OBV Profile: Sonika Nirwal

As councillor for Greenford Broadway ward and leader for the opposition Labour group in Ealing, Nirwal not only leads the Labour councillors but she also helps to promote and defend the position of the party in the council.

Much of Nirwal’s concerns for her ward have included the regeneration of the town centre, the ward’s housing estates as well as tackling community safety issues in the area.

As a politician she is a regular speaker at Labour Party conferences, speaking on a variety of issues, most recently she was asked to speak on community cohesion.

For the past six years Nirwal, 31, has been a principal consultant for the Improvement and Development Agency where she visits councils across the country to help them improve the services they deliver to local people.

She is also a Board member for Ealing hospital, a position she has held for three years and is chair for the hospital trust’s quality and diversity committee.

She has always had an interest in the public sector and many of her previous positions reflect that. She previously worked at Westminster City Council as a management trainee and has also worked in Ealing Council as a policy officer.

Nirwal, married with one son, was born and raised in Ealing Southall. Her parents are from India in the Punjab region. “I grew up in a very Asian dominated area and it wasn’t very diverse at the time”, she says of her childhood in Ealing.

Explaining how she became politically aware, she says: “I guess I was born and brought up in a political area. Most working class people were nearly all members of trade unions and members of the Labour Party, so I’ve grown up to have that interest.”

Nirwal adds that she also learnt a lot about political activism from other countries. For example she saw many people taking part in the South African anti-apartheid movement, both here in the UK and in South Africa.

In 1995 she attended Cambridge University and completed a degree in Social and Political Science.

She went on to complete a work placement for former MP, Paul Boateng. She spent two week’s in his government office working for his constituency, supporting the local organiser in the area. She says it is through this experience that she learnt about the ins and outs of the Labour Party.

Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement and by people of that movement like Rosa Parks, Nirwal says: “I guess my basic ethic is if you’re not happy about something you should speak up about it, not sit quietly and do nothing.”

She continues: “At some point you have to take a stand. And that has always driven me because you can’t expect people to do things if you yourself are not going to do anything.”

She recalls the time when South Africa had its first official elections, describing this as a political memory she was inspired by “seeing all those old women queuing for three days just to vote – that really stuck in my mind”.

Although she lost out to being a Labour candidate for one of the key seats in Ealing, Southall, she still has aims to be a Labour MP. She adds: “Being the first Asian women to ever lead a political group is a great achievement and there is still more I want to achieve. I have bigger aspirations for local schools and local regeneration issues to ensure Ealing is sustainable for the future.”