WOMEN who have broken the law shared their experiences of the criminal justice system and how they turned their lives around.

An event was held at Whitehaven Golf Club on International Women’s Day (March 8) in the hope of challenging perceptions of women who have criminal records.

It was organised by BECBC and run by Time To Change (TTC) West Cumbria – a community interest company which aims to tackle poverty and homelessness in west Cumbria.

Rachel Holliday, CEO of TTC West Cumbria, said: “All of us who have put this event on want to see a change in how women are treated in the criminal justice system. We want to see more support to prevent women from entering into criminality.”

Emma Williamson, deputy leader of Cumberland Council, said her start in life had shaped the person she is today. She said poverty, violence and alcoholism were the norm of her childhood.

 “I truly believed this is how everyone lived. I didn’t know this was far from normal,” she said.

“When you live this type of life, especially in your early years, it shapes much of the person you are going to be.

“It either inspires you to change the world or drags you into the depths. Initially, I was dragged to the depths.”

After visiting a friend’s house when she was 10 years old, Emma realised how she lived was ‘anything but normal’ and she felt ‘truly devastated’.

She ended up within the care system and her circumstances led her to struggle with addiction.

Emma said: “Addiction costs money and I ran into trouble with the police. This period of my life took so much from me.

“The person stood before you now bears no resemblance to the person I was. The person I used to be drives my passion and commitment to change perceptions around what is achievable.”

Emma left school at 14 but wanted change. She sat her GCSEs and A-levels and then completed a degree at university, followed by a master’s degree.

She met Rachel Holliday and applied for a position at Calderwood House, which sparked a chain of events which led to her becoming a county councillor – and the position she is in today.

Emma  became an elected councillor in 2017 but this was not without its challenges. When accepted as a candidate, she was interrogated about her suitability for the position and the embarrassment she might cause.

Whitehaven News: Cllr Emma Williamson at the first Cumberland Council electionsCllr Emma Williamson at the first Cumberland Council elections (Image: Newsquest)

She went on to win the Kells and Sandwith ward with a small majority. At the last election she won a significant majority – something she would never have thought possible. She was then elected deputy leader of Cumberland Council.

Emma said: “This will remain one of my proudest moments. It was a reaffirmation that I had been accepted by not only the public but by my peers. For a person from my background, that means more than you can ever imagine.”