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International Women’s Day 2024 – Interview

Carolyn Keen MBE, WAES Chair of Governors, talks about a family tradition of strong women speaking out:

I was really inspired by mother. Watching her go to meetings, reading papers, dealing with people’s problems, campaigning and standing up for things she believed in. She made herself unpopular because she was ahead of the game in her views about issues to do with education and women’s rights.  

My grandmother was the same. She was in the generation that won the vote – a really important time to be an outspoken woman. When she was born, women didn’t have the vote. It’s still in touching distance for me in my older age that that women didn’t have the things I take for granted. 

It certainly led me to my career path, standing as a councillor for Covent Garden, the Strand, Buckingham Palace, right the way through to Victoria Street. I then moved to represent Marylebone for eight years. During that time I was very privileged to become Lord Mayor of Westminster. 

As a board member at WAES it’s important to ask questions. I also want to offer help, advice and a different approach using my background and experience so it’s always a constructive approach. It’s always satisfying to be associated with something that provides a real, significant function within a community. Education underpins absolutely everything! 

When I hear what is achieved by the learners every day, thanks to our staff, it’s wonderful to feel part of that achievement, however modest my role. That’s what’s wonderful about the atmosphere at WAES. The ethos is that when people come through that door, everyone is equal, and everyone is expected to treat everyone else with respect.

I wish more people would get involved and understand how local government works. If more women got involved in local affairs and put themselves forward to be local decision makers, we would have better services and we’d have more compassionate services. They would certainly be more efficient and less wasteful I’m sure!