TWO months into her role, Clare Coghill opens up about the path that led her to becoming Waltham Forest Council’s first female leader.

The Dudley native who grew up in a Conservative family in Halesowen was elected in January after receiving 30 out of 40 votes.

One of only eight female council leaders across the capital, Ms Coghill sees herself as a “positive role model” for the girls and young women in the borough.

Although she doesn’t have children herself, overnight she became the legal guardian of the 290 children in foster care in the borough.

Now settled into her new office, she speaks candidly about her desire to see more women enter the world of politics.

“I think there are so many young women who work really hard but what they lack is self-belief,” she said.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

“What I would say to them is be confident. Seeing me as a council leader, it gives them a sense that they can do it.

“There’s a hole in the glass ceiling but there’s still so much more to do. I will need to keep fighting for that.

“I would like to think it will happen in my lifetime but I may not see it.”

After graduating from the University of York with a degree in English literature, Ms Coghill left for France where she spent two years working in a school.

“I loved it there, it was fantastic, but I missed Britain,” she remembers.

She moved to London and started working in Tower Hamlets for a Labour MP. The Black Country native credits what she witnessed there for opening her eyes to the needs of the working class.

“I went knocking on doors and the deprivation was heartbreaking,” she recalls.

“I met mothers isolated at the top of blocks of flats with small children who had no access to childcare. I though the women were in a bad situation but things were even worse for the next generation.

“I got the bug then and what I saw was the desperate need for the Labour Party in London.”

Soon after, she moved to Walthamstow and in 2010 was elected as councillor for High Street ward, her first time standing for election.

Looking back, she describes it as a “big year” as she also married her husband Graham Rayner, a teacher.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Cllr Coghill and MP for Walthamstow Stella Creasy celebrate Ms Creasy's victory in the recent General Election.

Even though she never doubted her ability to serve as councillor, Ms Coghill admits she was not expecting the level of domestic abuse cases she would have to deal with.

She said: “After I was elected, this woman in my ward wrote saying she had been waiting for a female councillor to get elected because she couldn’t talk to a male. It was a heartbreaking case but we got it sorted in the end.

“Lots of people come to me for help saying they have some small problem like a dripping tap in their home so I ask to come around and take a look. Once I’m inside their home they tell me about the abuse because they trust me.

“It’s quite shocking. It impacts the whole family and the children see it happening.”

Ms Coghill is close to her Labour colleague and friend Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow.

After recently securing abortion funding for Northern Irish women in mainland Britain, Ms Creasy received a chilling death threat, something Ms Coghill insists was not lost on her.

Having also been acquainted with MP Jo Cox who was brutally murdered by a right-wing extremist last summer, the council leader insists she won’t be cowed by such tactics.

She added: “Jo was an incredible woman and it was shocking for me but it just makes you want to fight harder and stand up and keep going.”