Ambassadors

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Rachel Blake

Rachel is the Deputy Mayor for Planning, Tackling Poverty and Air Quality at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. She was elected to represent the Labour Party for Bow East Ward in May 2014 and appointed to Cabinet in July 2015.  In Cabinet, she has worked on the production of a new Local Plan, a new Housing Strategy, a programme of 2000 new affordable homes and a Tackling Poverty programme.  She is also a member of the London Legacy Development Corporation Board and the Local Government Association Policy Board for Environment, Economy, Housing and Transport.  Rachel represents the ward where the match factory was based and is passionate about celebrating women’s achievements such as the Bryant and May Strike, a historic moment in the trade union and women’s movement.

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Nicola Rushton

Nicola is a passionate advocate for women’s equality. While working in East London she founded Women East, an ongoing project looking at ways to create conversation, space and platforms for women in East London through arts and politics - beginning with a series of art workshops in Bow, roads away from the site of the Bryant and May factory. Nicola has just completed a degree with The Open University, specialising in Creative Writing, and it was through writing an article on The Matchgirls that she came to be involved with the charity, inspired and keen on exploring how the story resonates for women and workers today.

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Sam Gurney

Sam Gurney was appointed as Regional Secretary for the Trades Union Congress London, East and South East Region in January 2018. Prior to this he was acting head of the TUC’s Equality and Strategy department. His Previous roles at the TUC include; Senior Strategy and Development Officer and Policy Officer in the International Department. He was a member of the Governing Body of the UN International Labour Organisation 2009-2017.
Before he joined the TUC in 2003 he was a Regional Organiser for GMB union London Region and an Assistant National Organiser at Connect.

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Geoff Shears

Geoff was a trade union lawyer with Thompsons since 1971, setting up their Newcastle-upon-Tyne office in 1980, then returning to London in 1991 and subsequently becoming CEO and then Executive Chair. He retired from the firm in 2009 to set up Union Solidarity International, an international social media campaign platform for rank and file trade unionists, which in 2018 was transferred to the global union, IndustriALL. He is Treasurer of the Institute of Employment Rights,and a Vice-Chair of CLASS (the Centre for Labour and Social Studies).
He is active in a number of progressive campaigns, and came to the Matchgirls by way of the magnificent musical at Wilton’s. This reignited his love of the demand for “bread and roses”, by which women workers had inspired resistance in the US, and later the Revolution in Russia, just as the Matchgirls' Strike inspired the Great Dock Strike of 1889, and in turn the rise of “New Unionism” amongst unskilled workers.

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Josie Irwin

Josie is UNISON’s National Women’s Officer. Responsible for ensuring the issues that concern women are incorporated in UNISON’s bargaining agenda and lobbying and campaigning priorities. Before taking up this role in December 2018, Josie was the lead negotiator for the Royal College of Nursing. She was National Staff Side Secretary for the NHS Staff Council, a role she held for 14 years. Josie has also worked in the NHS, as HR Director for a London teaching hospital and in local government. Josie was a councillor for the London Borough of Haringey from 1990 to 2003 and was Deputy Leader 1999 -2003. In both her professional and political roles, she has always championed women’s issues and sought to make a difference to their lives at work and at home.

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Anna Somner

Anna is a heritage professional, passionate about researching, sharing and telling excluded histories. She is completing a Heritage Management Master’s degree at Queen Mary University of London, in partnership with Historic Royal Palaces. A History with English graduate, she previously worked for the National Trust and museums in the South West before starting her MA. Anna’s experience in the sector ranges from researching women’s histories, to working with decolonisation practice, collections and visitor experience. It was through her research piece for Queen Mary entitled ‘The Matchgirls Memorial: a case study in gender and class within the heritage of protest in East London’, that she became involved with the charity. Anna is also a post-graduate consultant at Queen Mary, researching social impact in the community. She is keen to develop a stronger relationship between the university, the local community and The Matchgirls Memorial.

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Louise Jordan

Louise is a songwriter, singer and performer with an MA in Human Rights who shares hidden women’s stories through song & storytelling. She has ten years’ experience touring the UK & Europe and has released seven recordings with radio including BBC Radio 2 Folk Show and BBC Radio 4.
Louise’s solo productions include ‘No Petticoats Here’ about extraordinary women of the First World War, ‘The Hard Way: the story of working class suffragette Hannah Mitchell’ and ‘Florence: the lesser known life and legacy of Florence Nightingale’.
Louise has been commissioned by UK Parliament, Groninger Museum, Dreadnought SouthWest and the Victoria & Albert Museum to write about women’s history and she shares her approach to engaging audiences with hidden stories at conferences and events.
A qualified secondary teacher & educator, Louise supports young musicians to write about women’s history, for example through the project ‘Never Had They Ever’.