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A war worth fighting: the inspiration FWN’s mentoring programme gave me

Ahead of the next round of applications for our mentoring programme, we hear from former mentee Barbara Allen on her experience of the scheme.

“But when I came to consider local government, I began to see how it was in essence the first line of defence thrown up by the community against our common enemies… poverty, sickness, ignorance and isolation, mental derangement and social maladjustment. The battle is not faultlessly conducted, nor are the motives of those who take part in it all righteous or disinterested. But the war is, I believe, worth fighting…” – Winifred Holtby.

I have used this quotation at various times in my university teaching in public policy. While Winifred Holtby was referring to local government, in my view this is about the role of government. Indeed the war is worth fighting – and the Fabian Women’s Network Mentoring Programme solidified my belief in this.

One might say I’d been through a lot; the most difficult bit coming back to an academic job after six months with a child who began to have seizures, and the years that followed trying to get a diagnosis. The FWN Mentoring Programme represented a new start to me, I was validated for what I had already accomplished and was pushed to strive for new heights. Having taught politics, public policy and public management for years in Canada and the UK, I was very much the ‘balanced’ academic; my typical response being ‘on the one hand, and on the other hand’, or much to my partner’s chagrin, ‘let me think about that’.

Each stage of the mentoring programme was like a step toward my political awakening and a growing confidence to express and manifest my views. Despite always teaching, I found a new voice; despite knowing a lot about politics, I found a new wealth of knowledge on offer and, like a sponge, I absorbed it all; despite having a reasonably good network of professional connections, I found a completely new set of incredible and accomplished people I could tap in to. The sessions in parliament were of enormous use in terms of building my confidence and increasing my understanding of the political process. Hearing from excellent politicians such as Yvette Cooper and Dan Jarvis provided the inspiration, if not to run for office myself, then to be involved as I could be.

I realised for family reasons I was going to be unable to run for local council, having already become a governor at my son’s academy school. However, these are stepping stones: the finance committee of our large academy is proving an unbelievably rich learning environment. When the time is right, I can guarantee I will be running for elected politics – with much to thank to the Fabian Mentoring Programme.

Barbara Allen is an academic. She tweets @BarbaraAllen8


Applications for places on the fifth cohort of our mentoring programme will open for Fabian members next week. Details will be posted here.

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