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 is a social pioneer, writer and campaigner. She studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991, later specialising in visual impairment and diabetes. During her career in optometry, she lectured at City University, was a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital and worked with Primary Care Trusts. She ran a domiciliary practice across south London and was a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. Julia formed 20/20Health in 2006. Becoming an expert in digital health solutions, she led on the NHS–USA Veterans’ Health Digital Health Exchange Programme and was co-founder of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Her research interests are now in harnessing digital to improve personal health, and she is a PhD candidate in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at UCL. She is also dedicated to creating a sustainable Whole School Wellbeing Community model for schools that builds relationships, discovers assets and develops life skills. She is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Council. 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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