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.

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About Julia Manning

Julia Manning is a social pioneer, writer, campaigner and commentator. Formerly a clinical optometrist specialising in diabetes and visual impairment, she is the founder and Director of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal and Social. 2020health has through research, events and campaigning influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. In 2014, 2020health were founding partners of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Since 2016, 2020health has increasingly focused on digital health and public health in the community. Julia is a Fellow of the RSA and now also a part-time PhD student at the UCL Interaction Centre, studying the use of digital technology for stress management in the workplace. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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