Lady Slynn: Why RISE makes perfect sense

Odile Slynn speaks to RISE about her life and commitment to helping people rebuild their lives.
“I was on the train to King’s Cross that morning.” It was the tenth anniversary of the London bombings when Lady Odile Slynn and I met. She recalls the train being turned back to Leighton Buzzard with little explanation. She received a phone call from Paris; a family member asking if she was okay. “It was strange, someone in Paris found out what happened before I did. It makes me feel odd thinking about that”

I was invited to Odile’s Islington home. With her two dogs Raj and Pastis on their best behaviour, we sat down for lunch. This talk of bombs prompted recollections of growing up in Paris during the Second World War. “Our parents must have been terrified,” she said whilst admitting that these early experiences still echo in her memory.

Paris in the war is the starting point for a riveting set of anecdotes from Odile’s life and travels. It’s like taking a trip around the world. One minute we are holding baby orang-utangs in Indonesia, the next we are holding hands with Mother Theresa in Kolkata. “Holding her hand felt like I was holding the world.” Now we are having tea with Cherie Blair who is receiving a lecture on family planning from a local Indian mother who is surprised to learn of the twelve year age gap between her two youngest children.

India holds a special place in Odile’s heart. Following her first visit, Odile spoke of feeling “transformed” by the country. She is the founder of the British branch of Child In Need India (CINI) and a regular visitor to the country. CINI’s belief is one of ‘help the mother, help the child’ and Odile feels strongly about the role of family in educating children.

Odile came to London in 1958 and has never considered returning to France. She married her husband, Gordon, Lord Slynn, in 1962. Lord Slynn died in 2009 and will be remembered for being a High Court Judge, Law Lord, Advocate General of the European Court of Justice and campaigner for the incorporation of European Human Rights legislation into English law. He will be remembered by those of us who were passionate about politics in the seventies and eighties as one of the good guys. Odile’s humanitarianism, respect for the lives and rights of others and commitment to giving people the opportunity build, or re-build their lives is a tribute to her husband as much as it is a tribute to her.

When Lord Slynn died, people close to Odile said that they expected her to return to France but that was never an option. Instead she sold the home in Leighton Buzzard and moved to Islington. A considerable downsize but in a beautifully positioned part of London. There is exquisite art on the walls: two fine Hockney prints and some glorious Indian miniatures. Then there’s the dogs! Raj, a big black, affectionate Flatcoat Retriever and Pastis, a smart, energetic cocker spaniel. They demand attention and play. Odile expresses a strong ‘love-me-love-my-dogs’ attitude.

Her love for animals does not end with her dogs. Odile is actively involved in the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA). They are committed to getting treatment to working animals such as donkeys and camels. Odile has accompanied SPANA into remote regions of countries like Mauritania, Mali, Ethiopia and Jordan. They educate animal owners and provide food and veterinary assistance where needed. Odile’s world tour leads us to a remote village in Morocco where she met a boy who was beating a donkey. “We stopped and asked him why he did that. He said ‘because my Father does.’” Odile spoke of how SPANA got into schools and delivered lessons on better animal care.

Closer to home, we move to the matter of RISE. Odile admits that she is still feeling her way in understanding the work, but she is no stranger to the Justice system. She has been a member of the Board of Visitors at HMP Grendon and a member of the Parole Board. She says significantly of her husband that he was ground-breaking as a judge as he asked to visit prisons so he could gain a greater understanding of where he might be sending people were he to convict them.

The chaos of Transforming Rehabilitation out of which RISE has been born has left Odile a little bewildered but as our conversation developed it seems to make more sense. She is won over and excited by RISE’s Mutual status: “I really like the idea of the company being owned by the staff.” And we should be encouraged by Odile’s involvement. It makes perfect sense. Odile has experienced the rebuilding of Europe at the end of the war, she has lent a hand in the building of lives through education and aid in India. She believes in education, be it teaching mothers in India about nutrition or children in Morocco about how best to manage livestock. Rebuilding lives through education. Isn’t this what RISE is all about?

Odile Slynn, Lady Slynn of Hadley spoke to Alan Horne, RISE’s Public Relations Officer

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