Having grown up in Manchester’s care system after losing her parents in a major accident, she has dedicated her life firstly to helping young people as a youth worker, and now to public service as Lord Mayor.
Growing up, Donna lived in over 20 different homes, including foster homes, children’s homes, and family group homes, and attended more than 12 schools.
Despite facing abuse, neglect, and hardship from a young age, Donna persevered and eventually landed a part-time cleaning job at Manchester City Council in the mid-1990s to provide for her four children.
Now, she’s an inspirational Lord Mayor, The Chairperson of We Love MCR Charity, and a leading light across the city.
We met up with her to find out what makes her tick.
Tell us about yourself. Your background and recent projects…
My name is Donna Lunford, I’m the Lord Mayor of Manchester.
I am passionate about making life better for young people in Manchester.
I became a councillor in 2013, hoping to be a voice for the vulnerable. I want everyone to have the opportunities I have had, not just to survive but to thrive too.
Manchester is a great city full of opportunity, its part of my job to make that accessible for everyone.
What got you started in your field of work?
I’d been working as a youth worker for the Manchester Pupil Referral Unit (The PRU), a hospital helping young people.
During this time at the PRU I discovered a real passion for helping kids who were struggling with their educations and looking after some of the most vulnerable people in Manchester.
I began helping the Labour Party with their campaigning and months later, I took over from Jim Battle, who became the Greater Manchester Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner. When he moved on he asked me if I would consider becoming a Councillor. I remember looking at him like he’d fallen off the moon – I thought absolutely no chance.
Back in 2013 now, I ended up running for the then, Ancoats & Clayton Seat and won.
I couldn’t believe it, it was fantastic. I was a Councillor within 8 weeks.
You really feel like you can get out and help people in the local area.
Who has been the biggest influence on your work?
In terms of Politics, I have to say Lucy Powell, the MP for Central Manchester.
She has been a huge influence in my life, and my politics when I worked for her when I was finding my way in politics.
I think the way she handles herself, and represents her constituency and this great city is something wonderful and what I aspire to do in my current role.
What is your proudest achievement so far?
It has to be being elected Lord Mayor of Manchester. It is an immense honour and one I’d have never dreamed about growing up.
What does your typical day involve?
Usually, I’ll head out to engagements across the city, be it opening new things, speaking at schools, or meeting people from across the city.
My favourite engagements are meeting children at schools, learning what makes them tick and trying to encourage them to give whatever they want to do in life a go.
I also do a lot of work with Manchester’s amazing charities. We are so blessed with the amazing people in the city that volunteer their time to help others.
There are too many to mention, but they make the city what is is.
And how do you relax on your days off?
Sometimes this job can really take it out of you. I absolutely love the role, but meeting so many people and travelling a lot and knocking on doors – it can be a lot.
When I’m working, I give it my all so it can be tiring. When I’m off I like to relax and completely shut off.
You can’t beat getting cosy in front of the TV with a bit of Netflix, can you?
What is the best advice you have been given or can give?
My advice to anyone, be it in work, life or love, is to work hard and be yourself.
Take advice when it’s given to you, and don’t be too proud to listen. I think on the whole people have good hearts and want to help you.
Tell us one thing about yourself people might be surprised to hear…
I think people might be surprised to know that I grew up in Manchester’s Care system. I’ve just about written a memoir of my time growing up, which is set to be published very shortly.
I was put into care when I was six months old after my parents were involved in an accident, and was pushed around in the care system, growing up on various Council Estates in the city.
Hopefully, people who may have experienced something similar could read and draw some inspiration, there’s no limit to what you can achieve if you work hard.
Red or Blue?
If you could change one thing about Manchester, what would it be?
The weather. Without hesitation.
Maybe the traffic. It’s a tough one.
And finally, what do you love most about Manchester?
I think one of the great things about this city is its inclusivity.
It’s such a friendly place, with a diverse group of people, from all walks of life.
Anybody who comes to Manchester can make it their home. It’s unlike anywhere else in the world and I am just so grateful to call it home.