Islington's newest councillor: Meeting Dr Dre and learning to love my black heritage

Valerie-Bossman Quarshie has become a Labour councillor for Bunhill

Valerie-Bossman Quarshie on campaigning for Bunhill Credit: Boateng Photography - Credit: Boateng Photography

Valerie Bossman-Quarshie is used to getting things done. She recalls how sixth form was the place where she began to learn the craft of becoming a vote winner.

“My first taste of politics was when I went for the position of head girl,” she says, as she was “one of very few black girls” in her school. Valerie also made sure there was money left over to buy a sofa because, “sixth formers want to be cool and have somewhere to hang out”. She tells me she was happy this could be achieved “because I managed to do that in my little premiership as head girl”.

But despite seeing herself as “very much a people's person”, she still reflects on the many barriers that were present even at that age. “Sometimes you don't get things because all the hard work that you do often comes down to people you know but I always feel that I've always worked hard and stood out in that way.”

May 6 will remain etched into Valerie’s diary. Bunhill elected her as their newest Labour councillor in a by-election she clinched with 1,960 votes. Her nearest challenger, Conservative candidate Zak Vora, came second with 744 votes. But Valerie joins Islington Council at a crucial time.

With only a year in the role before the local elections take place in May 2022, she will want to hit the ground running. “I am ready to serve the Bunhill community and as I said in my acceptance speech, that as a political activist, I am going to use my community campaigning spirit to galvanise the many.”

Most of Valerie’s life experiences have been shaped by her time in education and working as an educator. “Life’s been hard,” she says, before pausing for a moment to collect her thoughts. “I left home at 18-years-old because I wanted my own freedom and to be my own person.” She went to a school in Enfield town, alongside studying at Lambeth College as well as City and Islington College. Valerie also went into higher education and studied at London Metropolitan University and City, University of London.

Prior to leaving home, Valerie lived in Harringay with her family for a period, but she reaffirms that Islington “is where my home is and there's so much history here for me which is why I wanted to stand in the first place”.

Valerie-Bossman Quarshie has become a Labour councillor for Bunhill

Valerie-Bossman Quarshie on campaigning for Bunhill Credit: Boateng Photography - Credit: Boateng Photography

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The path into politics veered off into a number of interesting destinations. Valerie tells me how she “met quite a lot of famous people which was fun”. When I ask her to name drop a few she does not hold back. “I met Dr Dre and Eminem,” she says as her voice buzzes through the phone. Valerie also managed to do some jingles with the Heartless Crew radio “because I love music and I think it's a part of everyday life”.

But Valerie’s heritage was something that took her much longer to learn to love. “When I was younger I just kind of resented being African and I was like I'm just British,” she says. “As a black woman, I love that I'm an African- Ghanaian diaspora and I only came into the fold of my own culture when I got older.” As a mother to two young girls, Valerie says she is determined to “be that voice”.

Having been a Bunhill councillor for merely two weeks, Valerie may not have much experience to draw on. But she can be safe in the knowledge of what she has picked up along the way as she enters a new phase of her political career. “When I was head girl and some said they wanted a sofa, others would say we don’t need it. But it was for the comfort of being in that surrounding as they wanted it and also the fact that there was a cause that needed highlighting so I was doing that.”