"I knew I wanted to fight for social justice and support for the most vulnerable. It’s why I went into teaching, and it’s why I’m a socialist."
What got you into politics?
My Dad was an electrician, and he had to give up work when he got ME. So I grew up on benefits, watching my parents do everything they could to make the money go as far as possible, and knowing how much my Dad would had done anything to be well enough to work again. And then I turned on the TV and watched Tory politicians calling people on benefits ‘shirkers’, and I got such a sense of the injustice of these privileged people telling my amazing Dad he was no good. And from that moment on I knew I wanted to fight for social justice and support for the most vulnerable. It’s why I went into teaching, and it’s why I’m a socialist.
How did you become a councillor?
I turned up! I started to get more and more angry about the coalition policies (and especially angry about how a so-called progressive party, the Lib Dems, were facilitating austerity in that coalition). So I thought I really ought to get more involved in helping Labour in Cambridge. I went along to a social event run by Coleridge Ward, where I live, expecting to maybe deliver some leaflets. But I got approached by another councillor, suggesting I might like to apply to stand for the council. And I thought, you know, I’d love to, and I think I’ve got things I can contribute, but I didn’t think it was really for people like me who hadn’t spent years working their way up through a party. It just goes to show that you need to give people a bit of encouragement sometimes.
What motivates you?
Serving my community. I can’t afford not to work full time, so I arrange my councillor duties around that. That’s a lot of work, but what motivates me is the privilege of being asked by residents to represent them and stand up for them. And being able to make a difference. Whether that’s getting someone a new accessible shower, or signing off the giving out of our community grants, it’s great to know you are making a difference. And if I’m feeling a bit, I look at our annual Labour Councillors report, which is basically a huge list of the brilliant things we’ve funded and supported over the year. And I feel really proud to have contributed to that. I’ve worked in Cambridge since I trained as a teacher (though like many people it took me a few years to be able to afford to live here too) so it’s particularly special to represent a community that has been such a big part of my life for such a long time.
I am also proud to campaign alongside and for Daniel Zeichner, who is such a fantastic MP and fights hard for communities across Cambridge. He listens to what residents tell him, and he understands – we’re lucky to have him representing us.
What are you most proud of as a councillor?
My portfolio includes Bereavement Services (which runs the council cemeteries and crematorium) and the thing that gives me the most satisfaction of anything we’ve done is to have got rid of funeral fees for under 15s at our facilities. Child bereavement is such a terrible thing, and I’m so proud that we were able to do something that could make a real difference to a grieving family. I’m also in charge of the anti-poverty strategy and the community grants fund. We brought in the anti-poverty strategy when we came to power in 2014, and even though we now get zero government grant, we still fund so much work to help alleviate poverty and inequality in the city, including thousands of pounds worth of community grants to organisations helping those in most need. It’s wonderful to be part of that, to ensure it continues to be prioritised, and to work with such an amazing group of officers. I know that none of us will rest whilst there is still poverty and inequality in this apparently wealthy city.
What do you want to say about Living Wage Week?
The Real Living Wage is about getting a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work. It really is the bare minimum that we should be paying our employees and I want to thank the very many organisations in Cambridge who pay it. However, there are still an estimated 15% of people in the city not being paid the real living wage. That’s a tragedy anywhere, but especially in an expensive city like Cambridge. I urge all business to look at paying it. We employ a wonderful living wage officer at the City Council, who would be only too happy to talk to businesses about the benefits of the Real Living Wage and to help them through the application process.
I’m also very excited about Labour’s manifesto pledge to raise the UK minimum wage to £10 an hour for all workers. That’s what we decided to have as a minimum for all our city council staff, and I think the idea of every worker receiving that as a minimum will make such a difference to so many people.
What’s your favourite Labour policy?
Oh, that’s a difficult one. I’m a Remainer, and have supported a people’s vote since the start, so I’m thrilled that if elected, we will have a vote on the final deal, with the option to Remain. (And, like Daniel Zeichner, I’ll be campaigning to remain in that vote.) But as someone who has spent her whole working life in education, I’m really excited by the extra support going into education for all, from sure start programmes to adult learning. And then there’s the £10 minimum wage pledge, funding for the NHS, the Green New Deal and an end to austerity. And I stand absolutely alongside so many other councillors in calling for an end to Tory funding cuts in local government. Our public services urgently need funding properly again. Sorry – I really can’t choose just one policy.
What do you do for a living?
After university in Oxford I came to Cambridge to train as a teacher and stayed. I was a History/Classics/Archaeology teacher and middle leader at Hills Road Sixth Form College for 13 years, specialising in pastoral support and guidance. Then I went on to be Deputy Head at Parkside Federation, teaching in Coleridge and Parkside and setting up Parkside Sixth. Now I work as an education adviser.
What about when you aren’t being a councillor?
I used to be very involved in music, both performing and conducting church community orchestras and choirs. Sadly I don’t get much time for that at the moment, but I do still find time to go walking and cycling. I got married in the summer (to fellow-councillor Mike Todd-Jones) and we did a long-distance walk through Germany’s Black Forest. I also love finding time to watch rugby, and going to the theatre. And I’m a folkie too, so it’s a particular pleasure to have the Cambridge Folk Festival in my portfolio.