A FORMER Accrington schoolgirl has been elected as president of the Trades Union Congress.

Lesley Mercer was born in Great Harwood and went to Accrington High School for Girls, now Moorhead Academy, before leaving home to study at Nottingham University.

Her mother Jean, aged 87, still lives in Rishton and her brother Tim runs the Attire men’s outfitters in Clitheroe while sister Nicki emigrated to Australia in the 1980s.

Lesley’s first union post was in 1977 when she became an assistant research officer for the Merchant & Navy Airline Officers Association, now called Nautilus International.

She went on to work for the National Union of Civil & Public Services (now PCS) before joining the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy in 1995. She became director of the society’s trade union function in 2005.

Within the health sector, Lesley also sits on the steering group of the NHS Social Partnership Forum and is responsible for the society’s relationships with other health unions.

As independent lay chair for the NHS complaints process, she has also gained a valuable insight into the health service as seen through the eyes of patients and their relatives.

Lesley, who has been an elected member of the TUC General Council for 12 years, said: “I am proud to be the first president to come from a combined trade union and professional body, four-fifths of whose members are women.

“One of the TUC’s key strengths is the sheer breadth of the different occupations reflected in its membership and I’m keen to use my year to press home this advantage.

“My year as president is also the perfect opportunity to stand up for the NHS as something that belongs to the people and must always be there free of charge when needed.

“I’m looking forward to working with the TUC’s first-ever woman general secretary when Frances O’Grady takes over from Brendan Barber at the end of the year.

“Even 15 years ago, the idea of having a woman at the top of the union movement would have seemed remote.

“But with women now making up more than half of all union members, this is an entirely logical development.”

Lesley lives with her partner Graham in East London but visits her family in Lancashire whenever she can.