Saturday, October 8, 2011

Jo Wiggans, Director of Aimhigher Greater Manchester, given Special Award in Honour of Kath Fry

I was very thrilled to have been asked to present the Special Award in honour of Kath Fry at the Manchester Women's Awards 2011 last night (Friday 7 October). The award was for a group or individual that has made a significant contribution to education and/or gender equality. This is basically what I said, except I missed a bit out because I was stumbling.

I’ll call her Kath for the rest of what I’m going to say, because I’m not going to be talking about Kath Fry my mum, but Kath Fry a woman of outstanding achievement.

If she’d been here and someone had suggested that this award could be named after her, I’m sure she would have said something like, “Oh no… there are far more deserving women than me” and probably would have suggested a few. But I know that inside she would have been really pleased.

I think that kind of modesty is a characteristic that many of the women here today will share. This ceremony and awards are a great recognition, but the things they do are not for that reward. They are good women who are driven by a desire to help people and make the world a better place.

Kath was a very active campaigner in the women’s movement in the seventies and then in the Labour party at a local and national level.

She was Secretary of the Manchester City Labour Party from 1984 to 88 and a City Councillor from 1988 to 2004. In that period, she held key posts of chair of Personnel sub-committee, chair of Education Committee and deputy of Children’s services committee.

In her working life, she was a careers officer and then a maths teacher, first in secondary schools and then in adult education. She was passionate about young people and education, and to that effect one of the achievements that she was most proud of was her 20 year involvement in the Ghyll Head Outdoor Education Centre.

Ghyll Head is Manchester’s residential outdoor centre for young people in the Lake District. With the pressure on Council budgets over the last 20 years it’s often figured on lists for possible cutbacks or closure. The full cost of high quality residential outdoor education is beyond the budget of many families in Manchester and yet a hugely positive experience for the young people.

Kath first visited the Centre as Chair of the Education Committee in 1992, attending the Centre’s 25th anniversary celebrations. She gave a speech alongside Benny Rothman, a native of Manchester, famed for his role in the Kinder Scout mass trespass, and the battle for access to the countryside for the common man. During that day, Kath became aware of the impact that the Centre could have on young people from the City.

This turned out to be an important occasion for the future of the Centre, because a couple of years later when Ghyll Head was on the list for possible closure by the City Council, it was Kath who came to the aid of the supporters who wanted to voice their protests to the Education Committee.

When the decision was made to keep the Centre open, Kath chaired the newly formed management committee and inspired the Centre’s supporters to form the Friends of Ghyll Head. Despite all her other work, Kath volunteered to take on the role of Secretary to the Friends, something she only relinquished as her illness took hold last autumn.

And to illustrate this commitment, in February she hosted a meeting of the committee at our house, because she wasn’t up to the journey to somewhere else.

That was actually too much for her and afterwards not only was she very tired, but also sad once everyone had left. Not for herself, but that because of her illness, she felt she was letting everyone down, and was worried what would happen to the Centre without her input.

I am here today to award a prize to another outstanding woman. The winner of this year’s Special Award in honour of Kath Fry is Jo Wiggans, director of Aimhigher Greater Manchester.

The Aimhigher initiative was a national partnership project, the funding for which came to an end in July 2011, but some of the projects across the country are continuing without government funding or still winding down.

Aimhigher Greater Manchester, was a partnership of ten local authorities, more than a hundred and fifty high schools, 22 colleges, 7 higher education institutions, plus work-based learning providers, Connexions services and others.

The initiative had a budget of more than five million pounds per annum. This was for programmes of activities to encourage young people from underrepresented groups to progress to higher education.

The initiative in Greater Manchester was an unprecedented success. Just one of the successes of the programme was the number of young people from Manchester who applied to higher education increased by 91% between 2003 and 2009.

The rate of increase in Higher Education entry was also greater for those from the most deprived areas of the city.

Jo and her small team were based in the Open University in the North West Regional Centre in Sharston. Jo was formerly Assistant Director for the Open University in the North West where she worked for ten years. And previously had worked for Leeds Metropolitan University and other providers.

I am sure that Kath would have been very pleased, as am I, that this award in her honour has gone to such a worthy recipient from such a successful and worthwhile project.

Aimhigher Greater Manchester was an outstanding success in raising aspirations and supporting young women from the most deprived areas of Manchester to progress to higher education, enabling them to fulfil their potential.


  1. And I just want to add that I am both very humbled and very grateful for the award. I walked around all Saturday feeling alternately a complete imposter and ten foot tall! I wish I had met Kath. I hugely admire her fight to retain opportunities for Manchester young people to see the world from different angles, to have a taste of the best (Ghyll Head is idyllically set) and so believe that they have the right to aspire to the highest. Thank you Kath and thank you Karen. Jo Wiggans

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