I’m a widening participation officer at the University of Leeds, and was finally made permanent a couple of years ago after almost a decade of casualised contracts. I joined UCU as a Durham University postgraduate in 2009, while firmly skewered on the sharp end of precarious work. I juggled multiple zero-hours teaching and admin roles, topped up with bar work. By 2011, I was surviving on a patchwork of hourly-paid part-time contracts across the Universities of Leeds and Durham. I spoke out about my experiences in the Guardian in 2013.
I grew up and attended state school in Somerset and got my passion for activism and education from my mum, who left school at 16 and went back to college when I was 9. Mum organised and took me on my first protest outside my infant school, over health and safety concerns ignored by the Head. Alongside union work I enjoy organising gigs and events as part of the We Shall Overcome (solidarity, not charity) movement: events are pay-as-you-can, collecting donations which go directly to people in need via homeless outreach, and food banks.
As an academic-related member in widening participation, I work with academics across a variety of disciplines, with school and college students, and with their teachers and tutors. I have worked in academic and academic-related roles, on many variations of insecure contracts.
In 2012 I joined the Leeds UCU committee and am now Branch President. I work hard to involve ordinary members and activists in all branch activities and to keep energy levels at a maximum during industrial action – where there is always room for creativity] and fun to get our messages across.
I have a reputation as a strong negotiator and we have been successful at negotiating and maintaining strong local agreements. In the current climate, we also fight tirelessly to avoid slippage.
I am an experienced chair of large and challenging meetings. I currently co-chair the UCU Democracy Commission (created by UCU Congress 2018), which is improving the accessibility and representativeness of UCU for all members across all our sectors. I also chair the national UCU Education Committee, which recently launched far-reaching proposals for a post-qualification university admissions system.
I work hard to communicate and explain the work of UCU committees and bodies to members, through local meetings and my Twitter feed.
I have taken an active and prominent role in many campaigns, at local and national levels. During the USS Strikes in 2018, I frequently represented UCU in local and national media, including television news for BBC, ITV and Channel 4 and the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. I have written for the Guardian on casualisation and the USS strike; with Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty, I also coordinated a major front-page exposé of the ‘Sports Direct’ model of employment in universities.
UCU has given me a voice and a space to learn how to use it. I believe in doing, not just saying.
Check out my election statement for more on my priorities for UCU and my union work!