Profile: Caroline Russell
Caroline Russell (1980, Art) was an artist and art college lecturer, before retraining as a civil engineer in the late 1990s. She was elected as the sole opposition councillor in Islington in May 2014, representing Highbury East Ward and elected to the London Assembly in May 2016. On the Assembly, she is Leader of the City Hall Greens, Chair of the Environment Committee and a member of the Economy Committee and the Transport Committee for 2020-21. She is National Transport Spokesperson for the Green Party.
What led you to study art at Univ?
An amazing art teaching team at Peter Symonds Sixth Form College in Winchester. To be honest I think I put Univ down because it was just along the High Street from the Ruskin and I thought that would be convenient.
Why did you run for the Green Party for Islington Borough Council and the London Assembly? What does being a councillor and an Assembly Member involve?
I ran for the Green Party because I could see that our council (and later the London Assembly) needed a Green voice raising the links between inequality and climate justice and bringing Londoners’ lives into the daily business of both Islington Town Hall and City Hall.
As a councillor I’m involved in my immediate local area and my work covers a range of issues from the threat to a local day centre for older people to uncollected bins and dealing with damp and mould in poorly insulated council homes.
My role on the London Assembly is to scrutinise the work of the Mayor of London, I’m Chair of the Environment Committee and a member of the Economy and Transport Committees. So that involves checking London-wide policy in those areas. For example, I recently exposed that Transport for London, one of the biggest users of electricity in the country, was using just 0.01% renewable energy. That is now changing.
What issues are you particularly passionate about?
I got into politics through community campaigning especially on road danger reduction, air pollution and improving conditions for children, older and disabled people crossing the road and getting around by bike. I joined the Green Party in 2009 and have never looked back. It wasn’t the fastest route to electoral success but Green policies are increasingly relevant with every passing day.
We would be so much more resilient to shocks like the current pandemic with Universal Basic Income, serious commitment to addressing climate breakdown and an accessible transport system prioritising active travel and public transport while reducing the numbers of places where people are forced to use a car just to access basic shops and services.
What is your proudest achievement?
My three children. Apart from them, I’m super proud of getting a new zebra crossing installed at Highbury Barn near where I live. It took literally years (fifteen) and now no one would campaign to get it taken out. And perhaps getting elected to Islington Council in 2014 as the only opposition (Green Party) councillor to forty-seven Labour councillors, by just eight votes.
How did you find the first lockdown? Is there anything you’ve learnt that you’re taking forward into the second lockdown?
Lockdown has simply meant that I do everything online and on bad days I’m at my screen from first thing in the morning until last thing at night. I’ve learned that I must get outside early in the day for a walk at least as long as my non-lockdown, 40-minute daily cycle ride to City Hall.
More seriously I’ve learned that your exposure to coronavirus risk depends on your employment status and that those on lowest pay have born the greatest risk. For example, bus drivers have been disproportionately represented on lists of occupations of people who have sadly died. If we don’t reduce inequality it will harm us all by making it harder to find a way to live our future lives with and beyond this virus, and reduce our resilience to future pandemics and the impacts of climate breakdown.
Do you have any advice for current Univ students?
Well I hesitate to advise anyone, but I wish someone had told me (in 1983) that “Life and careers are not linear, that I should do everything with enthusiasm and kindness and that I’d find things that initially seemed quite separate would start to connect over time.”
Describe Univ in three words.
Long time ago
Caroline is active on Twitter @CarolineRussell.
Published: 30 November 2020