Our leaders need to learn from the Lady of Downing Street

First published 30 March, 2012, on Mail Online

There was once a lady who lived in Downing Street. She had married a wealthy man and worked incredibly hard, wanting to ensure that people were provided for at a time when there were very few women in senior public positions of leadership.

She regularly hosted free meetings of the great and the good to enable an exchange of views. However she also made a point of inviting people from low-paid and menial roles to hear presentations, ensuring that they too had an opportunity to influence and be influenced.

Such were the popularity of her meetings that she had to have them in a larger house near Hyde Park corner as well. It was the custom of the day to serve soft drinks, cold meats and pasties to guests who were more accustomed to quaffing wine and liquors.

And despite inviting some very controversial speakers to address her guests, she shunned the insults and contempt shown to her by some of her peers. She knew her class was a barrier but she didn’t let that stop her meeting and seeking the help of those from all walks of life.

In 1740, the philanthropist Selina, Countess of Huntingdon was a resident of 11 Downing Street. From being one of the original donors of the Foundling Hospital for the poor, to bank-rolling the emerging, scandalous (at the time) Methodist Wesley brothers and paying for sixty-four chapels to be built nationwide, her approach was one of sacrifice and her attitude was one of being in the service of God.

Becoming a widow at a young age and losing five of her six children in her lifetime never stopped her for long before she once again turned her eyes outwards to see what she could do for others. In her will she stipulated that no biography should be written of her, and no use made of her many letters. A few brave souls have risked her displeasure and ensured that she doesn’t remain in complete obscurity.

After the pasty, petrol and pay-for-access week we have just had, it seems to me that the current residents of Downing Street could learn something from Selina.


About Julia Manning

Julia Manning is a social entrepreneur, writer, campaigner and commentator. She is based in London and is the founder and Chief Executive of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal. Through networking, technology, research, relationships and campaigning 2020health has influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. Julia studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991. Her career has included being a visiting lecturer at City University, a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital, working with south London Primary Care Trusts and as a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. She specialised in diabetes (University of Warwick Certificate in Diabetic Care) and founded Julia Manning Eyecare in 2004, a home and prison visiting practice for people with mental and physical disabilities using the latest digital technology, which she sold to Healthcall (now part of Specsavers) in 2009. Experiences of working in the NHS, contributing to policy development, raising two children in the inner-city and standing in the General Election in Bristol in 2005 led to Julia forming 2020health at the end of 2006. Julia is a regular guest on TV and radio shows such as BBC News, ITV’s Daybreak/ GMB, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions, BBC Radio, LBC and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week. She is mum to a rugby-mad son, a daughter passionate about Shakespeare, and wife of a comprehensive school assistant head-teacher. She loves gardening, ballet, Zimbabwe, her Westies Skye and Angus, is an honorary research associate at UCL and a Fellow of the RSA.
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