As we get closer to the election and people start to think about how they will vote and what the issues are that matter to them, they are starting to ask about me. Who am I? What made me want to do this? What difference will voting for me make? Aren't all politicians the same?
They are all fair questions. So let me answer some of them. Let me explain who I am, what drives me and what I will do to change the everyday lives of ordinary people across the Tees.
The Tees Valley is in my blood. I was born and raised here. I have started community businesses here and charities that really make a difference to lives. It is the place that I love and I am proud to call it my home.
But I have seen the devastating impact of poverty in this area, visiting families with no food in their fridges or carpets on their floors, no beds to sleep in. There are shocking inequalities and deprivation here and that has to change.
It’s time to be bold - we need a mayor with the courage, compassion and conviction to turn things around and get the Tees Valley thriving again. There are so many brilliant things to build upon, but we don’t need any more saviours from outside. We need instead to back our own, our own businesses, our own people and our own communities.
I have a track record in delivering change for our communities and for the Tees Valley. I have developed projects that tackled poverty, improved health and well-being, created businesses, improved skills and reduced unemployment.
I am a former chief executive officer and co-founder of the women and young people’s charity ‘A Way Out’, an award-winning organisation which has made a difference to the lives of thousands of people across the Tees Valley.
I’ve set up media projects and led up regeneration campaigns like ‘I love Stockton Me’. I led an £80m health and employment consortium and have championed high streets, small business, creatives, young workers and the North- East food and drink industry. I have won awards such as the Sunday Times Social Entrepreneur of the Year. I get things done.
I want to see the Tees established as a world leader in a new industrial revolution; a clean, green revolution in renewables creating the secure jobs of the future while helping tackle the climate emergency.
If elected I will create thousands of new jobs. The former SSI site will be turned into a green energy park with a space for electric car battery production, hydrogen, carbon capture and wind turbine manufacturing and a publicly owned solar farm creating £10m a year in invest in further green projects. This could create 20,000 jobs.
We can be the new tech centre of Europe with a £20m investment in hubs in Stockton, Darlington and Middlesbrough creating up to 10,000 jobs in an expanding sector.
Tourism is growing faster than the rest of the economy. We already have breath-taking coast and country to attract tourists but the Tees can become an exciting visitor destination through a £30m investment into local leisure businesses and create world class attractions like a virtual reality theme park in Hartlepool, a steel heritage museum in Redcar, a railway heritage centre in Darlington, eventually creating 26,000 jobs in the culture and tourism sector.
I will get our places thriving again with a modern, joined up transport system. There’ll be more buses and cycle routes and we’ll create a well-connected, affordable, transport system to get people where they need to be, to work and back, to college, to visit their families or the hospital, to the town centre. Tees Travel will mean connected services to all our communities with one ticket across several journeys and real-time smart information to plan routes.
I intend to create more affordable homes for our heroes - key workers and carers - as those who look after others deserve to be looked after themselves with a good home. So I’ll work with private and social housing partners to provide quality, lower carbon, affordable homes, giving priority to carers and key workers to live in them.
And after a decade of decline I want to breathe new life into our high streets by turning the rash of empty shops into useful and exciting spaces for business, learning and leisure. It will give the chance for firms that have emerged on-line based in bedrooms and garages over the lockdown to have a visible presence and a base to take the next step. And it will give cultural and community projects a place right at the heart of our towns.
Most importantly I will back our people to progress with a ‘Get On’ scheme with support to start a new business or retrain in a new industry. A green future is crucial - every house in the UK needs to be fitted with low carbon technology. We need an army of workers to do this, so we’ll provide training in green jobs for 10,000 local people.
And if I am mayor, no-one will be left behind. No one. I’ll set up a child poverty commission and invest in digital inclusion investment to ensure the most vulnerable get the support they need to have a role in the future of a new Tees.
That's who I am. That's why I'm running. That's what I will do. That's why you should vote for me. I want a modern Tees that works for all and I'll fight night and day to achieve it.