THEY say life begins at 40 – but what if you something extraordinary even later in life? Here three York women in their 50s share their experiences of stepping out of their comfort zone

Shireen Petty, 51

GP who set up a dog-walking bag business

For part of the week, mum-of-two Shireen is Doctor Petty, helping patients at the Derwent Practice in Malton, where she is a part-time GP.

The rest of her time, she works from her York home on her side business – making customised bags for dog walkers.

The business – Bertie Woofster And Me – came about three years ago, shortly after the family got their first pet, Bertie, a black cockapoo.

"I got fed up having poo bags stuffed in every coat pocket. One day I tried to find a tissue to blow my nose, and pulled out a poo bag! I wanted a dog bag that could hold poo bags, leads and treats, but couldn't find anything that I liked. I didn't want it to be too utilitarian – I wanted something attractive – and I didn't want to be paying £50 or £60. So I decided to make my own."

Shireen works with a seamstress to help her customise the wipe-clean bags, which feature fabrics with different dogs on them.

"We have everything from chihuahuas to huskies – we take orders too and the weirdest one I've had so far is for a Shiba Inu, which is a Japanese hunting dog. Someone ordered it to send to a friend in Japan."

Each bag has clips for you to hang poo bags until they can be disposed off.

The bags are sold at craft fairs, local shops (including Hearts in Easingwold and Thora & The Prince in Haxby) as well as online at, priced at £20.

Starting up the business has widened Shireen's skill set. "I am really enjoying it. I have been on some business enterprise courses and am always learning new things," she said, adding she has had to learn about social media and marketing and sales and how to run her own website.

Looking ahead, she would like the business to become a brand – the Cath Kidston of dog bags. "Laura Ashley started from her kitchen table," she said, adding she would love to do more collaborations with other businesses.

And she would encourage other women to start businesses at this point in their lives. She said: "Age is just a number – it should not stop you doing anything. There are a lot of opportunities and it's now or never."

Andrea Denniss, 50

York photographer who has taken up rowing

At weekends, Andrea has to fit her photography assignments around her new hobby – rowing.

Last autumn, she joined the York City Rowing Club, and now is a member of the ladies squad. She had her first competition this month.

"We didn't win, but it was fun. I was in tears when we set off because I was terrified, but cried tears of joy when we came back because I was thrilled to bits."

The mum-of-two took up rowing after being a bystander for several years while her youngest daughter Lily, who is a junior member of YCRC, enjoyed the sport.

She signed up for some taster sessions – and never looked back.

Andrea owns Pink Lily Photography and her day job involves photographing weddings and staging photoshoots, which demand a certain level of stamina. She had run the London Marathon three years ago, so had a track record in fitness. But rowing, she discovered, required another level of athleticism altogether.

"It's at least 50 per cent harder – and probably will get tougher," says Andrea. But she's not complaining because she loves it. Besides taking to the river at weekends, she takes part in regular exercise sessions at the boathouse gym where she works out on a rowing machine, lifts weights and does yoga for strength and flexibility.

"When someone teaches you to use a rowing machine, you realise how badly you were doing it before. It's exhausting when you get the technique right.

"The stronger you can push with your legs, the faster the boat goes. It's a pushing sport not a pulling sport."

She has seen a difference in her physique over the past six months – she is more toned and has built more stamina.

And it's having a positive impact on her job. "I am much more able to do weddings as I'm not as tired. I am fitter and stronger. In shoots, I am always up and down, sometimes lying on the floor, and rowing makes me much more able to cope with it all."

It's also been a great way to beat the turning-50-blues. "I spent the whole of the year dreading turning 50. It seemed old in my head. I was looking for a challenge to prove to myself that I am not falling apart!"

Maxine Brown, 55

Helped build a school in Nepal and launch cashmere business

Maxine was working as a travel rep when she befriended a Nepalese man called Gokul while on a trip to Warsaw.

They kept in touch via Facebook and after the devastating earthquake in Nepal in April 2015, she checked in on him to see if he was alright.

"He had posted a picture of himself hanging out of a helicopter dropping aid to villagers affected by the earthquake," said Maxine. "I thought if he can hang out of a helicopter, I can do something."

And so she joined a volunteer team on a mission to trek to a remote part of Nepal and build a school.

"We trekked into the Himalayas to build this school that had been destroyed by the earthquake. The Sherpas carried everything, from metal and plasterboard to cement and sand, getting paid by the weight. We spent two weeks putting the school together. I did a lot of painting and teaching English to the children. They didn't have many toys, so we taught them how to make paper aeroplanes."

During the trip, Maxine came across locally produced cashmere scarves. She brought two suitcases back to the UK with a view to selling them to friends to raise funds for the school. They went down so well, she ordered some more, and set up her business Amadablam, selling affordable cashmere and other Nepalese accessories (, with a share of the profits going back to the school.

She said the cashmere goods – a mix of ponchos, scarves and jumpers – provide an important finance stream for rural workers in Nepal. "Women work in small co-operatives with just two or three looms. We help support families in local villages and the workers in Kathmandu who sort it and ship it to us."

Maxine returned to Nepal last August and visited the school, which is now twinned with one in North Yorkshire thanks to her efforts. "It was really nice to go back and see it. The classroom is big and light – they had been in a cattleshed after the earthquake."

The trip certainly changed her life and perspective on being 50. She said: "It taught me I can go out there, visit any country, not have to speak the language – and that I can make a difference. I can go and improve someone else's life on the other side of the world. It was quite empowering and gave me so much strength at a time when I needed it."