“The organisers of the event in Reykjavik were proclaiming my glittering Scotswoman of the Year status from the rooftops,” marvels the woman who took our 2017 title back in February.
“I realised then, more keenly than ever, that SWOTY has been a marvellous way of giving credibility not just to us, but to all the Cinderella corners of social and dementia action that Playlist for Life comes into contact with and that can benefit so much from a bit of special lustre.”
Playlist for Life is the charity Sally set up following the death of her mother, Mamie, who had dementia.
The nationally-acclaimed organisation helps families reconnect through music, and in a short space of time, has had a huge impact on the way people with the disease are treated.
After Mamie died, Sally discovered an American charity, which was already delivering personal music on iPods to people in care homes with positive results.
With no similar work being developed in the UK, Sally decided to do it herself, and set up Playlist for Life in 2013.
The charity aims to make it possible for every person with dementia – whether in their own home or in a care setting – to have access to a playlist of personally meaningful music from their past life, delivered via an iPod.
Since 2013, Playlist for Life has rained thousands of health and care staff and more and more GPs are starting to prescribe playlists instead of drugs.
As well as the free app, the charity is organising a UK network of Help Points and a Commission on Music and Dementia launched in the House of Lords recommended to the NHS and government that everyone with dementia should be able to access Playlist for Life by 2020.
The charity helped the BBC establish its Music Memories website, and just last week, the UK Government’s health secretary Matt Hancock gave Playlist for Life his backing at a speech to the Kings Fund (one of the biggest medical think tanks in the world).
For Sally, winning SWOTY felt overwhelming at the time.
“I had no idea, it was such a shock,” she laughs. “I had no speech prepared, I was bowled over.”
She adds, echoing the sentiments of almost every woman who wins the title: “It’s really heavy, the trophy, isn’t it?”
The challenge, she explains, has been trying to make the most of “the wonderful opportunities of being SWOTY, while also promoting one novel, writing the next, working at the BBC and engaging with the week by week ups and downs of chairing an expanding and fast-moving charity.”
She adds: “When I received the SWOTY award on the night it was a genuine surprise. I was delighted, of course, and very moved.
“But I also saw at once that such a prestigious award was exactly what Playlist for Life needed at that point, as we tried to establish ourselves on a bigger stage, trying to ensure that Playlist for Life could become the catalyst for the use of music to benefit people living with dementia beyond Glasgowand beyond Scotland.”
She pauses. “So it has proved. It has been an extraordinary year for the charity.”
Sally adds: “The award was a vote of confidence in the charity, in what it had set out to do and the impact it was making.
“In a way, founding a charity is the easy bit – sustaining it and adapting it to the different challenges and opportunities that come along later are harder.
“This magnificent award has reminded us all that actually, we’re doing okay.”
As the search continues for Sally’s successor, the awardwinning author and journalist has a few words of advice to whoever ends up on the shortlist.
“Prepare a speech. It really could be you,” she laughs. “And to my successor – enjoy a wonderful opportunity and choose a robust mantelpiece.”
HOW TO ENTER
IT is an exciting time for SWOTY, with a new venue and a second glittering trophy up for grabs.
For the first time in the event’s 56-year history, in addition to the main award, we will also be crowning a Young Scotswoman of the Year.
In a bid to secure the legacy of our wonderful event, this exciting new accolade is open to girls and young women aged between 12 and 21.
Last year, 12-year-old Grace Warnock from East Lothian won an Editor’s Award at SWOTY, in recognition of her campaign to raise awareness of ‘invisible’ disabilities.
Grace’s Sign is now in place on accessible toilets all over the country.
The Young Scotswoman of the Year will be an inspirational individual who has already made a fantastic contribution to Scottish society, helping others, perhaps even overcoming personal challenges along the way.
For both awards, we want to hear who has impressed you over the last 12 months.
It could be a celebrity, or your next-door neighbour; a friend who has overcome personal heartache to help others, or a life-saving pioneer. Perhaps you know an unsung hero who deserves wider recognition, or someone at the helm of a social enterprise, who is using her business acumen for good.
Nominate your SWOTY or YoungSWOTY of 2018 by the closing date of Thursday, January 24, at 5pm.
Call 0141 302 6019 for more information.
The winner will be announced at a glittering, invitation-only gala dinner in March at the Grand Central Hotel.