Inspirational Cumbria mum Trudy Harrison who became an MP to secure a brighter future for young girls

It’s often easy to think that unless you went to Eton and spend your weekends smoking cigars in a members-only club surrounded by politicians-by-trade, Westminster would be off-limits for you.

But Trudy Harrison’s experience, shows a very different reality – one that can inspire Cumbrian girls and women to aim high and ditch the stereotype that without the large city opportunities, you can’t dream big.

Trudy Harrison is Cumbria’s only serving female MP and the only woman to have represented her constituency of Copeland. She was elected following a by-election back in 2017, one she decided to put herself forward for on one Boxing Day night in her local pub. She had been involved in campaigns in the Cumbrian village of Bootle, where she based herself with her husband and four daughters, but she wasn’t even a member of a party when she decided to give it a go.

A far cry from the trained politicians we often associate with Westminster, by her own admission she left school “with no good qualifications”, but that did not stop her from becoming Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister first and now Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport working on the UK’s first space launches this year.

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“If a job needs done, do it yourself, that’s what my dad would say”, says Mrs Harrison – a mantra that encouraged her to get involved in different local campaigns, including one to save her daughters’ primary school, before she ever even considered politics.

“What I’ve been blessed with, is a great family. I had a talented dad, he was an engineer and a problem solver, he could fix anything – the only thing he couldn’t fix was his Motor Neurone disease”, she says with a sadness in her voice, remembering her dad Alan Jeffery, who passed away in 2020.

“He taught me that things can be fixed, he’s had by far the greatest impact on me. I feel so sad when I see young people who don’t have that support, someone who would look at things with positivity and say ‘let’s do some research, and find out how we can do it together.’ Most things can be overcome, eventually. I was blessed with a childhood where that was in abundance.”

Mrs Harrison’s upbringing resembles that of many Cumbrian women her age. She attended Seascale Primary School and then Wyndham Comprehensive. She did a Btec in hospitality in Workington before starting work as a technical clerk working at Sellafield. She married her husband Keith and her first daughter Gabriella was born in 1998. She later also had three more girls – Savannah, Francesca and Rosemary.

Mrs Harrison then moved into a career in child minding and managed her own nursery. When her eldest daughter was nine and her youngest was five, she moved with the children to Spain, with the intention of emigrating, while her husband remained in Cumbria to work. But although she doesn’t regret the experience, she decided it wasn’t for her and returned home, where she got a job as a regeneration officer at Copeland Borough Council, while studying part-time on a Foundation Degree at the University of Salford.

Asked how she thinks the experience of being a woman in Parliament differs to that of a man, she says: “With the experience I had running a nursery, working at Sellafield and the other roles I’ve done, I’ve always been used to collaborating with other people and that’s what I do a lot with other women in Parliament, I think we’re more collaborative and less competitive.

“I work with Labour and LibDem MPs all the time. When you see all the jeering and cheering at Prime Minister questions – many enjoy it, but I certainly don’t.”

But the MP doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality she is often faced with – that of people’s hostility on social media.

She admits this has taken a toll on her family. “It’s almost like having a hormonal teenager, you love everyone dearly, but it feels like they hate me. I take it to heart and I cry more than my male counterparts. If I could take a potion for a thicker skin, I would have made a bulk purchase – but I do think I’m a shadow of my former self.”

However hard it might feel, Mrs Harrison says her goals for Cumbria are what keep her going.

“I don’t feel that being an MP is something that I consider a privilege, it’s an opportunity to secure the future that I would like to see for my girls and their peers and the future generations. It’s a sacrifice – every Monday morning I leave my husband and daughters and don’t come back until Thursday; I can’t really go round town like I used to; my social life is practically non-existent. But it’s definitely a privilege in the sense that I’ve got an opportunity to meet amazing people and see the amazing thing they do.”

And Mrs Harrison wants other women and girls in Cumbria to know they can achieve what they want, there is talent in Cumbria and nothing is holding them back. She concludes: “Confidence is such a big part of it, the only thing holding me back, was me.”

Lancs Live – Cumbria