It’s just over a decade since the women of the Rylstone and District Women’s Institute produced their famous ‘nude’ calendar, launching a fundraising phenomenon that has been taken up by many others since. The latest ‘Calendar Girls’ to bare all for a good cause are a group of shopkeepers and traders from Slaithwaite. Hilarie Stelfox went along to meet them.
IT DIDN’T take long for Colne Valley boutique owner Heather Croft to drum up support for a Calendar Girls-style photoshoot to raise funds for Kirkwood Hospice and Slaithwaite Waves Centre.
Heather, 53, had her own reasons for organising the venture. It’s less than a year since her mum, Sarah Snowden, died in the hospice at the age of 73.
Heather said: “I wanted to do this in her memory, and raise some money. It costs £1,000 a day for someone to be in the hospice.’’
She discovered that the hospice has many supporters in Slaithwaite and not just those who have lost a relative or friend.
“Most people just said yes straight away,” said Heather. “There were only one or two who said no and that was because their husbands didn’t approve.”
Semi-naked calendars, tastefully shot to give the appearance of revealing more than they actually do, have become a popular and fashionable fundraising choice ever since the women of the Rylstone and District WI in North Yorkshire launched theirs to support Leukaemia Research back in 2000.
The story of The Calendar Girls, as they became known, is now well known and was transformed into both a film and a stage play, inspiring many others to follow suit.
Heather’s own Calendar Girls include everyone from holistic therapists and a coffee shop owner to a steel fabricator, hairdresser and grocer.
They gathered at the Waves Centre in Upper Mills, Slaithwaite, on a bitterly cold pre-Christmas evening to have their photographs taken.
The Waves Centre, founded by Sallyanne Green and her son, Ben Wright, as a training facility for adults with learning disabilities, proved to be the perfect backdrop as the large mill floor has been converted to include kitchens and living rooms. There were props galore, including a pet corn snake called Cordelia, a resident of the centre’s menagerie.
Heather, who works as a colour consultant as well as running the Mellor Gray boutique in Britannia Road, did the girls’ make-up while her colleague, Julie Earnshaw from The Salon, was on hand to style hair.
The original Calendar Girls were photographed by the husband of one of the models.
In this case it was infant teacher Jean Bashford, from Honley, who is also a part-time photographer.
Fortified with a glass or two of wine and each other’s encouragement, the women were photographed in a variety of poses – holding a cake, hiding behind a giant steel garden ornament, lounging in a deck chair and reclining with a snake.
Pat Bohdan, 62, who works at the Kirkwood shop in Slaithwaite, said: “It was fantastic and great fun.”
The photoshoot had a certain poignancy for the hospice volunteer, whose husband, Andrew, collapsed and died moments after he was involved in a car crash in Slaithwaite in December 2009.
“He would have been proud of me,” said Pat. “But he was a biker so he would probably have liked to see me on the back of a bike.”
Carol Wood, 47, from the Green Valley Grocers, said she was taking part because the hospice was also important to her. “My brother, Mark Byrnes, was in the hospice. He died two years ago at the age of 45. That was what swayed me to take part,” she said. “My husband wasn’t too keen on the idea but I’m sure he’ll be fine as soon as he sees the pictures and realises they’re done in good taste.”
The youngest volunteers were two sisters, Nikki Bertenshaw, 24, and Stephanie, 21. They posed with their mum, 46-year-old Suzanne Bertenshaw, who runs the Old Coach House Healing Centre.
Most of the calendar girls, however, are in their 40s or 50s.
Heather says she wanted to give the calendar a ‘How to Look Good Naked’ feel, believing that anyone can look their best no matter what their age or size.
“My mum would have absolutely loved it,” she said. “She’d have been up for it herself.”
Hospice community fundraising assistant Suzanne Barton added: “We get all sorts of unusual fund-raising ideas and we are very grateful to the people who think of them.
“Some that we have had were a 24-hour head shave at Honley, a 24-hour darts marathon in Golcar and we will be doing a fire walking event next year.
“People are always trying to think of something different.”
The calendar, which is being produced by DK Print in Honley, is on sale at hospice shops and from traders in Slaithwaite, priced £10 a copy. The calendar girls are hoping to raise £2,500 from a print run of 300. Printing costs were met by donations from Heather and her friends.