A couple of years ago the thought of being involved in politics hadn’t entered my mind. But in May this year I stood for election for the first time in the council elections in Barnsley. I comfortably won the seat back for Labour and now I have the huge privilege of representing people in the community.
In the few short weeks that I’ve been a councillor I like to think that I’ve already been able to make a positive difference. I’ve been working with local residents to make improvements to the local environment, to secure funding for exciting projects, and to tackle problems with anti social behaviour. For me, being a Labour councillor is about having the opportunity to change my community for the better.
I’ve always been a Labour supporter. But I confess I didn’t join the party until after the 2010 General Election. My motivation to join is obvious. I grew up in Yorkshire in the 80s and witnessed the devastation caused by the Tory government of the day. I then experienced the huge positive change the Labour government delivered, in my community as a whole, but also personally as opportunities were opened up for myself and my young daughter. I just knew I had to do something when the Tories got back in. My first step was to join the Labour Party. I never imagined it would take me on the journey it has.
In the spring of last year I received an email from Dan Jarvis, the then newly elected MP for Barnsley Central, telling me about the Labour Party’s Future Candidates Programme. Until then it had never occurred to me that a political party might be interested in people like me being their candidates. I left school with no qualifications, I had a daughter when I was young, was a single parent for many years and existed on benefits for a time. And I’d had little involvement in politics or the Labour Party. But when I read the information about the Future Candidates Programme I realised none of this was a barrier. Indeed it was clear that the Labour Party valued my life experience, and how I’ve used it to drive my desire to change my community for the better. So I decided to apply for the Programme – but I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be.
I was shocked to discover a few weeks later that I’d been selected to take part. I owe much to the Future Candidates Programme for providing me with an understanding of the role and expectations of a Labour representative, especially a councillor. And I knew virtually nothing about Labour Party selection processes to begin with, but once I understood the process I felt more confident to do it and do it well. I learned about how to run an effective selection campaign, tips on fundraising, how to present myself, and the common challenges that people experience during the selection process. I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for the Programme I doubt if I would have put myself forward for selection and ultimately election.
I’m delighted that the Labour Party recognised something in me and helped me on the journey to becoming a local representative for Labour. But I know I’m not unusual. I’m convinced there are thousands of people out there – whether Labour Party members already or people working hard in their communities who share our values – who could be fantastic local representatives for Labour. So even if you haven’t thought about getting involved in politics before, and especially if you come from an ordinary background like me, I would urge you to think about taking the next step by applying for the Future Candidates Programme. Then you, like me, could have the enormous privilege of serving your community and helping to make it better.
Donna Green is a Labour councillor for Kingstone Ward, Barnsley Borough Council and a member of Unison