The high life

65cc030e-c88d-4f37-b557-689a8f52a128Gillian Merron as a sixth form student

In the fifth of a series of articles to mark Wanstead High School’s 100th anniversary, former student Baroness Gillian Merron (class of 1977) reflects on her memories and a pathway that led to a role in the Coronation 

Born in 1959, I grew up on a council estate in Dagenham and travelled many miles on the 148 bus to get to Wanstead High School. It was on those long journeys I bonded with friends and homework was done. And on the way home, much time was spent hanging around Ilford, and conversations about every subject under the sun were had and then continued on the phone once we’d reached our homes. Everything seemed so important then.

My memories of Wanstead High School include going from one school site to another before Wanstead and Aldersbrook joined together to become a comprehensive. The hot summer of 1976 also stands out in my mind, along with the thrill of having lessons in the quadrangle. Then there was an exchange trip with a school in Denmark, which all seemed so exotic, and a geography field trip to North Yorkshire, where I didn’t make it to the top of Roseberry Topping. I also recall modelling the proposed new uniform for girls with my late friend Joanne Wallen so the school governing body could decide (which they did) to let girls wear trousers, which were previously banned. And on top of all that, there were many happy times in The George pub, where sixth formers and teachers would enjoy plenty of chat!

Wanstead High School was my route to Lancaster University to study management sciences, where I got my first and exciting taste of politics as a student union activist. My first job took me to Derby, where I became very involved in both my union and the Labour Party, such that in 1995, after many defeats at the General Election, and having been a business advisor, welfare rights advisor and trade union official, I took the big step of putting myself forward as a candidate and was selected – then elected in 1997 – as the MP for Lincoln. Having served as a member of the last Labour government for 13 years as an MP, whip and government minister in five departments, I lost my seat in 2010. I then volunteered, studied and worked for myself for a few years, after which I was appointed chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the representative body of the Jewish community.

Fast forward seven years and I was deeply honoured to be ennobled by Sir Keir Starmer, Leader of His Majesty’s Opposition, and now serve as Baroness Merron of Lincoln and Shadow Minister for Health and Social Care. Last year, I played a historic role in the King’s Coronation by presenting the Robe Royal to His Majesty as the Peer representing the Jewish faith.

And, of course, in all of this, I couldn’t have known that Wanstead High School would play a part in my life that would lead me to the House of Lords – something I could never have dreamt of.

For more information on Wanstead High School, visit wansteadhigh.co.uk