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Hackney’s new speaker Cllr Soraya Adejare on growing up in a divided Hackney

PUBLISHED: 14:53 02 June 2017 | UPDATED: 14:53 02 June 2017

New speaker: Cllr Soraya Adejare. Picture: Gary Manhine

New speaker: Cllr Soraya Adejare. Picture: Gary Manhine

Gary Manhine

Cllr Soraya Adejare will represent Hackney at hundreds of community events in the next 12 months. She told Thomas Nugent how growing up in an unequal Hackney shaped her politics.

Dalston councillor Soraya Adejare is Hackney’s new speaker – the council’s ceremonial figurehead who will attend hundreds of community events over the year.

Soraya grew up in Hackney during the ’80s and ’90s. It was a time where the borough was very different from the one she loves today.

“It was an embarrassment,” she says bluntly. “If you were working-class then the opportunities you had in society were limited.”

Soraya replaces Cllr Rosemary Sales, who attended 318 community engagements during her year wearing the council chains.

It is traditional for the speaker to pick two charities to support. But Soraya has chosen three, all of which are helping young people in Hackney unlock their potential: SkyWay in Shoreditch, Off Centre in Homerton, and the Access to Sports Project.

“I think because I grew up on an estate it made me more committed to social justice,” she said. “It instilled something in me. I wanted to do something to change things for these people.”

Asked what she does when she isn’t being a councillor, she quipped: “Nothing.”

So how did she end up in the town hall?

“I started off in youth work,” she said, “working in after-school clubs in numerous schools across the borough.”

And she admits: “That was the most rewarding job I had. You don’t do it for money – you do it to help people.

“I worked in after-school clubs with families of refugees, parents and kids. It gave them a space where they had an element of support, where we offered therapeutic activities.

“I tried to broaden their awareness of the world and expand their knowledge.”

It is a desire to guide others and break down barriers that lies at the core of Soraya’s council work, she says.

“People have seen in me someone they can have confidence in,” she said.

“You don’t have to be middle-class to do this, and I get to project this to people.

“I am an advocate for social justice and I get to be part of a system that empowers people who are often overlooked in society.

“I am incredibly proud. I am proud of the borough, full stop.”

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