I have always believed and participated in meaningful civic engagement – where we, as citizens, participate in the life of a community in order to improve conditions for others or to help shape the community’s future. This desire to make positive change is probably the reason why, at the age of 11 years, I set my sights on joining the Bar. It also drives my volunteer work, for example I trained with St John Ambulance to be part of the vaccination programme at the Excel Nightingale Centre during the pandemic, and am now an Alderwoman on the Court of Aldermen in the City of London in an effort to get my ward (Castle Baynard) and my city back on their feet.

You would have thought that as a full-time planning law barrister, there would be no time to stand for election, let alone serve as an Alderwoman! But as Benjamin Franklin once said, ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person.’ There is truth to that statement. Perhaps the busier we are, the better we manage our time, and I will always make time for things that I am passionate about. The regeneration of the Fleet Street area is one of such things.

I fell into all of this by accident. I saw Fleet Street deteriorate in front of my own eyes: with the last part of the newspaper industry leaving in the early 2000s, Brexit’s effect on the retention of workers in the retail/hospitality sector, and then the hit of the pandemic, when many shops closed and buildings became vacant as footfall reduced substantially. So, I volunteered with the Fleet Street Quarter Partnership which is now known as the Fleet Street Quarter Business Improvement District. I ended up chairing its Public Realm and Environment Steering Group to help create a vision for the area. I helped organise day and night walks and spoke to the community to find out what they wanted to happen.

As I did that, I realised I could do more for the area by becoming a local councillor – to help shape and influence policy, as well as what happens on the ground. I challenged the incumbent councillors and took office in 2022 in the Castle Baynard ward. Then in 2023, upon the retirement of the Alderman (i.e. leader) for my ward, I stood for election and was delighted to be elected in July after a hard-fought campaign against six other candidates.

The focus for my six-year term is: (1) to make sure that all voices are heard – residents, businesses and visitors – in the transformation and rejuvenation of my ward and the City; (2) to use my skillset as a planning lawyer in this regeneration – both elected members and City planners will need to show strong leadership in how we conceive, design, develop and support communities, and make system-wide commitments to social, economic and environmental outcomes; and (3) to promote the rule of law and England and Wales as the jurisdiction of choice and a global centre for legal services.

Women’s right to political participation

Clearly, girls and women have the right to engage in civil society, to have their voices heard and respected, right through from voting in elections to serving in government and on boards. The COVID Inquiry laid bare the shocking and systematic exclusion of women from decision-making in government and its likely hampering effect on the UK’s response to the pandemic. The views of women and girls should inform any process or decision-making that will affect them, their families and communities.

In the Court of Alders’ 900 years’ plus history, I am the ninth woman to take a seat. Out of the 25 current Alders, I am one of six women, serving alongside Alison Gowman, Dame Susan Langley DBE, Emma Edhem, Jeanette Newman and Susan Pearson. There have been just two female Lord Mayors of London in over 800 years – Dame Mary Donaldson (1983) and, from the legal world, corporate lawyer and former Law Society President Dame Fiona Woolf (2013).

Things have to change, but that can only happen if more women stand for election.

Women Deliver, a group championing the rights of girls and women in all their intersecting identities, agree that investing in our right to political participation is a necessary step to achieving global gender equality, democratic governance and peace-building. It points to a number of studies showing that greater female participation in politics leads to greater investment in education, promotes gender balance in the workforce and grows GDP. For example, a McKinsey Global Institute report suggested advancing women’s equality could add $12 trillion to global growth and an MSCI study found that companies with female board representation boast higher ROI (see Women Deliver Briefing).

During my tenure, I want to take those girls and women who think ‘that’s not my domain’ to ‘this is where I belong’ and to change organisational culture and behaviour that stops women and girls moving forward. Politics and governance do not work unless communities are really reflected and represented. 

‘The oldest continuous municipal democracy in the world’: the City of London Corporation and role of the Aldermen
The City of London’s constitution is rooted in the ancient rights and privileges enjoyed by citizens before the Norman Conquest in 1066. It gradually won from the Crown the right to run its own affairs and developed a form of government which led to the system of parliamentary government at local and national level. The Court of Aldermen was originally responsible for the entire administration of the City, but most of its responsibilities were subsumed by the Court of Common Council in the 14th century. 
Today, the Court of Alders is part of the senior governance of the City of London Corporation and is politically independent. Comprised of 25 Alders, the court is presided over by the Lord Mayor, who is the Senior Alder, and meets seven times per year with all meetings open to the public. The Alders promote the ‘civic, commercial, corporation, charitable, cultural, and community’ efforts of the City in collaboration with stakeholders. Acting as ambassadors, they engage locally, nationally and globally on behalf of the City for the long-term economic success and social wellbeing of the United Kingdom as a whole. They protect the integrity of the City of London Corporation and its wider institutions by providing oversight, scrutiny and guidance, while also serving and providing leadership in their wards.
The City is divided into 25 wards. Each ward has one Alder and between two and 10 councillors, depending on the size of the electorate. In total, there are 25 Alders and 100 Common Councillors. Aldermen are elected for six years from the date of their election, so there is no single date on which they are elected. There is, however, a local election for all 100 councillors every four years and occasional by-elections.
(Source: City of London)