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Blog by Women in Defence Awards 2016 Winner Harriet Tadikonda

The third in our series of blogs from 2016 Women in Defence Awards winners comes from Harriet Tadikonda, who writes about her project One Voice and how the Awards have impacted her work.

Today I received an email from Dame Judi Dench:

‘What wonderful news that the concert will go ahead. We all have to carry on, otherwise the terrorists win, and we cannot have that. Congratulations to you and keep up the tremendous work you are doing.’

It is the third of fourth email along this vein that she has so kindly sent through to me in the last few months. During the inception of One Voice, there were some deeply frustrating times. Any deep vision will be thoroughly tested to ensure determination and resilience, however I simply could not generate any support within the MoD for around six months. I knocked on many many doors, attended fruitless meetings had what numbered hundreds of emails unanswered. Just as my energy was draining I received an email from Dame Judi Dench, a wonderful and heartfelt email agreeing to be the patron ‘I could not be more supportive of this project’. Miraculously doors began to open. She has remained, a pillar of support and strength.

Funding was then offered, by a visionary Wg Cdr, Wg Cdr Bamford who recognised the potential of the project. Within a month we had recorded an astonishing documentary and music single promoting ‘One Voice for Co-operation and Tolerance’. Whilst I foresaw the gravity of the potential reach of the project, I had not envisaged the impact. Following the launch of the project in the House of Lords a One Voice Education initiative was launched. 15 schools across Manchester agreed to participate. In order to instill the clear vision that I had for the project, I travelled around each school, just as I had travelled around each member of One Voice and sowed that passion into a heart willing to take the initiative forward. It remains deeply humbling to watch others drive it forward. Schools delivered One Voice lessons, PowerPoints, held community wide events, One Voice art exhibitions, filmed their own music videos, dance performances and so much more. I remember holding back the tears the first time that I heard 200 children sing ‘A Path to Peace’ which I had written for the One Voice group, but it was always with the long term vision of bringing children together.

In two days’ time we are holding a concert for 2000 children in the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, the culmination of months of work. I could not of course have predicted how profoundly important the event would become. On the 22nd May 2017, people across Manchester woke up to the terrible and tragic news that something awful had happened. It struck at the heart of city unprepared for such a senseless and indiscriminate act. Many of those involved in the Education initiative were directly affected. In the days that followed a ripple of fear began to spread around the communities. It saw numerous people withdraw from this concert. In such times, real leadership is needed. Voices that rise up amidst the devastation to say that, we will not let fear or hate divide us. I decided, with a mountain of support from our ambassadors, the Bishop of Manchester, Sir Alex Ferguson to name just a few, that the concert, should and must go ahead and then watched with admiration as the Head teachers rose up within their own communities and stood resolutely in agreement.

Last year I was awarded the Women in Defence Collaborative award. I remember being handed the award and just thanking God because at last, after such struggles, the project would receive some tangible support. Sure enough I received a wealth of supportive emails, it paved the way for some higher level dialogue and a move into HM Prison Styal which would have been a terribly difficult battle had I not recently won an award which gave credibility to the work that I was doing in the reform processes. As the project as grown, I am truly grateful for the Women in Defence Awards for recognising the worth of the project, and indeed that often it is in the over-coming, whilst juggling children, marriage and all of the other responsibilities that women have…. It is in the over-coming, that real strength lies.

Read the press release about the fantastic work that the One Voice initiative has been doing here.

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