We speak to the Mayoress of Lewisham about the Lewisham BME network, causes she is passionate about, and her inspirations.
Barbara Gray is the Mayoress of Lewisham and has been a part of the BME Network since the very beginning. We had the opportunity talk with her about the BME network, her personal life and what she is passionate about.
How long have you been part of the Lewisham BME network and what factors encouraged you to join?
I’ve been a part of the Lewisham BME Network since it’s started. I’ve been self-employed and set up my social business four years ago. It’s great to have the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust in Lewisham, and what it is doing for black people.
Since you’ve started, do you notice any major differences in the network?
I’m the Mayoress of Lewisham! The network has raised my profile, it has definitely become more powerful due to the rise in numbers. The network is recognised as individual members. For what we bring and what we offer. It’s been significant I’d say.
Through the support of the network I’ve managed to meet several people and gain a lot of knowledge. People know me. I’m known by the council and across the community.
What causes are you passionate about?
Education, 100% passionate about education. It’s important to not categorise young people so early. You don’t have to do A-levels and then get a degree.
My daughter was five when she had her first assessment. She was placed in band 3, I didn’t know what that meant, but then I discovered that she’s in the bottom 5% of the population in terms of her educational ability. This was supposed to set her position in education for the rest of her life, but I didn’t believe that she was in band 3. I spent a bit of time in training and learnt that people learn in different ways. Because people learn in different ways and develop in different stages it depends on how the teaching is pitched as to whether the person can engage. I supported her to develop her confidence and self-esteem. Now she works for IKEA and is the face of the IKEA and Barnardo’s partnership.
I’m passionate about family. I think family plays an important part at every age. The role that elders play in keeping everyone happy is very important. I’m also passionate about equity and fairness in society when it effects people’s lives generally. We’ve all got bias intrinsically built in us. When I am sitting inside a room and there’s nobody who looks like me and people are basing decisions on that, is something that must be changed, especially in a diverse place like London.
What does being the Mayoress of Lewisham personally mean to you?
I had to think long and hard before accepting the role. My daughter said ‘you do know that you can’t say no to this’, going on to say that there is a need for people to have some hope and feel inspired – she was the one who really drove me to take it. I’ve had hundreds of people contact me in every way possible to congratulate me on becoming mayoress. I’m just so overwhelmed by the response; I really didn’t expect it. I was worried because members of the black community might have thought that you’re siding with the side of society that doesn’t support us, but the response has been amazing in terms of numbers. I’ve been touched by the young people saying this is awesome, change is happening and there’s hope. My daughter said to me ‘Mum, nobody can outwork you’.
I’m known for working exceptionally hard. I met with the cabinet yesterday. As a mayoress I’m going to be the voice of the people and I’ve got a long list of issues to address. I’m pragmatic but there is an expectation that I need to deliver. Looking at all of the important topics around society such as education and health. I’m looking forward to the journey and I’m up to the challenge.
In your current position how would you see yourself improving the BME Network?
By raising the profile of the network. I talk about it to everyone who I encounter, encouraging cabinet members to come out and go on visits to see what the network is all about.
What do you hope to achieve within the network?
For the health network to have influence and strategic planning and decisions for how money is spent around Lewisham. Social prescribing is where you can send people to do any kind of thing to provide a health benefit.
What are you most proud of?
My daughter, she is just awesome. She has been my mentor and my driver and I’m so proud of her. I’m proud of my family ,we are a typical family with ups and downs, everything I do influences them and inspires their friends. I’m also proud of the work the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust is doing through the network. Without that support, I don’t think I would be in this position.