Sheffield’s Women Of Steel were almost forgotten - but not anymore, writes Graham Walker.
The brave girls, who produced the bullets, bombs, tanks and Spitfire parts to win the fight for freedom in two world wars, are now to be celebrated forever with their own statue.
And today The Star, who put the spotlight on public recognition for the women and drove the £150,000 statue appeal, was praised along with its readers, other individuals, business, organisations and showbiz stars for helping to smash the target.
Almost £170,000 has been raised, with extra plans now to celebrate original girl power with “legacy initiatives”, including the possibility of a medal, keepsakes, exhibitions, educational resources and apprenticeships.
The big announcement came as fundraising prayers were answered at Sheffield Cathedral with a finale event - a sold out Women Of Steel Folk Show, raising £9,000, which featured homegrown superstars including Martin Simpson, Fay Hield, John Tams, Barry Coope, Chris While, Julie Matthews, Roy Bailey, Ray Hearne, Nat Johnson and more.
VIDEO: Press the play button to watch Chris While and Julie Matthews, with help from other folk stars, sing their new song Drop Hammer - an encore at the show, dedicated to the Women Of Steel.
But before the concert began last night the £150,000 was reached when schoolgirl Jade Morris, aged eight, daughter of Stauff UK Ltd boss John, presented a £3,360 cheque on behalf of the company and staff, who still makes MOD parts where the Women Of Steel worked.
John, Managing Director of Stauff UK Ltd, in Carlisle Street East, on the old site of Cammell Laird, later British Steel Corporation, said: “After a discussion with our staff we wanted to donate the amount required to take the fund to its target.”
Amey, Sheffield City Council’s private contractor for maintaining the city’s highway network, has also agreed to fund the thousands of pounds costs for foundation work to set the statue outside Sheffield City Hall, it was confirmed.
That and other last minute donations sent the appeal total to almost £20,000 beyond the target.
John Tams, who wrote the songs for the worldwide hit stage show War Horse, took time out from National Theatre rehearsals of Christmas show Treasure Island to appear in the first half, before returning to London.
Folk superstars at the end came together for an encore performance of Drop Hammer, written specially for the Women of Steel and featured on the new album, Who We Are, by Chris While and Julie Matthews.
It was a particularly poignant night for Sheffield born Julie, whose father was a steelworker. She also wrote and sang a song on the John Tams’ Song of Steel radio programme for Dot Slingsby – one of the Women of Steel.
Last night’s stars appeared for free - as did the city’s rock and pop stars at the City Hall a year ago, when £64,000 was raised, with performances by Tony Christie, Heaven 17, ABC’s Martin Fry, John Parr, Eliot Kennedy, John Shuttleworth, Jon McClure, John Reilly, Philippa Hanna and many more.
It inspired people across the region to get involved.
The World Snooker Championship Cue Ball in Sheffield donated its £20,000 charity proceeds and the World Snooker organisation itself chipped in with another £5,000.
Music and musicians featured prominently, with £3,000 coming from a Music in the Round Concert with Ensemble 360.
More than £500 was donated by Councillors Pat Midgley and John Campbell from a concert by Tom Donaldson Badger; Mike Lawton’s Elvis nights shaking £400 out of people’s pockets.
Sheffield College contributed more than £1,600 from a special dinner attended by some of the women and Sheffield University staff and students pooled their efforts to donate more than £2,000.
Dozens of families who have a nan who was a woman of steel have donated £5 and £10. An Alternative Burns Night brought in £300; a Desert Island Cinema screening of the Full Monty produced another £300; Investec staff did an number of events which raised a further £350 and staff and customers at the Merrie Monk imaginatively raised £550.
And individuals like Lindsay Cummings, who ran the London Marathon in honour of her Nan, exceeded all her expectations by earning £1,500.
El Paso restaurant gave all the proceeds from their launch - £750 - to the Appeal and the Women of Steel Ale from Chantry Brewery is still bringing in funds, after raising £1,000.
John Palmer, a leading campaigner, who co-organised last year’s rock and pop concert with The Star’s Graham Walker and Grammy award winning Sheffield producer Eliot Kennedy, instigated lots of other fundraising, including a special Music In The Round classical music concert and organised last night’s folk show finale.
He said: “When we started with this we hoped it would capture the imagination of the community. It was a big ask but the response form the community has been humbling and totally overwhelming.
“It was fantastic to get the support of The Star to get the whole thing going. The Star is community based and reflects what is happening in the city.
“Nancy Fielder got behind the women and raised the profile, my connection was hearing about it and fundraising for over two years now. My thanks in particular to The Star’s Graham Walker, who has given amazing publicity and support.”
Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore said: “Well done Sheffield, you’ve smashed it for our Women of Steel. We have been overwhelmed by the response of people locally, nationally and internationally to help achieve our goal of raising the £150,000 needed for the commemorative statue.
“We have ordered the statue from sculptor Martin Jennings which is scheduled for unveiling in Barkers Pool in the Summer of 2016.
“Last night’s concert not only marks the fundraising target being met, and exceeded – but the start of the next chapter for the Women of Steel: keeping the legacy going.
“The money over the target amount will be fully used toward legacy initiatives. We have already started to discuss ideas for commemorative keepsakes, exhibitions, educational resources and apprenticeships to make sure we always remember and pay our respects and thanks to our Women of Steel.
“Special thanks go out to John Palmer who has played a very significant role in co-ordinating fundraising events; to The Star who have helped keep the campaign in the spotlight; to local businesses for their generous donations and support in-kind; and to the many, many individuals and organisations who have supported the campaign.
“For me personally, I would just like to add what an honour it has been to have met some of the inspirational Women of Steel themselves whose bravery, determination, work ethic and sheer guts are finally being given the recognition they deserve after 70 years.”