Producer Norma Heyman recounts with a laugh how she first walked into Shepperton Studios as a producer in 1982, and was mistakenly asked to make tea.

'I was greeted as if I carried bird flu or it was ET descending onto the set,' she remembers. The statistics about women in the industry might be getting better, Heyman says, but they're still not good enough - especially in production.

'So many young women now coming through are writers and directors, it took quite a few years for women producers to find their feet and now we can only go with the best - whether men or women.'

The Liverpool-born Heyman began her career as an actress and started her producing career in 1983 with The Honorary Consul, with which she became the first UK woman to solo produce an independent feature. In the years since, she has produced films including Mrs Henderson Presents, Buster, Dangerous Liaisons, Mary Reilly and Gangster No.1.

Last month, she was given a lifetime achievement award by the UK's Women In Film and Television (Wftv), a group she co-founded 16 years ago. 'It started as a group of us sitting in a flat in Victoria wanting to do something for women in the industry,' she says. 'It's very heartening that 16 years later our ideals remain the same and we have so many members and such a strong voice.'

With Heyman-Hoskins, her London-based production company with Bob Hoskins, she continues to work with new talents both male and female. Currently, Heyman is developing a drama with writer-director Amma Asante (A Way Of Life) and the film adaptation of play The Estate by Oladipo Agboluaje, a British-born writer who also studied in Nigeria.

Heyman wants the films she is involved with to represent modern Britain in all its diversity. 'We're not all white middle class. We're a wonderful multicultural society and we need to ensure people have the confidence to speak,' she says. She says the recent crop of British films such as London To Brighton, This Is England, Red Road and Kidulthood have excited her with displays of new homegrown talent.

For someone who has been an independent producer for more than 30 years, she does not dwell on the hardships.

'I'm just jolly lucky in this job,' she says. 'Film's been very good to me, even if every film feels like a first film for an independent producer.'

She enjoys living film to film, without the stability of a major US backer. 'Some of us like to live on the knife edge,' Heyman says.

Her son David Heyman is producer of the Harry Potter films, and daughter Lil Heyman is a production co-ordinator. But mum is not ready to retire and leave the work to her offspring. Heyman-Hoskins is currently working on a stage musical of Mrs Henderson Presents. And there are several other passion projects that Heyman hopes to make one day.

'I'm a Liverpool woman,' she says. 'We came out of the womb fighting.'

Lowdown: Heyman-Hoskins
Norma Heyman and Bob Hoskins first worked together in 1982 on The Honorary Consul. In 1996 they formed Heyman-Hoskins to make a screen adaptation of The Secret Agent, directed by Christopher Hampton. The company is now working on a stage version of its hit, Mrs Henderson Presents.