ACTIVIST, model and dancer Kate Stanforth won’t let anything stop her from pursuing her goals, and it is this headstrong determination which ended up capturing the attention of one of the country’s biggest retailers.

Twenty-five-year-old Kate was diagnosed with ME nine years ago and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) three years ago.

Her chronic health conditions, however, have not held her back from achieving all that she sets her mind too, including launching and running Project Parent, a national charity which offers parents of children in hospital essential gift packs and presents over the Christmas holidays.

The idea came to Kate after her own time staying in hospital wards for long periods with her family, where she realised there was a lack of support for the parents, and often the main carers, of children who were in hospital.

On top of running the Project Parent with the help of her team of volunteers, Kate is also a dance teacher at JLJ Dance Studios in Ryton, where she teaches a ballet class for children ages 8-12 from her wheelchair.

It was this career choice which caught the eye of the team at Sainsbury’s, and soon enough Kate was one of the 15 inspirational women chosen to feature in the company’s clothing line Tu’s campaign called Work It.

“The campaign was about showcasing women who don’t fall into the nine-to-five job category,” said Kate.

“Because I’m a dance teacher with a big difference, they seemed especially interested in me, because it isn’t your average job.”

Before being diagnosed at 14, Kate had danced all her life and, under Affleck Academy of Ballet in Hexham, had dreamed of one day becoming a professional dancer, a dream which she still has today.

“My illness meant that I had to accept that dancing for myself might not be possible, but I still wanted to stay in the dance world because it is my passion.

“That was why I turned to teaching, because it offered me that opportunity, but that doesn’t mean I’ve given up on being a professional dancer,” she said.

Kate acknowledges that whilst the modelling industry is becoming more inclusive to those living with disabilities, there is still a long way to go for people like herself to break into the professional dance industry.

“It’s one of the hardest to break into anyway, never mind with a disability.

“I know it will be a long road, but it’s something I’d really like to focus on now alongside the teaching,” she said.

Premiering in September, the Work It campaign featured a cast of women who reflected a diversity of careers and backgrounds, including a skateboarding chief executive, a teacher, a football club director, a transgender journalist, and Kate as a dancer.

The campaign aimed to challenge the idea of traditional workwear, and show that women don’t have to play by the rulebook, and instead dress in what makes them feel confident and how they see fit for their careers.

Before the campaign, Kate had some previous independent modelling experience, in particular for bridal wear.

However, she said that once she became more reliant upon using her wheelchair in shoots, she was suddenly faced with a lack of interest.

“That’s when I signed up for a modelling and talent agency called Zebedee, who work specifically with models who have disabilities or differences.

“For me, what was really appealing about the agency was how accommodating they were to the models on their books, because they understood that we might need extra support from time to time,” said Kate.

It was through Zebedee that Kate was offered the opportunity to star in the Work It campaign, which required her travelling to London with her mother for the shoot.

“I wasn’t told who I was modelling for, so it wasn’t until I arrived for a fitting and saw all the clothes on the rack that I knew it was for Tu clothing.

“To model for a brand that well known came as a huge shock,” said Kate.

For Kate, what really made the experience special was getting to meet and spend time with a range of unique women who she described as “inspiring”.

“I had an incredible time, and it helped that Sainsbury’s was unbelievably good at accommodating for me and my needs.

“Sainsbury’s provided me clothes specifically made to be suitable for someone like me, which were easy to get on and off myself.

“I would typically struggle wearing dungarees, but these offered me buttons down the side which made them really accessible.

“Sainsbury’s also made sure that I was able to take regular breaks and even changed its whole day’s schedule around to let me rest.

“The fact that I was looked after so well made it a truly enjoyable and relaxing experience.

“It’s an opportunity I will never forget.”