine Producers. She is regularly asked to speak about her experience and the success of Ridgeview at business events. In 2016, The Wine and Spirit Trade Association held a Parliamentary reception to celebrate ‘Women in Wine’ recognising the importance of women who represent 43% of the Wine and Spirits Industry.


Becky Shaw, Chief Executive, East Sussex County Council

Becky Shaw is the most senior officer in East Sussex County Council. At a time women are seriously under-represented in decision making and the most senior roles in local government, fewer than one in five council leaders and only 33 per cent of council chief executives are women, she is responsible for all work carried out by the Council and is the main advisor on overall policy. Becky is a big supporter in encouraging women in leadership roles and is one of 15 female local authority chief executives mentoring 200 future leaders through the Local Government Partnership.

Becky joined East Sussex County Council in 2000 and became chief executive in 2010. She has responsibility for 5,000 staff outside schools, a net revenue budget of £500m and £300m annual capital programme, delivering a wide range of services to the 600,000 residents, communities and businesses of East Sussex.

She works closely with politicians of all parties to Stand Up for East Sussex, lobbying the Government to ensure the impact the cuts will have on residents are recognised. She is also a trustee of the Rona Sailing Project, which takes young people to sea to develop their confidence, skills and resilience.


Jessica Steele OBE

Jess Steele, is the founder and director of Jericho Road Solutions and a community activist and was a founder trustee of Hastings Pier & White Rock Trust, which successfully campaigned to transfer the pier into community ownership and raised £14m for its renovation.

Jess launched Jericho Road Solutions in 2013, a business based in Hastings to provide coaching to community businesses whilst working with government, funders, the private sector and academics on initiatives to make neighbourhoods work better. Building on her experience of rescuing Hastings Pier, Jess specialises in supporting ambitious local and national projects to rescue the most challenging of precious buildings. She is also a community business panel member for the Power to Change Trust.

Jess has 25 years’ experience as a local community activist and entrepreneur both in Hastings and Deptford in London. She has also been recognised on a national level with an OBE for her work with communities.


Adanma Umunna, Director and Principle, UTC@Harbourside

When it comes to studying STEM subjects at school, male and female students perform equally well. Unfortunately, this parity doesn’t always carry over into the professional world where there is a significant gender gap in the science and technology workforces.

In a world where STEM skills are in great demand, Adanma Umunna is helping encourage more young people to embark on a career in science and engineering. Born and raised in London, she was appointed Principal of the new UTC@harbourside in 2014, which opened in 2015 with a focus on engineering, the environment, and creating a sustainable future.

With over twenty years of experience in education, Adanma gained a degree in engineering at the University of Warwick before embarking on a career teaching technology and engineering in schools.

As a senior leader, she has a wealth of experience in enabling young people to achieve their best, and supports academic staff and leading employers to give students who are motivated by science, maths and computing the real skills and qualifications they need to succeed in the workplace, and at university and beyond.

These are our some of our inspirational women…

Who are yours?


From start ups to established businesses, including profit-making social enterprises, if you are in need of business support and funding to grow your enterprise we can help. Email Locate East Sussex at

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