If you want to go far, go together

With applications for the next cohort of our mentoring programme open (23 May to 15 June 2015), we hear from former mentee Sara Hyde on her experience of the scheme.

I’d been on my first two week holiday in years. I was serene, calm, taking everything in my stride as I walked into Westminster for the initial meeting of our cohort of mentees less than 24 hours after landing, still able to taste the island’s salt air… Then: hello, Fabian Women’s Network! Like being shocked back to life by a medic wielding a defibrillator, all my synapses seemed to fire at once on entering this room chocked full of neat talent. As we went round the room giving two-minute introduction of ourselves, I couldn’t work out how I’d landed on this scheme of dizzyingly wonderful women.

In many ways I was a political neophyte. I loved the Labour party, was a lifelong leftie and grassroots campaigner, but there was much of the structural stuff I did not know. I had been working in prisons for five years at this point – the most politicising experience of my life. Being around that much injustice, inequality and pain, that clearly had societal roots, propelled me into thinking of party politics and governments, not just running my own campaigns. FWN’s mentoring scheme enabled me to channel this political disquiet and to learn more about how to do that effectively. It demystified running for office in political or public life, it connected me with the most bone-shakingly brilliant women – who supported my fledging ambitions and reassured me that I was more than capable. It taught me about my ‘imposter complex’ and how to kick it into touch. It convinced me that a woman with a degree in performing arts, in a frontline prison job wearing jeans might have something of value to say and a place in Westminster, in amongst the suits and Oxbridge PPEs.

Christine and Caroline who run the scheme and my mentor Diana Johnson MP freely offered their wisdom and were generous, encouraging and cheer-led for me always. My cohort of mentees were – and still are – some of the boldest, brightest and kindest women I know. The scheme fundamentally changed the direction of my life and showed me there was a space at the table if I wanted to take it, not just for me, but for the women I work with in prison too. I’m on the FWN executive committee, on a Ministry of Justice board that appoints magistrates, on the council of the Electoral Reform Society and my CLP executive – all since joining the FWN mentoring programme. The scheme has set me on a positive, political trajectory, with the essential support of amazing sisters. It reminds me of one of my favourite sayings, an African proverb – “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Sara Hyde works with women in the criminal justice system. She tweets @sarakhyde.

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Applications for our mentoring programme close on Monday, 15 June. Click here for more information and how to apply.

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