Westminster Report by Southend West MP Anna Firth.
EARLIER this month, it was an absolute honour to celebrate International Women’s Day in the Houses of Parliament.
As a female MP, wife, mother, and daughter, it was extremely moving to highlight the major achievements of women in our lives alongside my great colleagues across the political spectrum.
Although I am privileged to be the first woman to have been elected as the MP for Southend West, I am not the first female MP for Southend.
Lady Iveagh represented that seat between 1927 and 1935 as one of the first ladies to ever sit on the famous green benches in Parliament – a historical achievement, which all of Southend should be proud of!
At a local level, we already have great women putting themselves forward for election and fighting for the people of our new city.
In particular, I wish the very best of luck to Councillor Meg Davidson, Councillor Lesley Salter and (we hope) soon-to-be councillor, Cheryll Gardiner. I will be on the streets of Southend knocking on doors to support them, so please do come and say hello!
Putting aside politics, I want to use this week’s column to highlight some of the amazing community champions in our local area. I start with none other than our iconic Jill Allen-King OBE.
For those who do not know Jill’s story, she lost her sight on her wedding day, aged just 24. Instead of collapsing in a well of despair, she took the bull by the horns and has spent her entire life standing up for improved accessibility across the globe.
There is also the incredible Riz Awan at Citizens Advice Southend, who is an essential rock for so many people across our community.
She took over as the Chief Executive Officer when the Covid-19 pandemic was starting, leading her expert team to tackle the unique challenges our community faced during this difficult period.
Backed by the award-winning Emily Coombes, who was recognised as a rising star by the Young Energy Professionals, we all owe a great deal of thanks to Citizens Advice and their amazing work.
Of course, there are also those residents who sacrifice so much of their personal time to keep our community clean, thriving and safe every day.
Danielle Carbott cannot be forgotten – a real champion for our local environment, setting up the brilliant Litterless Leigh initiative, which quietly and proudly keeps our streets tidy.
Then there’s Danielle Bee, the organiser of the Bluetits Chill Swimmers cold-water swimming group who is fighting alongside me to stop our beaches from being flooded with sewage by Anglian Water.
I also pay tribute to Jackie Mullan, Chief Executive Officer of the SEN Trust Southend. Jackie set up this marvellous organisation to support people with learning difficulties throughout our local community, acting as a huge source of hope and optimism for parents and teachers alike.
On the topic of our young people, there is the inspiring Brenda Knapp. Every week without fail, Brenda volunteers to support the teachers and students at Leigh North Street Primary School – they really could not do it without her.
Outside of school, I must not forget Karen Packer and her selfless contributions to the local guides and scouts’ groups. During Parliament Week, I was challenged to build a Houses of Parliament from custard creams, using icing sugar as glue!
It was quite a messy experience, but displayed her limitless ability to inspire the next generation of women who will lead Southend into the future.
I would like to pay a special tribute to the iconic Denise Rossiter, the excellent Chair of Essex Chambers of Commerce.
She is a true force and a consummate professional, championing the importance of Southend’s thriving small business economy wherever she goes – even grabbing the ear of Ministers in Parliament last week!
I must also mention Julie Cushion, who deservingly won this year’s ‘Constituency Assistant of the Year’ award. Quite apart from her help for me, just thinking about her contribution to the community makes me feel exhausted!
Finally, I could not miss my own incredible inspiration: Dr Margaret Garrett, my wonderful mother. To her, I say just one thing – thank you for everything.
On a concluding note, I urge any women – or indeed anyone at all – who is thinking of coming into public office to reach out to me. I will do all I can to support you if you believe in one simple thing; that there is, quite simply, nowhere better in the world than Leigh and Southend.
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