Deputy Mayor of West Yorkshire Alison Lowe opens up on racism, policing and how there is still 'much more to do'
It's the region’s people that makes Alison Lowe so proud to be a Yorkshirewoman.
“The vast majority of people here are kind, funny, friendly and will offer you a cup of tea,” she says.
The former Labour councillor is reflecting on what she loves most about the corner of Yorkshire of which she was recently appointed Deputy Mayor by Tracy Brabin.
Boasting a CV which includes 20 years’ service as Leeds’ first Black councillor and 17 years as chief executive of mental health charity Touchstone, Ms Lowe is looking forward to her brief as West Yorkshire’s policing and crime chief.
“I am someone who believes in inclusion ー but I also want to be challenging and ask those difficult questions because, for the first time in my life, I’ve only got one boss.”
Ms Lowe is speaking as she empties her office at Touchstone in Leeds, preparing to take up her post under Ms Brabin full time.
Overseeing the charity’s work with vulnerable members of the community, she says, has been her proudest achievement after being mother to her two children.
“It’s given me a massive platform to make a difference to the lives of the people we serve,” she says with pride.
“I am trying not to cry ー because now it’s coming to an end.”
The daughter of a man from St Kitts who resettled in Leeds in the 1950s, and a woman of Irish descent, Ms Lowe knows how it feels to grow up amidst social struggles and manifest them into effecting positive changes like she has done at the charity.
She has never failed to speak out about her own challenges ー from experiencing domestic abuse to being called racial slurs more times than anybody should have to face.
Now, as Deputy Mayor, she is organising meetings with the Community Security Trust and TellMama ー organisations which deliver training and increase awareness of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, respectively.
Her key priority meanwhile, she says, is making West Yorkshire a safer place for women and minorities.
“The golden thread throughout all of Tracy’s police and crime manifesto pledges have been around this,” she said.
“Maybe that’s because of my own lived experience of domestic abuse, but also Tracy the Mayor’s lived experience of attempted sexual assault when she was at university.
“So it’s clearly very personal for her, and it’s very personal for me. I think that’s one of the reasons why she chose me to be her deputy.
“None of this, of course, means that men as victims are not heard ー we just want to create a safe space for all victims over the next few years.”
Prior to being Deputy Mayor, Ms Lowe’s experience working with police from a political standpoint includes several years on the old police authority while a councillor, before becoming part of the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel committee under former commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson.
The police force - England’s fourth biggest - she says, has much progress to do, yet just as much to be proud of.
Its reputation as having one of the country’s best records for crime data integrity is one achievement she hopes to see kept up.
“They’ve invested a lot of time and energy into crime recording ー it used to be one of the worst, but now it’s the best in the country. Because of that, we know that the data being reported by West Yorkshire Police is correct.
“We know, as a result, that the force records more rapes than any other force in the country ー that’s both a good thing and a bad thing, because while victims are being heard, it throws a stark light on the fact that we have a community where violence against women and girls is prevalent.
“In other parts of the country, where crime data integrity is perhaps less good, their statistics are not telling the full story.”
She added: “One area where I think we really need to do some work is around representation in our police force.
“We don’t have enough people who look like me - Black and Asian people do not apply to be police officers at the same rate as white officers, and that leads to a trust deficit.
“I hope my skills and experience can close that gap.”
Representation and fighting racism is an issue the former councillor of nearly 20 years has previously championed.
“I’ve personally been abused in public and I’ve been called the ‘n’ word more times than I’d like to tell you.
“We really, really need to look at ourselves in West Yorkshire, and recognise that, actually, we do have a problem with difference.”
Last summer, Ms Lowe was commissioned by Leeds City Council to carry out a consultation into the city’s statues in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests and subsequent toppling of Bristol’s statue of former slave owner, Edward Colston.
The public’s reaction, she says, was mixed but mostly open-minded.
After surveying residents and careful scrutiny, it was decided that none of the figures stood atop the city’s plinths were of direct involvement in the slave trade, although some have since had their plaques re-written to offer both sides of their stories.
There is only onwards and upwards now, however, for the Deputy Mayor.
Although Ms Lowe has been bowled over by the positive reactions to news of her appointment, she feels this brings “huge responsibility”, as “a lot of people are expecting a lot of different things from me”.
“Because I do have integrity,” she continues.
“I live my values.
“People are expecting me to honour those values in this role, so I know I’ve got a really big job to do.”
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