Inspiring Women

March is a true celebration of women. With International Women’s Day on the 8th and Mothering Sunday on the 27th, this month is the perfect time to focus on the achievements and lives of some the inspiring women we have throughout East Anglia. When we are consumed with our day to day challenges, it is sometimes difficult to realise how inspiring we all can be as individuals – no matter what our backgrounds or where the journey of our lives has taken us. Like Mae West once said, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”

Portrait artist Karen Turner tells Sarah Hardy how lockdown got her to pick up her paint brushes again


Karen Turner’s paintings are full of colour, life and vitality and they celebrate the female form in all its glory – lumps, bumps and all!

Karen, who lives in Eye in Suffolk, creates dramatic canvases of very happy women from her home studio, taking between one to two weeks to produce each one. ‘I paint every day, I am very self disciplined – you’d be surprised how tidy my studio is!’

She is currently getting work ready for an exhibition in London at the end of the month, saying: ‘I’m taking 10 pictures and I’ve just heard that I’ve been chosen as the Director’s Pick which is just amazing, I couldn’t be more delighted.’

Karen, who is in her mid 40s, was born in the capital, and spent some of her childhood in Switzerland. She attended Hampstead Fine Arts College in London but, as with many of us, real life took over and she started to work as a business analyst, and there was less time for painting. 

She and her husband moved to Suffolk eight years ago, with Karen explaining: ‘London just got too much and I suppose I must have thought that the move would somehow allow me to paint again.’

But it was the Covid-19 pandemic and the enforced lockdown that saw Karen turn to her art work once again. She started slowly, drawing rather than painting, but it quickly picked up. ‘I was working from home but I suddenly had the time – there was nothing else I could do so I started drawing and realised how much I enjoyed and missed it,’ she says.

She decided to take part in the Portraits for NHS Heroes project, explaining: ‘You needed an Instagram account to register your interest, so that encouraged me to create one. Then you simply put yourself forward as someone who was willing to produce a portrait and people contacted you.

‘I was lucky enough to do several, including a nurse in Lincoln and then a nurse who was training to become a doctor in London. It was amazing, I really enjoyed it.

‘The NHS is very close to my heart. I suffer from Chrone’s Disease and, 20 years ago, I was in a car accident and spent some time in a wheelchair.’

The NHS project spurred her on to work hard, taking part in Sky Arts online drawing and painting sessions, posting work on social media channels and moving into working in oils, on raw linen canvases. ‘It’s all taken off,’ she says, adding that she attended her first fair, Art Fair East, in Norwich last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, meeting prospective customers and chatting about her work. ‘People are very moved by my work so it is very rewarding,’ she says. ‘Pieces are bought by men, women and non binary people.’

Now Karen paints her bold pieces from photographs, from online modelling sessions and, more recently, from live modelling sessions. ‘I take commissions and people are very keen to model for me – they say that I make them look and feel beautiful which is incredible.’

She agrees that there is a considerable amount of pressure around women and their weight, and is pleased to play a part in breaking down barriers, saying: ‘My work aims to challenge the conventions of body image so it’s always fascinating to see how audiences respond.’

And for now, she is looking forward to her upcoming London exhibition, saying that it is an achievement to simply be accepted for a place. ‘I know about 1000 people applied for 150 places,’ she says.

You can see Karen’s work on her website, and the Saatchi Art website, and she’s hoping to start to sell her work at a gallery in Norwich. Watch this space!

Norwich dancer Cat Chapman is inspiring the next generation of performers, discovers Sarah Hardy.


It’s been a lifelong passion. Catherine Chapman, best known as Cat, started to dance, as hundreds of little girls do, aged just three. She explains that her mum took her to dance classes at the Central School of Dancing to get rid of her endless energy. ‘I think she wanted to channel my enthusiasm and I just loved it. I was eight when I realised that I could do it for a job and when I was 16, I went to study at Laine Theatre Arts in Epsom.’

After qualifying three years later, Cat embarked on a successful career, working all over the world, including on cruise ships in the Caribbean and Mediterranean. She talks with relish about these exciting times, saying that tap and jazz were always her favourite dance styles. ‘I was always strong and a good tapper!’

Cat, who is now in her early 40s, is just as passionate about training the next generation of dancers, especially helping young people find their chosen pathways. ‘I took my teaching qualifications at Laine and have continued to upscale them, keeping up-to-date with evolving dance styles and progressions in dance science and health,’ she explains.

From her 20s, Cat started to do more teaching in Norwich, always being in demand for her fun but tough lessons. ‘I started to teach in different venues and also choreographed professional shows, pantos, and cabarets, and it all just grew organically from there.’

Indeed, she sounds like one busy woman. Alongside teaching, in 2014, she was selected by Sir Matthew Bourne of the top British dance company, New Adventures (he of the all male Swan Lake fame), as an ambassador to help with a national project, Lord of Flies. Sir Matthew staged a new production of this William Golding classic, using a mix of trained and untrained dancers, and Cat was tasked with selecting and training the East Anglian group.

From this she set up LEGACY, an all-male dance company which caters for those aged four to 21, saying: ‘Initially it was just one group of lads coming together every fortnight, but I soon realised they thrived in the all male training environment and it quickly became weekly. ‘Following this I was able to expand to involve younger boys and now we have three busy junior classes as well as the main company. It’s amazing to see so many loving dance and supporting one another.’

In 2018, Cat opened The Workshop, another training programme, but this time aimed at students who want more intense guidance when auditioning. She says: ‘‘I began to realise that I was working all over the place and really wanted to open my own studio, with everything under one roof.” She moved in with her parents and began to save, and all her hard work paid off earlier this year when she finally opened her own studios, The Workshop Studios, in Norwich.

The centre boasts two large studios with sprung floors, a foyer where parents can meet, and much more – and the variety of classes on offer is amazing, aiming at both the enthusiastic beginner and the more elite performer. Think of everything from tap to tumbling to musical theatre classes.

Cat can list a seemingly infinite number of reasons why dance is good for you, not just for physical health but also for mental wellbeing, confidence, and social skills. She says her timetable is accessible to all, regardless of ability, but does say that she expects her pupils to try their hardest. ‘I expect people to do their best,’ she says. ‘It’s not about competing with others but about being the best you can be.’

She adds that she is interested in working with those who have not had a traditional or conventional dance background: ‘We can’t all go to dance schools as young children. I like to help people who have found a love for dance in other ways, but are just as passionate and have great potential.’

Cat remains as busy as ever, teaching six days a week and doing her admin on Sundays. ‘I don’t have too much time for myself but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I try to keep fit as I stretch and demonstrate in classes as much as possible,’ she says, admitting that she can still do the splits.

Away from work, she enjoys spending time with friends and watching musical theatre shows. But as she says: ‘Dance is just me – I don’t think I could do anything else!’

Niobe Shaw talks to the Strategic Project Advisor for the Priscilla Bacon Hospice.

“People finding you inspiring is less about you as a person and more about the things that you do,” says Sandra Dinneen, who has certainly done a lot.

Sandra is the Strategic Project Advisor for the Priscilla Bacon Hospice. This Norwich-based charity was established to fundraise for and build a new hospice next to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. This will replace Priscilla Bacon Lodge on Unthank Road, which has been providing palliative care for several decades.

Tasked with managing the final stages of fundraising and the build plan, Sandra’s role is not without its difficulties. It is, however, a worthwhile challenge. “The hospice is such a needed thing. It touches so many people. The Priscilla Bacon Lodge is a Norfolk institution. People know about it: they know someone who’s been supported by it or they’ve lost somebody there. It holds a place in their hearts.”

Sandra feels flattered to be described as ‘inspiring’, claiming she is simply a problem solver. “I always think there’s a solution – we just have to find it. I guess it’s an inspiring attitude to have.” She spoke of how she has learnt to problem solve from her own role models, something we can all do by observing those we respect. “Nothing’s really new – we’re all just looking at the way things have already been done, and hopefully adding more and doing it a little bit better.”

Sandra also shared the importance of reflecting when something doesn’t go the way we had imagined. “I think what you find with people who are considered inspiring is that whatever they do, they take lessons from it. People forget that if you look hard enough, there’s a lesson to be taken from everything.”

This sentiment has been followed in the planning process of the hospice, which will be the first built in the UK following the COVID pandemic. At times during the last two years, visitations to care facilities have had to stop – with devastating impacts. The new hospice has therefore been designed to mitigate this, were a similar situation to arise again. For example, each of the bedrooms will have a private garden, so that families can visit relatives staying at the hospice in an outdoor space.

Sandra commented that bringing out the best in others is one of the most rewarding aspects of being involved in organisations. “People can’t always see their own potential. Hopefully I have encouraged people to find what they already have and to achieve more than perhaps they first thought they could.” It’s a quality often looked for in leaders, and one which is undoubtedly positive and inspiring.

Driven by things that make a difference, Sandra’s engagement in the wider community is extensive. Her previous work as Chief Executive of South Norfolk Council earned her an OBE, and she is also on the boards of Historic England, the Sapientia Multi-Academy Trust and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. It’s unsurprising then, that Sandra told me she is motivated by putting her time and energy into purposeful work. “I am driven by things that make a difference. If you’re going to spend a lot of your life working or putting effort into things, you want to think that it actually changes something. I like to get the sense that what I’m doing is leaving things in a better place.”

This is Sandra’s first role in the charity sector, and she herself feels inspired by the actions of the public. With over £10 million fund-raised to date, she spoke of the wide variety of activities/fund-raising that local  people and organisations have done to support the charity, including cycle rides, running and knitting! “There are so many people who want to give something back, but don’t always know how to,” Sandra said. She suggests anyone who would like to support the hospice should visit the charity’s website. (

The kindness of others is hugely encouraging to Sandra. “We’ve had a significant number of donations from people who have asked to be anonymous. They’re not doing it for recognition – they’re doing it because they want to give something back. It doesn’t matter what size it is because every bit adds another brick in the wall. That’s something that I find really inspiring.”

As a final pearl of wisdom, Sandra added, “I always tell people to just be brave. It’s about putting yourself out there and considering what’s the worst thing that can happen? I live my life by that: have a go.”

Read more about Priscilla Bacon Hospice here.

Read all about how Jarrold and Priscilla Bacon Hospice are partnering up to encourgae clothing donations in Norfolk here.

Sandra Dinneen styled by Jarrold

Sandra visited Jarrold in Norwich for a styling experience and, I am sure you will agree, with fabulous results.

Shot on location at The Granary by Jarrold, a Grade II listed building located on Bedford Street, Norwich, offering a collection of beautiful contemporary furniture and home accessories.

Photography by Robert Tremain

 Make-up by Lucy Kefford from DIOR at Jarrold

Styled by Florrie Dunn, personal stylist at Jarrold

Wearing –
Dress: Y.A.S Savanna printed maxi shirt dress in mellow rose £55
Shoes: L.K. Bennett floret pink suede pointed toe courts £229
Necklace: Masai Rosena necklace £35