Manchester’s new Lord Mayor says she ‘would never have dreamed’ of being appointed to the civic role after growing up in care from the age of six months. Clayton and Openshaw councilor Donna Ludford, who became Lord Mayor of Manchester this week (May 18), wants to ‘break down barriers’ while in office.
The 53-year-old follows Labor colleague Tommy Judge who served 18 months in the ceremonial job, undertaking 518 engagements in that time. But the new Lord Mayor says she wants to draw on her experience of growing up in the care system to support and inspire young people across Manchester.
“I lived on many of our council estates across this city – all of them only just a few miles away from this town hall,” she said. “Back then, I would never have dreamed for one second that someone like me could be elected as the Lord Mayor of Manchester.”
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Born at the Duchess of York Hospital in Burnage, Donna was put in care when she was just six months old after both her parents were in a major accident. She was ‘pushed from pillar to post’, living in more than a dozen foster homes from Benchill to Hale and moving around as many schools from the age of 12.
As a child, she was ill-treated by adults she says were ‘supposed to be in my life to protect and care for me’. She left school with no qualifications, no aspirations and no hope of achieving.
But at the age of 16 she finally ‘got a break’ and found a loving foster parent, Patricia, who would tell her ‘you can do anything, Donna – anything you want’. However, life as a teenager was not easy – especially in the 1980s, she said.
“The constant upset of having to move and trying to start again, fitting into a new family, trying to make new friends and yet struggling to trust anyone,” she said. “I often suffered from poor mental health and on several occasions even considered taking my own life.”
Life as an adult was also difficult for Donna who first married at the age of 23, but left the ‘toxic’ relationship a year later, taking two young children with her. Donna took a part-time job as a cleaner at Manchester council in the mid-1990s before becoming a caretaker, a volunteer youth worker and an educational support worker with the Manchester Pupil Referral Unit.
In 2013, Donna became a councillor, wanting to be ‘a voice for the vulnerable’. “I want every single Mancunian to get the opportunities that our great city has given me,” she said. “The opportunities not just to survive, but to thrive.”
Donna’s term as mayor coincides with Manchester council’s ‘Year of the Child’ campaign – a promise to focus on children as the city recovers from Covid. She will be joined by her husband de ella Sean McHale, a former councilor who proposed to her at a council meeting in 2018, who will serve as her consort de ella.
Joined by friends, colleagues and former foster parents in the council chamber for the greatest making ceremony, Donna made her intentions for the year clear. She promised to work hard to make life better for all young people in the city.
“Growing up in care, being a care leaver, does not define me,” she said. “The scars it left does not define me.
“My achievements define me. My achievements make me who I am and who I want to be. So from care to the Lord Mayor of this great city and the work I will do in the coming year will define who I am.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.