Virginia Crosbie is Director of Women2Win, Deputy Chair of Kensington, Chelsea and Fulham Conservatives and the CPF Champion for Social Mobility.
Did you make a New Year resolution? To eat less red meat? Exercise more or drink less? I have a request. Can you make a positive difference to someone else and add mentoring to your list?
January is National Mentoring month in the US, and I hope to introduce it here. Why? Because I would not be where I am now without the help of others, and in particular one special person who made time for me when I needed it most: as a child.
I know mentoring makes a difference; I experienced it first hand. My grandfather was a miner in Merthyr Tydfil for 47 years, my grandparents lived in a council house, and my Mum worked in a jam factory. In my family it was normal to leave school at 16.
Paul, a local Conservative councillor, sat with me on Monday nights to go through 11+ papers. Thanks to Paul’s encouragement I gained a place at Colchester High School – a leading Grammar school – and became the first person in my family to take A levels and go to University, where I read Microbiology.
Paul taught me the value of hard work and ability, and he inspired me to succeed on my own merit. Those Conservative values have guided my life through a successful career at GlaxoWellcome, where I worked in the production of interferon; UBS, where I was one of its youngest directors; and HSBC, where I won awards as a leading pharmaceutical analyst.
He also taught me to give something back. I now teach maths to disadvantaged adults at the Masbro Centre in Brook Green, giving them the skills to succeed. For me being a Conservative is a way of life. It is about working hard, identifying your skills, using them to ensure you are successful rather than a burden on society, and then helping those that are less fortunate than yourself.
Most people don’t ever get to thank the people that truly inspired them, but I had that privilege recently when I had the honour of speaking with Bernard Jenkin MP at the Harwich and North Essex Conservative Women’s Group.
It’s the area where I grew up. I spoke about my early life and all the people that have helped and supported me. I spoke about my job training dolphins, what it was like standing as the Parliamentary Candidate in Rhondda, and how I now arrange ‘Make It Your Business’ entrepreneur events for my Grenfell community. Sitting in the front row with tears streaming down his face sat Paul, the Conservative councillor who changed my life. In the spirit of full disclosure – I cried too.
I am privileged to live in Kensington. It’s a great community, a place of exciting contrasts that draw people to live and work here. The average annual salary is £123,000 – the highest in the UK – and yet there is an 11-year life expectancy gap between the north and the south of the borough. I live next to Notting Dale ward, which is ranked as one of the most deprived wards in the country. Grenfell Tower stands in this ward.
The Grenfell tragedy will always cast a shadow over our community. I realised early on that we had to work together to give the residents of the Tower hope, and was intent on providing mentoring and support. People would ask me ‘How can I help?’ and I would reply: “Open up your address book – speak to your work about having a Grenfell summer student”. Over the summer of 2017 I arranged work placements for students from the Grenfell community with City banks, PR companies, local businesses… and even Number Ten!
Supporting young adults has enhanced my life in so many ways. I have made life-long friends and learned about many different businesses, from gardening to yoga to teaching Spanish and Ghanaian textiles. I play a real part in my community and I am excited about helping shape its future. Talibah, one of my former mentees, said: “Virginia believed in me. She encouraged me and supported me and dragged me. Now I have my own textile business and it is me who is encouraging other women to develop their talents.”
Mentoring has taught me to listen, to work with people where they are, to work out their needs, and to work to add value to their lives. It has also helped me to develop as a teacher. It takes passion and strength to run a classroom, imagination and humour to keep students motivated, and empathy and patience to provide useful feedback.
A mentor changed my life and gave me access to opportunities that have enriched and shaped my journey. I want others to have the support I had at a critical time. If you are reconsidering your New Year resolution – or the decision not to make one – please think about mentoring a disadvantaged, talented young adult.
Reach out and find someone that can’t find you: local schools, youth groups, or charities are a great place to start. Together let’s make January mentoring month in the UK – and make some people cry.