Honourable Pro-Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Neena Gill for the award of an honorary fellowship in recognition of her outstanding contribution to public service.
In many ways, this afternoon, Neena Gill is returning to her roots. She arrived at Liverpool Polytechnic at the end of the 1970s already politically engaged and active in the student movement she was a veteran of the sit-in from her days at her FE College.
Neena came to the Polytechnic to undertake a degree in Social Studies, so this is technically her home School graduating this afternoon. She immediately became involved in the students union, and sat on all of the Boards of the Polytechnic. She stayed on after finishing her degree – and became a full time sabbatical officer, in the role of vice president, fighting for the rights of the Liverpool students she represented.
Leaving the Polytechnic, she found a role as a trainee accountant – perhaps unsurprisingly, she lasted just 6 weeks before looking for something more engaging and socially challenging.
Local authorities at the time were able to offer graduate trainee positions and she landed a role as a trainee Housing officer in Ealing. The role not only offered her the chance to gain her professional housing qualification, it also gave her a focus: for working with the community, for advocating on behalf of people who had little opportunity and for getting things done and making a difference.
Her skills and talent for working with the system on behalf of her residents led her, just before her 30th birthday, to become the youngest ever chief executive of a housing association.
This led to a more mainstream role in a larger Housing Association, which under Neena’s leadership became one of the most innovative social regeneration ventures –addressing inequality within housing organisations that culminated in good practice guides on Race, Women and Homelessness.
This project came to the attention of John Major who was Prime Minister and caught the imagination of the then shadow cabinet led by Tony Blair. The labour team encouraged her to stand for election and Neena is now in her third term as Labour MEP for the West Midlands. She was the first British-Asian female to be elected in the U.K. and in the European Union in 1999.
In 2017 she was appointed a CBE and also awarded a Pravasi Bharatiya Samman award for contributions to public service by the President of India.
She says, ‘I have loved everything I have done, it gives me such satisfaction to work on behalf of individuals, to give them a voice and to use my position to influence for social change, it has become my life.’
Neena Gill is an exception individual, a tremendous ambassador and advocate for those who don’t have a voice and so it is with great pleasure, that I welcome her back to her University and I present her today for admission to our highest honour as an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.