Meet 9 Incredible Women Who Grew Up In East London
Christine Ohuruogu (Pictured above)
Born in Newham, Ohuruougu was raised less than a mile from the 2012 Olympic stadium in Stratford where she would go on to win silver in the women’s 400m. Both academically and athletically talented, this MAKER graduated from University College London with a degree in linguistics in 2005, while training in both running and netball. In total, she has won one Olympic gold medal - in Beijing in 2008 - 7 other golds at other competitions, 4 silvers (as well as the Olympic silver) and 9 bronze medals for either Team GB or, at the Commonwealth Games, England. After missing several anti-doping tests the British Olympic Association imposed a lifetime ban, but, citing a similar situation - where triathlete Tim Don was allowed to compete again after missing tests - Ohuruogu successfully fought the ban and was allowed continue to compete in the Olympic Games. She was given an MBE in the 2009 New Year Honours and recently competed again in the Women's 400m at the Rio Olympics earlier this month. We had the opportunity to interview Christine just before she flew off to Rio and she shared her view on being a role model.
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This MAKER grew up in East Ham, and always enjoyed maths and technology. When she was just 10, she became the youngest person to obtain an IT GCSE. By age 11, she’d passed two. Aged 15, just when most young people would start worrying about their maths GCSEs, she started a degree at the University of Oxford. At 17, she started her masters degree there, and aged just 19 she became the youngest ever person with a masters degree. Since working in banking, she noticed that STEM subjects lack women and young girls, that they are a “shrinking minority”, and so set up the Stemettes, an organisation focused on supporting girls and young women looking to get into STEM subjects.
Born and raised in Islington, north-east London, Leona had attended Italia Conti, Sylvia Young and the BRIT stage schools at various times until her parents could no longer afford to. After years of putting out demos with only fleeting commercial interest, Lewis auditioned for 2006’s X Factor and wowed the judges. She won the competition and a £1 million recording contract and went on to sign a $10 million contract with Clive Davis’ J Records label. Her second single, “Bleeding Love” was an international hit and was the first British female singer’s single to reach number one since Kim Wilde’s “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” in 1987. Five albums, several tours and international fame later, she was still living in Hackney until a move to New York in 2016 as she now plays the lead in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway reprisal of Cats. Lewis is a strong advocate of animal welfare and has spoken out about how she’d happily turn down paid gigs if they came from those who make money from animal cruelty.
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Born in Banglasdesh, her family emigrated to the UK when she was 7, settling in Tower Hamlets where her father was a manual worker. Not only was Ali the first of her family to attend university, but she made it to St John’s College, Oxford, where she read Philosophy, Politics and Economics. She then worked on human rights issues in the Foreign Office, became a research fellow at the Institute of Public Policy Research, where she focused on anti-discrimination issues. She then worked in the community cohesion unit of the Home Office, before becoming MP for Bethnal Green and Bow — becoming one of the UK’s first female Muslim MPs. After spending time in the shadow cabinet as International Development spokesperson and education minister respectively, she stood down so she could abstain the whipped vote for military intervention in Iraq against the so-called Islamic State.
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Born in Rush Green, right in-between Barking and Dagenham, she attended school in the far reaches of east London before going to Guildhall School of Drama. Making her professional stage debut in the 2004 production of "His Dark Materials," she was nominated for an Evening Standard Award in 2007 for her role of Eliza Doolittle in "Pygmalion" and by 2009 was nominated for an Olivier Award. She combined these roles with TV drama appearances, and became a national — and international — household name with her role as Lady Mary Crawley in the drama "Downton Abbey." She became Oxfam's first Humanitarian Ambassador and is a patron of the Changing Faces, a charity supporting and representing people who have suffered disfigurement.
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Dame Vera Lynn
"We'll Meet Again" is the war-time song most associated with Vera Lynn. Born in East Ham in the final years of the First World War, she became known as The Forces' Sweetheart by the Second World War. Starting her career as a singer in the mid-1930’s, by the time war broke out, research proved she was a morale boost for the British troops and performed for soldiers stationed in places such as Egypt, India, Burma and Bangladesh. Her record "Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart" was the first to get to number one in the US. She went on to perform several variety shows and was a mainstay of Royal Variety Performances. She formed a cerebral palsy charity in 1953, and has continued charitable works up until this century, including patronage of a charity for Burmese refugees, was given an OBE in 1969 and is one of the last remaining war-time performers still alive.
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Louise Gabrielle Bobb
Born in Hackney, this soul singer, who goes by her middle name, first hit the charts in 1993 with her song “Dreams”. Charting at No. 2 before climbing to No. 1, it was the first ever single by a female debut act to reach so high in the Top 40. Gabrielle went on to win two Brit awards, two MOBO awards, and an Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Song Collection. Classic songs of hers include "If You Ever," "When A Woman," "Sunshine," "Out of Reach" (written specifically for the soundtrack of "Bridget Jones' Diary" and of course, "Rise," which features a sample of Eric Clapton's "Knockin' On Heaven’s Door" which her personally signed off after hearing Gabrielle's track.
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Born in Stepney before moving to Shoreditch as a child, she passed her 11-plus exams, gaining a place at Our Lady's Convent in Stamford Hill. Though her mother paid for elocution lessons, while she trained at drama school, Barbara’s strong cockney accent has been a large part of her draw. Starring as a regular "good time girl" in the Carry On…films of the '70s, her coquettish roles were soon replaced by a series of stage and film roles and then, eventually, she landed the job of EastEnders landlady Peggy Mitchell in 1994. Playing the no-nonsense barkeep of the legendary Queen Vic, she entered the nation’s television sets and hearts over 22 years in the role, and now has a DBE for her services to charity and entertainment.
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Focus E15 Mothers
After budget cuts from their local council, Newham, this group of mothers — all aged under 25 and living in accommodation specifically for vulnerable people — were facing a closure of their hostel, Focus E15. They faced being re-located hundreds of miles from the community they had built together. Instead of simply allowing this to happen, the group formed and decided to occupy an empty block on the nearby Carpenter’s Estate. The occupation was successful in bringing national attention to their cause, but eventually, the same council that had cut Focus E15’s income, requested possession, and won. The Focus E15 Mothers’ fight for “social housing not social cleansing” continues wherever inhabitable property is left empty and as long as the waiting list for council housing maintains a level of hidden homeless people.
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