Scotswoman of the Year: Sally Magnusson is our inspirational winner

THE inspiration behind a service changing the way people with dementia are treated has been named 55th Evening Times Scotswoman of the Year.

Sally Magnusson, well-known as a broadcaster and writer, set up the groundbreaking charity Playlist for Life after the death of her mother, Mamie.

The charity, which has received national acclaim, helps families reconnect through music. Sally came up with the idea after caring for her late mother, Mamie.

Sally accepted the trophy at a glittering awards dinner, supported by St Enoch Centre, in the City Chambers last night.

As she made her way to the stage, guests rose to their feet.

In a moving acceptance speech, Sally said: “I am honoured to win. I was just bowled over by being on the shortlist with such incredible women.

“I think what we all have in common is that we just take what life has dealt us, whether it is loss or disability or injustice and say – what can we make of it? It’s what women do.”

Evening Times Editor Donald Martin said: “Sally Magnusson is an excellent example of someone with vision and dedication; whose charity, quite simply, is making life better for others.

“Despite her own loss and grief, she rolled up her sleeves and created something truly special, something that is already changing the way people with dementia are treated not just here in Scotland, but across the UK.”

Sally explained: “As any family will know, dementia is a very despairing place to be – you feel you are losing this person you love so much and there is nothing you can do. We discovered singing helped – it brought my mum’s sparkle back.

“After she died, I wanted to tell everyone – don’t despair, there is something that can help.”

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 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.

Last year Playlist for Life trained 1600 health and care staff in 98 organisations. GPs are starting to prescribe playlists instead of drugs and as well as the free app, it is organising a UK network of Help Points,

A recent 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.

A second trophy, the Editor’s Award, was presented to Grace Warnock, 12, from East Lothian who is the youngest ever SWOTY finalist.

Grace, who has the painful condition Crohn’s Disease, founded Grace’s Sign to raise awareness of ‘invisible’ disabilities.

The stunned schoolgirl was over the moon to learn that her sign, which reminds people that not all those who need to use accessible public toilets use a wheelchair, will be adopted by SWOTY partner St Enoch Centre.

“I’m honoured even to be here as I’m only 12,” she beamed.

Her delighted mum Judith said: “I’m the proudest mum in the world not just tonight, but every day, because I know how much Grace does. This award is such a lovely surprise – we are very grateful.”

Anne Ledgerwood, General Manager of event partner St. Enoch Centre said: “Huge congratulations to Sally and Grace, our amazing winners, along with all of our remarkable nominees.

“As ever, the judging process was incredibly challenging because each of our six finalists were so deserving of the title.”

“I look forward to working with Grace about introducing her signage for our shoppers.

“St. Enoch Centre is honoured to continue our partnership with the SWOTY awards and all that is stands for.”

Donald Martin said: “Grace is a young woman whose ingenuity, compassion for others and determination know no bounds. We’re delighted to honour her with the Editor’s Award.”

Around 250 women attended the event, in the spectacular surroundings of Glasgow City Chambers, including Lord Provost Eva Bolander, many former SWOTYs and their representatives, and three of Sally’s fellow finalists Arlene Smith, Grace Warnock and Suki Sangha.

Professor Dame Sue Black and Sammi Kinghorn were unfortunately unable to attend.

The guest speaker was equal rights activist Amal Azzudin, one of the original campaigning Glasgow Girls, who also received a standing ovation for her powerful speech about acceptance and human rights.

“I am honoured to be keynote speaker at an event that celebrates women and all of their achievements,” she said. “We have so many inspiring women in Scotland, and it is right that we acknowledge their selfless efforts in trying to make the world a better and more equal place.”

The evening ended with a sensational performance from singer songwriter Sharon Martin, who performed her soaring anthem, Girl.

“I am so proud to be part of SWOTY,” she said. “I’m passionate about encouraging young women to believe in themselves, to be strong – I know how important it is.”

Guests enjoyed a fantastic meal and drinks, in the spectacular surroundings of the City Chambers’ grand banqueting hall.

Lord Provost Eva Bolander said: “What a wonderful evening – we have many inspiring women in Scotland, and it is great to hear about the work they do. They are all fantastic role models.”

Event host Cathy Macdonald summed up what many in the room were discussing.

She said: “This year, more than any other, we are hearing echoed in other areas, what the Evening Times has been telling us for 55 years – that women, matter, that we should be listened to.

“Finally it is happening – our voices are strong.”