I love reading about inspirational women, and I love sharing these stories, as this is what gets us moving, drags us out of our apathy and makes us realise that we too can make a change, in our own lives, but in the lives of others too.
So I’m very excited to launch a new series here on the blog, the “Inspirational Women Series” where I will be bringing you interviews with women, from all walks of life, who impress me with their stories of big decisions, dedication, motivation and passion to change and improve their life.
We’re going to kick off the series with an old university friend of mine, Helen Godwin, who used to work in recruitment in London and now works with children and young people in local politics in Bristol.
About Helen Godwin
Helen lives in Bristol with her husband and three young children, aged 7, 5 and 3. After an 18 year career as a Director of a recruitment business in London, in 2016 Helen was elected to Bristol City Council, and in March 2017 was promoted to serve on the Mayor’s cabinet. Her portfolio gives her responsibility for Children and Young People in the city.
Can you describe your BD (Before Decision) life? What was your day to day like? Where did you work? What did you do?
My previous life as a Director of a recruitment business meant working with blue chips, investment banks and top law firms, developing business and recruiting lawyers at all levels. The job involved meeting clients, spending time with candidates and helping them to prepare for interviews and supporting them through the recruitment process.
I also set up a women’s networking group, which enabled senior business women across London to come together to share best practice, challenges and gain access to coaching, inspiration and advice.
I also worked on the STEM agenda, linking up schools with successful women for careers sessions. All of this, in the last few years, was top and tailed by having three small children and doing the nursery and school runs!
Can you describe your AD (After Decision) life? What is your day to day like now? What do you do?
My role now is extremely varied. As a ward councillor, I work in the local community with lots of groups and volunteers who are committed to improving the area. I also pick up casework from constituents on anything from housing, to anti-social behaviour to debt issues, and I make sure that I represent the views of residents in the council chamber. We have ‘full council’ every month or so, where we debate and make policy for the city.
Since March I have also been part of the Mayor’s cabinet, where I am Lead Member for Children and Young People. This gives me political responsibility for children in care in the city, children’s centres, youth services and means I have a clear responsibility to make the case for children and young people across all decision-making in the council.
Day to day the job is amazing and so varied. I meet internal staff, external groups, attend conferences and open meetings, visit schools, children’s centres and youth organisations and get to work closely with the Mayor and his office.
When / how / why did you first get into politics?
I have always been political, since I was a child. I joined the Labour Party in my early twenties, but didn’t get involved until after I had my first baby, Nancy, in 2010. I watched us lose the election and that the was the motivation I needed to get involved. I was lucky enough to have Sadiq Khan (who is now the Mayor of London) as my MP, so I worked really closely with him, campaigning, fundraising and encouraging new members.
What brought about your big decision / big change? Was there a lightbulb moment or just a gradual realisation?
It was a slow process to get from volunteer, to activist to elected representative. There were three children in four and half years but when I got the chance to run for a seat in Bristol City Council in early 2016, it felt like the right time to go for it.
But there was a, now infamous, meeting at a friend’s flat in Clapham in the summer of 2010. I was with two of my friends, and their babies, and we declared our passions – things we ultimately wanted to do, all of which were life changing. But we got there.
From the moment you decided that you might like to make a change to the moment of starting this new role how much time went by?
Six years from thinking ‘I’d like to make politics my career’ to getting elected.
What fears did you have to deal with when making your big decision?
So many! Speaking in public, earning a lot less money, the responsibility and sense of duty that comes with being elected, the intensity of election cycles, the fragility of politics – I may be out of a job in 2020!
What did others say? Did you get support or naysayers?
All my friends and family were amazingly supportive, without fail. Everyone thought it was the perfect job for me and vocally offered their support.
My husband was incredible, it is really hard to maintain a routine in the job and there are lots of meetings in the evening which means childcare is very split between us, despite him being the main ‘breadwinner’.
I am a pretty tough cookie, but when it all gets too much he knows how to say the right thing and support me.
What has been the toughest thing you’ve had to deal with since making your decision?
Like all working women, it’s probably work-life balance. Realising there are four evening meetings in a row coming up and working out how to deal with childcare isn’t great. And also, politics is politics. Its not the easiest environment to work in, especially at the moment, because of continuing austerity and less funding for local government.
What has been the highest high you’ve experienced since making your decision?
Watching our Mayor, Marvin Rees, get elected the day before my result came through was pretty amazing.
Just recently we have been able to make a commitment to saving all the children’s centres in the city (at a time when most cities are closing theirs because of austerity), which I have been closely involved with. To know that we have done something that wasn’t the easiest thing, but the right thing is a good feeling.
What advice would you give to women about to embark on a similar decision or life change?
Do it. But I am under no illusions. I am lucky. I am able to do this because I have a husband that can support me both in terms of time but has also enabled me to work on a lower income than before. He is self-employed and has a flexibility that many don’t have.
If I were a single mum could I do this? No. If our family income was lower, could I do this? No. If my husband worked away could I do this? No. Politics is not as accessible as it should be and we have a very long way to go to make it so.
Finally, tell everyone what is so great about the Labour party / getting into local politics and why they should do something right now?
There is so much people can do to be active in politics. The Labour Party is a mass movement of people from across the ‘left’ who are committed to working to change our government.
Being a member can mean anything from financial commitment (as little as £3 per month), to delivering leaflets, knocking on doors, organising a local area, fundraising, chairing meetings to standing in elections.
If you are passionate, able to dedicate a little bit of time and like a healthy debate it is a great organisation to be a part of.
And it doesn’t have to be party political. Making a difference can mean anything from signing a petition (although don’t be fooled that this will change too much!), joining a protest, voting – in every election, reading in a local school (we have lost so many teaching assistants because of government funding cuts), fostering a child (we have 700 children in care in Bristol), volunteering with local groups, taking your kids out on a community litter-pick… the list is endless.
Local authorities have lost around 40% of their funding since 2010 and it has hit cities much harder than towns or ‘shires’.
Cities need partnership to thrive, they need communities to come together and to support each other and women are simply the best at that!
For more information on the Labour Party
To register to vote in the UK
I don’t know about you, but this interview with Helen has made me want to get up and make a difference in my own community. It really is down to us women to be the difference we want to see in the world.
If this interview has made you realise that you have unfulfilled dreams or goals then help is at hand – grab my FREE video guide to decision-making and facing your fears to guide you through making big decisions and the fears this throws up.
P.S. If you are or if you know of an inspirational woman who would like to be interviewed in this series then do get in touch.
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