We are absolutely delighted for Seyi Akiwowo, a co-creator from the 2012-13 Star Track programme, who has gone on to achieve success by being elected as a Labour councillor in Newham. We caught up with her to find out more.
First of all, congratulations! What was the moment like when you found out that you had been elected?
I was numb! We had been campaigning in the rain, wind and cold since July last year, then more intensely in the six weeks leading up to the election, so we were pretty exhausted after polling day. It was so surreal to be at the Velodrome watching all the ballot papers being counted. My ward, Forest Gate North (FGN) was the first one to finish counting all the ballot papers so all the candidates standing in FGN were called out first—eek! For so long we’d been fighting—we all really wanted to win and when it actually happened, I just couldn’t believe it.
How did you find the process of canvassing and campaigning?
Canvassing and campaigning on the whole was really exciting. Everything was new to me and I learnt a lot about politics, Newham, Forest and myself during the campaign, more so in the last six weeks. Balancing full time work and campaigning was obviously difficult at certain times but I had great friends and family members who helped deliver material and encouraged me. I was also really, really blessed to be on the ballot paper with two amazing young women—one of which was a sitting councillor, so shared a lot of her experience and wisdom with us. In addition, I was able to walk around the whole ward a couple times which meant the area and the people were a lot more familiar to when I first started. It was great to meet and hear residents’ concerns and issues and just to be an example of new politics in London. By that I mean people had preconceptions of me when they looked through their peephole—that I was either a saleswoman or a Jehovah’s Witness. Residents couldn’t believe I was campaigning to be a councillor.
What was the biggest lesson you learned through that time?
I learned two key things. Firstly, work-life balance is so important; secondly, building authentic relationships with residents and colleagues is so valuable.
Which character strength or soft skill did you develop lots of during your campaigning?
RESILIENCE! I heavily relied on the tips and tools on resilience that were shared and developed during my hangouts with my fellow co-creators and agent on the Star Track programme. Also positive relationships—again my relationships with my colleagues Rachel and Ellie has been so special. We encouraged each other regularly which I’ve really appreciated.
Pictured above: Seyi canvassing in the rain
What are your hopes now for the future?
I want to be a really good councillor. I hope to change perception that young people are completely disengaged with what’s happening in society. Young people are interested in our local community and do want to be involved in the decisions that affect us. I also hope to leave some kind of legacy that will inspire young people to stand in the next local council elections.
Also, I work full time for an education charity and I’m still passionate about education reform so I hope to start my Masters in Education and Social Justice next year and in the meantime, continue as an Education Reform Campaigner.