Name: Ena Abrahams
What she does: Retired but still a campaigner
Impact: Fighting to protect care for the elderly in London
Nominated by: Rosamund Urwin, journalist for the Evening Standard
TOO often, awards celebrate youth. “Top 30 under 30”, “the ones to watch”, “stars of the future”: if you’re collecting your pension, you don’t get a look in. This is especially true for women, who seem to be almost edited out of public life when wrinkles start to appear.
So when I was told about the “unseen powerful women who change the world” campaign, I knew immediately who I wished to nominate: 87-year-old Ena Abrahams. I first read about Mrs Abrahams earlier this year in the Waltham Forest Guardian, a local newspaper in East London. She was named as the leader of a campaign to save the under-threat Connaught Day Hospital, a centre within Whipps Cross Hospital which specialises in caring for the elderly.
Mrs Abrahams receives treatment at the Connaught every fortnight and is one of its great advocates, fighting to stop its closure because “older patients are treated with dignity there” and because “it takes a holistic approach”. Since she started her campaign, the bosses of the hospital trust have said they are considering expanding the Connaught’s services, as an alternative to closing it.
Mrs Abrahams calls herself “a self-appointed emissary of the elderly” and is speaking up because she wants her generation to have a voice: “There are patients here who don’t know how to defend themselves, they have an inbuilt fear of authority.”
That certainly does not apply to Mrs Abrahams, for whom campaigning seems to come naturally. As part of the patients’ panel at Whipps Cross, she has successfully lobbied for the Paediatric Accident & Emergency to be open 24 hours a day. Before she retired, the former headmistress was also very active in the teachers’ union.
Having taught thousands of school pupils, Mrs Abrahams decided to teach the teachers how to teach, as a tutor at Goldsmiths, a London university. She remains passionate about the power of education and believes we should never stop learning: in her late Seventies she studied for a masters in sociology. “I got a distinction and I was 40 years older than the next oldest student,” she recalls.
Mrs Abrahams is also a mine of historical information. She can remember the Wall Street Crash and the depression of the 1930s. She describes growing up in a Shoreditch slum; there was no running water in her family’s flat, so her mother had to traipse down three floors to collect it.
Ena Abrahams is not the type of person who is usually described as powerful. Although politically-active, she is not a politician. But she is a reminder of what can be achieved – at any age – if you possess an indefatigable spirit.