Barbara Andrew is one of the most inspirational community champions of Stoke-on-Trent. Jennideep Hayre met her
Born to feminist parents, the message from Barbara Andrew’s mother and father was that women and men were equal, neither superior nor inferior to one another.
So it was a natural step for Barbara, 30 years ago, to join The Fawcett Society which campaigns for equality, and she has been a feminist all her life.
Originally from Birmingham, Barbara arrived in Stoke-on-Trent on New Year’s Eve 1985, after being offered a job to manage a hostel for homeless young men aged 16 – 18. Days before this a male friend died in a fatal car crash on Christmas morning.
At the funeral she remembers a significant message to the congregation: “Life is unpredictable so seize every opportunity. Grab life by both hands; don’t be timid or hesitant because you just don’t know how much life you’ve got.”
This message struck home with Barbara and so she began her new life in Stoke-on-Trent, having to leave behind her three-year-old daughter Nell with family in Birmingham and carrying only £10.
The family I was born into was one where there was an unspoken expectation that each of us would play our part in society. It wasn’t optional, it was a requirement. You didn’t think: Should I do some good? Should I help my fellow men and women? Should I play my part in society? It was just something you did.
These influences came both from Barbara’s parents and another most important role model her grandmother, Thirza Cove, who as a Suffragette campaigned for the right for women to vote. Barbara also looks up to various other family members like her brother who works to obtain peaceful resolution to international conflicts.
It’s in the blood really,
Last year, Barbara, the chair of Hartshill and Harpfields Residents’ Association, was honoured when some of the local residents asked her if she would stand for election.
She stood as an independent councillor, with no political affiliations, for her local ward Hartshill and Basford. and came second in the running. Receiving 32 per cent of the votes she lost out to Shaun Pender, the current Labour councillor. She didn’t do any active campaigning as she felt rather shy about knocking on doors and asking people to vote for her.
I simply delivered a leaflet, saying who I was and what people would get if they voted for me.
One memory she recalls was when explaining she was running for the local election and a woman cut her off saying:
I know who you are – the common sense party. You’ll get my vote.
Another was when she met a blind woman who invited her into her home. Barbara read her policies out loud and the woman at times would disagree. At the end of it she said
very good – a bit longwinded but I hope you get in.
After this Barbara vowed she would make more personal visits in her next campaign, and instead of telling people about herself, would ask more what people wanted in a councillor.
Barbara is happy to run for councillor again at the next election if she’s in “good nick” and has the support of local residents.
It was quite a palaver standing for public office; there were so many forms to fill in, legal aspects, meetings, introductions, trainings. There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
Barbara faced many struggles when standing for election.
If you are an independent councillor, standing alone, you’re told you will have no voice if you get elected. It’s like a child in a playground – you’re told nobody will play with you and you can’t get anywhere. I think this is wrong and unfair.
If you are elected to represent the local people the party system shouldn’t be allowed to lock you out of the decision making process.
One change I would love to see possible is that all councillors be elected on a non-party basis; being independent and standing up for themselves.
Being a city councillor has two distinct parts to it. There’s representing the people from the area and those who voted for you, finding out about local problems and taking action.
It’s also about playing your part in making decisions affecting the whole city. This is where councillors need to all get together and form committees to make sensible decisions.
Politics is all about getting things done. It’s about reaching a consensus; talking, debating, finding ways forward and recognising that different people can hold opposing views of the same situation. There isn’t a right or wrong way. Everybody should have a voice; everybody should be heard. Collectively we hold together and find a way forward. And that to me is what politics is really all about.
Our city council would benefit from more ordinary citizens. Plain, middle-aged women and I say women very deliberately – just normal people bringing folks together to make sensible decisions and who aren’t influenced by party politics.
Recently Hartshill has seen a rise in street drinkers. Figures showed that around 50,000 people in Stoke-on-Trent have a drinking problem –10,000 are alcohol dependent and 30,000 plus are drinking in excess of what is healthy.
Barbara now has a bag of empty vodka bottles in her porch which she picks up from the alley at the back of her house.
Someone regularly drinks neat vodka in the alleyway and discards the bottles, this is no state for a human being to be in.
Barbara has hopes for a better Stoke-onTrent
I would love to see Stoke being the greenest city it possibly could be. The tourism potential could be greatly exploited with all the heritage and history we have to give. But we also have major problems. There are an enormous amount of derelict buildings which needs to be addressed.
More about the Hartshill Residents Association can be found at www.hhrasot.org.uk