Griselda Togobo: Creating the UK’s most inclusive region

The residents of Little London, Woodhouse & the City Centre are in for a treat after they elected my good friend Abigail Marshall Katung as their representative in Leeds City Council. Abigail is the first African to earn a seat on Leeds City Council.

First Direct Arena Leeds City Council elections count 2nd may 2019 Abigail Marshall Katung winner of Little London and Woodhouse

Her appointment follows closely in the wake of Eileen Taylor’s election as the first black Lord Mayor of Leeds. I am hopeful that this represents a shift in the representation of diverse voices in our region and an opportunity for Yorkshire to take the lead as the most inclusive region in the country.

The Fawcett Society’s analysis of council elections in May 2018 reveals that 100 years after women first won the right to vote, 97 per cent of councils are male-dominated and there has been virtually no progress on women’s representation in local government.

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The proportion of women elected to local government in England increased by less than 1 percentage point, bringing the total proportion of female councillors to just 34 per cent. There are 206 female peers, 26 per cent of the Members of the House of Lords. Five of the current members of the Cabinet (22 per cent) are women, including the Prime Minister. This data can be disheartening.

So, I am excited by the appointment of women from such diverse backgrounds to Leeds City Council in light of this dire state of representation across politics.

Knowing Abigail, her strength of character, her resilience and can-do spirit, I know that the council and the region will gain from having her voice at the table. She is an asset to any team.

So just a bit of background about the new councillor for Little London, Woodhouse & the City Centre. She is the founder and managing director of 1st Resource Ltd, a multi-faceted recruitment agency specialising in medical and international education recruitment in Leeds, which she founded 13 years ago.

She is one of the few people I approached for advice when I decided to abandon the 9-5 and to start a new chapter as an entrepreneur. She is an inspirational leader having won many awards as a businesswoman.

What I love about Abigail though, is her generous heart and willing to give support to anyone needing help and direction. She sees business as a vehicle to transform lives and to help contribute positively to society. In her free time, she is a mentor for HRH Princes Trust Mosaic Network mentoring young people and giving talks in schools to help bridge the aspiration gap for some young people growing without access to credible role models.

Abigail is also a mother of teenage twin boys and raises funds for the Twins and Multiple Birth Association, a charity very much close to her heart. As though all that was not enough, she loves running and makes time to be an England Athletics sprinting coach and coaches U15 boys and girls at the Leeds City Athletics Clubs. Abigail is the Clubs U15 Girls Team Manager for the Northern Youth Development League.

It is not usual to see someone with Abigail’s background go into politics, but she says she was motivated to go into politics to bring her experience and make a difference within the community and that starts with sitting around the table when decisions are being made that impacts us all.

Abigail has a passion for working with people and delivering positive change in the lives of people and this attracted her to the Labour Party. She chose to stand as a Labour & Corporative Party Candidate because she believes the Labour party’s values are emphatic, fair and it stands up strongly to inequality. She says “our party gives hopes and opportunity to the ordinary person”. Abigail believes the ordinary person should be protected, treated with utmost kindness and dignity. She officially joined the Labour Party in 2012 and has been active ever since, supporting her constituency as the Black and Minority Ethnic officer as well as the Women’s Officer. She was the first Women’s Officer from the Leeds North East Labour constituency to establish a Women’s Forum which campaigns on women’s issues, gender representation and inclusivity in the party.

When I met up with Abigail to celebrate her election victory with a group of other trailblazing women in the region, she said she was grateful and delighted to be given the privilege to contribute to her community. We both agreed her election shows clearly how far Leeds has come as a city for women like us to be given a voice and a seat at the table.

We both acknowledge that there is more work to be done and she is committed to working tirelessly all year round as a visible and accessible councillor, holding regular surgeries in her community to support as many constituents as she can.

I am excited to see Abigail begin this new challenge, which she will approach with much energy and passion as she does everything else. Abigail’s election has given me hope that we can get diverse voices represented in our region.

Sadly, unlike Abigail, I am still unaffiliated to any political party. I am disillusioned by the political leaders and party politics and wait patiently to see a party leader emerge who will inspire me to get involved.