My mum was one of five children. When her dad, my grandfather, came back from the Second World War injured, he could no longer work, putting huge financial strain on the family. They often had to survive on bread and jam, and relied on the local community providing support.
My mum used to tell stories of people from the local church leaving casseroles on the doorstep to help them out. When I heard those stories, my dedication to community support was born.
At the same time, I learned the value of education. My father joined Standard Chartered in 1977 and worked for the bank for 25 years. He always ensured that we took school seriously and had books to read, and I realised from an early age that not all children, certainly in the area I grew up in, had that encouragement and those opportunities.
I was 16 when I joined Standard Chartered. I finished school on a Friday and started work the following Monday! I worked four days a week, and took advantage of a day release scheme to study for my banking exams. My parents couldn’t afford to send me to university, and I was grateful to be able to learn while making my start in the working world.
Even at this early stage, I was aware of the barriers that stood against me. When I was still just a kid starting out at work, someone implied to me that I wouldn’t go far because I was from a council estate. That comment sparked a fire of motivation in me, and I haven’t looked back since.
Giving something back
I’ve been volunteering my whole life, from helping out at catering events (I love to bake!) to joining the Reading Partners scheme, which was a partnership between Standard Chartered and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. I was one of the Bank’s first reading partners – I would use my lunchtimes to go help kids read and learn to build relationships. I wanted to show them that they could get on and do big things, because I passionately believe that wherever you’re born, to what area or money, basic skills will give you a chance to succeed.
I used to go to local schools and help kids with things like interview practice and CV advice. I remember one day, the first girl that came in, said she aspired to work in her nan’s café when she grew up. The next kid that came in, from the same school, said he wanted to be a nuclear physicist! It brought home to me just how much the bubble of where you grow up can define your ambitions.
As my career progressed and I became more senior, I had to shift my volunteering focus. When I was called upon to travel more, for example, I was no longer able to commit to the reading scheme. But when I announced that, I was offered a place as a school governor, and I’ve been doing that ever since!