Monday, 9 March 2009

Women's contributions recognised at no. 10

What a privilege to be in 10 Downing Street with a hundred women who have made an outstanding to their communities, along with Gordon and Sarah Brown.

My guest for the evening was Alison Shaffner. Alison's contribution to my own constituency, Leeds West, encapsulates the evening in Downing Street – amazing women who have used their own experiences to change the communities they live and work in. Alison has lived in West Leeds for 25 years and is a mother of two grown-up boys. After teaching for six years, Alison managed a Family Learning Centre for seven years. Now Alison is Area Manager for a social enterprise working with businesses to support regeneration.

Alison's commitment and enthusiasm are infectious. The Family Learning Centre provided education, skills and support to local high school pupils who were disaffected with the curriculum, workless adults and the elderly as a partnership hub between local public and voluntary sector providers, all of whom were committed to supporting those most disadvantaged.

Alison is not the sort of person who does things for people. In Leeds West Alison has worked with the community – families, the voluntary sector, council and businesses to achieve all she has achieved. Whether it's Charmaine who runs the community centre and cafe down the road; Dawn who runs Armley Helping Hands supporting the local elderly residents; Maureen from People Matters who supports adults with learning needs; Bernadette at West Leeds Healthy Living Network; Wendy in HR from a local distribution company who have recruited long term unemployed people and created a child friendly shift pattern so mums could work school hours only; or Caroline from Farnells, an electronics distribution company who led their Corporate Social Responsibility work, supporting inner city schools and voluntary groups.

It's not only women who make a difference to communities. But the experience of women – as mothers, as carers and as workers do give women a huge insight and stake in their communities. Alison was just one woman of a hundred women thanked this evening by the Prime Minister and Sarah Brown, and they are just one hundred of the thousands of women, up and down the country making a difference to the lives of millions. What a great way to celebrate International Women's Day.

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