BGU's Dr Sheine Peart interviews Ann Osborne, Barrister, who joins BRIDgE as an Honorary Senior Research Fellow.

Me at home, in a relaxed environment in a state of contentment and gratitude.

SP: Thank you for making the time to talk to me this afternoon. It would be great if you could tell us a bit more about your background in equality work.

AO: I got involved with equality work through my last Chambers (the offices where barristers work). We worked on opening access to the Bar through mentoring, young people probably from around 15 or 16 years old to encourage them to start thinking about careers at the Bar (i.e. becoming a Barrister) and wider careers in law with the idea that we would mentor them through A levels and university - a commitment of five years. I thought that the scheme would be an important thing to do because of my own experiences at that age group of being told what you can and can't do. I wanted to circumvent that message and say you can choose not to accept that. All the students came from inner city schools in the most deprived areas of London, were on free school meals and they would be the first in their family to go to university. I ended up mentoring a very bright young woman, who was 15 years old when I first met her. It was a pleasure seeing her development from that 15-year-old through to the confident accomplished young woman she became at 23 years old starting her first graduate job. This was a young person who had not thought of going to university until she was accepted into the scheme, let alone thinking of Oxbridge. She ended up going to Cambridge. That was a world away from anything she'd even considered.

SP: Reflecting on your own experience, did you have an easy access through education?

AO: My early education was without difficulty but when I was in high school, I remember being told that I was overly ambitious. It was the first time that I had odd experience in education. I thought, overly ambitious - isn't that what a 13- or 14-year-old should be?

SP: What was it you wanted to do that that made them say that?

AO: I said I wanted to be a Barrister. I knew that I wanted to be a barrister at age 7. When I said that I wanted to be a barrister, I suppose that that teacher said ‘you're overly ambitious’ because in her mind, I didn't seem to set the world alight. She had their own narrative about my intellect and where I should be, and in that narrative, it wasn't here. I told my parents and they said, you ‘don't let other people tell you what you can and can't do - you define yourself.’ My second and perhaps most difficult experience arose at the end of my second year of my A levels, when the head of 6th called me into her office and she said, ‘People like you don't go to University of London Colleges- how dare the likes of you apply’. She wanted me to write a withdrawal letter to UCAS, I refused. She then said ‘Well, it doesn't matter if you don't withdraw it, because with the recommended grades I've put down for you, you will never get in.’ She opened her desk drawer, pulled out a piece of paper and slung it across the desk at me and where I had been predicted a grade B, she had written D. I walked away from that in tears, and I thought ‘Well that's her opinion. I'm going to keep pressing on’. I remember her saying ‘You can't do it. People like you don't become Barristers, and even if you manage to get through, it will take you years.’ I replied, ‘People like me do become Barristers, because my father is one and he also happens to have the same skin colour that I do, so I know that people like me do make it.’ I knew that both he and his friends were examples of people like me doing it. That experience left me with a sense that if my parents hadn't told me I could make it, and if I didn't keep hearing that message at home, I would have stopped it in my tracks. How many other young people are told ‘no’ at school? ‘no’ at home and ‘no’ when they step out into the wider world? I had to develop this blind, almost crazy self-belief of I'll get there, it doesn't matter what you say, I'll get there. So that is the reason for my commitment to mentoring these young people. If you can't see it, how do you do it? Seeing someone like me walking into that school and saying ‘Well, here I am’ it helps to challenge those assumptions. Some minority children, who they may not immediately scream ‘genius’ but given the right tools and right opportunity, suddenly they blossom and given a bit of direction can achieve amazing things. They're not even given that opportunity. So, all those things force me to continue that process of mentoring, young women coming through the legal professional, mentoring Black female students. Going into schools so they can see we exist, we are here, and we are here in increasing number.

SP: You've talked about your home life as a significant influence. Who else would you identify as inspirational figure? Who else has inspired you to think there is no ceiling to my abilities.

AO: I've had two amazing parents. So, my mother who as a young woman was an incredibly feisty character – ‘Don't tell her no;’ she was not going to be dissuaded from doing the things that she set her mind to, and she did not have the benefit of a continuous education. She grew up in a fee-paying system during colonialism and she to wait and to go to secondary school after her older sister. She always wanted to get a degree but selflessly she supported first her husband and then her children with their education and careers taking the back seat. And amongst all of that, the constant refrain from her was ‘don't let other people tell you no, don't let other people tell you that you can't do it.’ And she would only get cross if she thought you let someone else tell you what you could do. She did get her degree and became a lay reader, the first woman to be made a lay reader and was subsequently ordained as a Deacon at the cathedral church in Antigua and then at 65 to be priested (i.e. ordained as a Priest) in the Church of England. That wasn't her plan, but the opportunity came, and she took it. I have great admiration for her. So, I try to say ‘yes’ to things because you never know where it can lead. Those are my key role models.

SP: Your mother clearly achieved several academic and professional goals and the thing that seems to be the persistent thread is this idea of integrity, endeavour, and idea of excellence. How have those ideas affected your value set?

AO: For me, when I put myself in the position of doing something I either don't do it because I know I can't do it (and I'll have the humility to say I can't) or I put my soul into it because I think part of the integrity is knowing a what your limits are, but also recognising if someone has entrusted you to do something, do it to the very best of your ability.

SP: So how did effectiveness integrity impact on you?

AO: While it created a certain fuel to keep striving forward it gave me a larger sense of imposter syndrome and when I finally got to that point, I wondered ‘Do I really belong here? Could I really do those things? Am I a bit deluded?.’ That can be so crippling, and I had to pull back to that point of the girl with that blind self-belief. I needed to be that person again. So, the challenge now is, how far can I go? Because I know that there are others who come behind me and they need to believe they can do it too.

SP: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today and to share your thoughts and insights. I am sure we will be in touch again.

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