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WINners mingle at the House of Lords by Maeve Staunton Henderson

November 3, 2016

This was my second year at the House of Lords to hear the Baronesses and their stories. It is quite a magical evening and this year did not disappoint. I was excited all afternoon, braved the London traffic in a rainstorm, and approached Westminster with the awe it commands. Designed by Charles Barry and Pugin, who in fact ended up in Bedlam for his exertions in designing the masterpiece, its Gothic Revival pointed arches loom over and impress upon the entrant a sense of drama.

The austerity of the exterior and the charm of the staff, the intense airport like security within decadent wall to-wall oak panelling, these juxtapositions add to the sense that this is not an evening like any other.

After some time to mingle, to indulge in the delicious canapés and a glass of wine, the first to speak was Baroness Berbridge. Her mandate is helping those who are persecuted for their religious faith. Despite the grave topic of her work, the Baroness gave a cheerful and humorous recollection of her personal journey. She spoke of the importance of taking advice and finding the right people to mentor you. She impressed that good advice can be hard to hear. And to be mindful of what you are passionate about, because it is likely to be what you are innately good at.

Next up was Baroness Joyce Gould of Potternewton who surprised us all with her statement that she is beginning to write her memoirs at the ripe old age of eighty! She believes it is important to understand one’s own motivation, hers deriving from her Grandfather having helped his community before her. Her legacy is the much improved position of women in the Labour Party and reduction in the number of babies born with HIV to below 1%.

The Baroness Lister of Burtersett CBE mentioned her parents as drivers to her success. Her mother spoke Esperanto which gave the young Lady Burtersett an international outlook from childhood. She is most proud of her work with the Child Poverty Action Group. She reminds herself daily of the incredible privilege that allows herself and her peers to hold the Government to account.

Baroness Morgan clams that a whole lot of listening got her to where she is today. She loves working in the field of Breast Cancer Research and the fact that now the UK has a dedicated research facility. Her hot tip was to ensure when making a point, it is made clearly and succinctly.

All of the Baronesses mentioned working hard, listening, taking advice, taking risks and getting lucky. The necessity of work-life-balance was spoken about quite frankly. Hear hear!

I left feeling inspired, with a revived sense of motivation and already looking forward to next year. A big thank you to Cecilia Gallagher and Baroness Blood for organising and to Rosaleen Blair, founder of Alexander Mann Solutions for sponsoring the event.

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It's a sweltering afternoon and on a quiet London side street, outside an impossibly chic bakery (it's where Meghan and Harry had their wedding cake made), academic, author and former-model Emma Dabiri is taking a well-earned break from working on the final manuscript for her forthcoming book: Don't Touch My Hair.
Before we meet I half considered this a slightly redundant admonition for polite society - why would anyone, bar someone with latent Harvey Weinstein tendencies, touch a woman's hair unbidden? - but, in person, you can see where the temptation might arise. In this most genteel of settings, Emma's hair is an event, a happening, a lustrously-beautiful nimbus that frames her fine features. Curiosity and generations of cultural racism seem to spur the urge to pet it, stroke it. I heroically resist, but others are not so strong.
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"A few weeks ago a woman reached out to touch my hair on the tube and as she put out her hand she said 'wait… you don't like that, do you?' It was as though some dim memory of editorials she'd read somewhere, came bursting through; she remembered and held herself back a bit.
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Growing up in Dublin, it happened all the time. It was constant. Often kids would just say "oh my God, look at her hair, it's mad" and come right over and have a feel and a chat", she recalls. "It felt strange and objectifying. I found it strange because I wouldn't even touch someone's dog without asking them. I never questioned all of the treatments (that are used to 'relax' black hair) but they weren't always available to me because it's difficult to get those products in Ireland. My mum would work in Liverpool or Manchester, and there you could get a curly perm, which is sort of like defined curls, rather than afro hair.
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