Rita Leaman

Rita Leaman with the toilet she took to London's fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square to promote Wateraid

Rita Leaman with the toilet she took to London's fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square to promote Wateraid

First published in Meet the boss by

PSYCHOTHERAPIST and self-confessed publicist Rita Leaman’s most prominent stunt saw her sitting on a toilet in public on the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square.

Now the entrepreneur, who says even her grandchildren think she’s a “little bit mad”, is putting her efforts into promoting sisterhood in York and internationally.

Now the president of the York Ebor branch of Soroptimists International (SI), she is looking to recruit new members – women from the business and professional community.

The organisation, which translates as “Best Sisters”, is 80 years old, but the York Ebor branch launched in 2006 after a previous branch closed down. Its members young and old use their professional skills to provide a service to women and girls, to raise awareness, take action and work in an advocacy capacity on women’s issues locally and worldwide, including having representation at the United Nations.

Locally, the branch has been providing life advice, including budgeting skills and confidence coaching to young carers, and is also looking for groups of women and girls to help in the local area.

Internationally, it has relationships with branches in St Petersburg and India, and the branches work together on projects and share ideas. From installing toilets in a village in India to carrying out a survey of toilet facilities in York, sanitation is an international issue for the SI, and the cause of WaterAid is close to its heart.

It was WaterAid that Rita decided to promote by sitting on a polystyrene toilet on the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square in 2009. “The opportunity came up and I thought wow that would be something to tell the grandchildren. But it was one thing to enter the ballot and another thing to be faced on Saturday morning with an email that says you have a place at 4am on September 27!”

The York Ebor branch will now be using Rita’s talents to promote the work of the SI in York and internationally.

Joanne Fraser, past president of York Ebor and the Yorkshire organisational development officer, added: “I think a lot of us feel that we get so far in our careers but you reach a stage when it’s not enough and you’d like to make a wider difference.”

The SI York Ebor branch meets on the second Wednesday of the month at the Mount School.

It will hold an open day on November 14 in the upper foyer, Theatre Royal, from 7pm, for potential future members.

What job would you like to have other than your own and why?

Perhaps I already have the best job in the world. I am a (part-time) chocolate taster for Nestlé, or Sensory Evaluator, to give it the official title.

Greatest achievement

In 1993 I was a checkout manager for Waitrose. One day I doodled a simple matrix to solve a complex meal-break management problem. It is still in use today. "Modern technology hasn't been able to come up with anything better," I was so proud when the manager of York Waitrose told me last year. (Especially as I was not allowed to take O-level maths.)

Biggest mistake

Completely mismanaging a management position in Waitrose in 1987. I tried to run before I could walk. On rising up the management ladder quite quickly, I slid down to the bottom overnight. I crawled back up slowly. The mistake eventually turned into success. A huge and uncomfortable learning experience.

What makes you most angry?

Abuse of children on all levels, including the misuse of medication to control behaviours.

What do you need to make life complete?

Nothing. I count my blessings every day. Too many of my friends have already died or are chronically unwell.

Why do you make a difference?

As a member of Soroptimist International, we like to tackle problems that other organisations, can't, won't or don't do.

Epitaph

Thank goodness she's stopped talking!

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