Style Acre hosted a superb event with Dame Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley and our vice-patron John Craven OBE, entitled ‘Getting to Know You’. A unique occasion, Steve and John, who had never met before, learnt about each other’s lives in the beautiful setting of Harris Manchester College, Oxford.
Blessed with the last of our fine weather, guests enjoyed drinks in the college Quad and an opportunity to meet Steve and John, before moving into the chapel, where our speakers chatted about their lives.
Much is chronicled about Steve – a true pioneer. Poignant to today’s refugee crises, was her experience of arriving in the UK as an unaccompanied, cold, hungry and bewildered 5 year old refugee on the “Kindertransport” In promoting our event on BBC Radio Oxford, she spoke of this time and you can listen here.
John revealed that his father had been a POW in Japan and talked of his father’s absence and then presence during his early childhood. Steve said that she has been driven to make her life one that was worth saving.
An early IT professional, Steve found it hard to find employment as a new mum in the early 1960’s and responded by setting-up her own software business, offering home-based employment to professional women in similar situations (ironically falling foul of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975!). John’s first question during an hour of compelling conversation was “Why ‘Steve’?”. When she was requesting bank loans and signing her letter as ‘Stephanie Shirley’, banks would not respond to her letter: a few years later, she and her employees were writing software for the likes of Supersonic Concorde! Her company became immensely successful and Steve became wealthy, but she chose a modest lifestyle, given away £60m to establish and support charities – especially in the field of autism.
Steve spoke emotionally of her beautiful baby son Giles who at two, lost what little speech he had and became an unmanageable autistic toddler. Bringing Giles up at a time when little was known of the condition and how best to support someone with autism, was incredibly difficult. So Steve set up Kingwood, initially a place for Giles to live and thrive – now a charity providing supported living and support for 100 people with autism.
No matter how successful we are, we will all experience challenge, success, tragedy, joy and sacrifice. John felt the biggest sacrifice to his success has been his privacy, although he has thoroughly enjoyed the diversity of his career – starting off as a journalist on the Harrogate Advertiser (cutting his teeth in Obituaries, where an obit of his was erroneously posted to the very much alive subject!), to switching to Saturday morning children’s TV, Newsround and Countryfile.
We are most grateful to Steve and John, for donating their time and proceeds from the sale of their books at the event, to Style Acre. Thanks to Harris Manchester for hosting our event and providing a delicious and much complimented lunch. We would also like to thank Kingerlee and Thomas Merrifield for providing corporate sponsorship towards the event.