As our #ThisNorthernGirlCan movement and use of the hashtag continues to grow we want to continue to share inspirational stories and experiences from Northern women and men. We want to hear about and share all of that Northern pride and passion.
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself
A. Hi, I’m Debbie Stokoe. I’m a copywriter, blogger and author. I’ve recently self-published my first book, ‘Awakened’ on Amazon. I’m also a mental health campaigner and founder of the Stay Sane At Work project which aims to raise awareness about work-related mental health (there’s a website with resources/an inspirational blog and a Facebook group).
Q. What did you love about growing up in the North?
A. I had a pretty ‘normal’ childhood growing up in Sedgefield, a small village near Durham. It was nice to grow up near countryside and be around nature a lot. I went to college in Darlington and university in Newcastle, and I love how friendly and supportive people are and the fact that it’s more laid back in the North!
Q. Did you have any challenges growing up in the North?
A. Because I was academic some teachers tried to push me to go to Oxford or Cambridge, but I knew I wouldn’t be comfortable and I decided to go to Northumbria University to study Law. I think the main ‘challenge’ is that growing up in the North can be quite laid-back and then if you decide to move to a London or a big city abroad it can be a big change and a bit of a culture shock!
Q. Have you or do you face any challenges being female?
A. I experienced sexism in my first legal job in 2003 and I was totally unprepared for it. I think things are much better now but there is still a long way to go before we have gender equality. I’m now self-employed and I feel empowered, gender doesn’t really come into it.
Q. What or who inspired your journey to where you are now?
A. Experiencing work-related mental health issues led me to look at all types of employment to see how I could live a more balanced life. I always felt like a square peg in a round hole in employment and being self-employed suits me better in a lot of respects. I have a lot of role models – Frida Kahlo for creating beauty despite great pain, Audrey Hepburn for her grace and humanitarian work, and Malala for risking her life to fight for the right for girls and women to be educated.
Q. What advice would you to give to girls growing up in the North?
A. Reach for the stars! If I had my time again I think I would apply to Oxbridge because I was capable of studying at the highest level, but you can stay in the North East and get an excellent quality education. Don’t pigeon hole yourself into a career too soon. Try as many different jobs as you can and travel if you can. Don’t feel pressured to go straight to university. Life experience is important. Be an all-rounder. Get interested in politics and social issues. Play a part in your local community. Volunteer. Keep an open-mind.
Q. How to do think we can encourage more young people about the importance of gender equality?
A. Educate young people about the gender inequality going on around the world so they can have an opinion and hopefully think of ways to improve things. Many girls in India are banned from having mobile phones, and there are plenty more examples of inequality that are not widely known in the West. Child marriage is a scourge on the world and needs to be stopped. Schools and families need to raise the aspirations of girls to give them the confidence and education to be engineers or entrepreneurs. Educate young people about what is happening in the workplace and encourage them to get involved in the conversation.
Q. Tell us some of your favourite Northern places.
A. I blog about art and culture so I love the Theatre Royal and Tyne Opera House, Northern Stage and Live Theatre in Newcastle. I go to the Tyneside Cinema a lot. I love Northumberland and Jesmond Dene for walks and to shake off the stress of the week.
Q. Who are your favourite Northern people (alive or dead?)
A. I admire Gertrude Bell (born in County Durham) for being a writer, political advisor and archaeologist at the turn of the 20th century when it was practically impossible to do those things as a woman. I also admired Kate Adie (born in Northumberland) growing up for having the courage to report from war zones. I’m partial to a bit of Sting and the Pet Shop Boys too! Recently I was amazed by the courage of little Bradley Lowery, I think everyone was touched by his story.
Q. Explain your love of the North in one sentence.
A. Friendly people, stunning countryside, rich culture.
Q. What would you like to see the #ThisNorthernGirlCan movement do?
A. Empower women (and men) from the North and encourage them to aim higher, open people up to whole new opportunities and possibilities and ultimately improve people’s lives for the better.
If you want to be become part of our growing #ThisNorthernGirlCan movement then you can join over 1,ooo like minded women and men in our Facebook group. We’d love to see you there!