The Trail Blazer (2008)

Location : Kent & Norwich

I was seventeen. I was supposed to go to university but the war was on and my mother was a widow and I really thought it was unfair of me to demand so much more money out of her for a degree, and it was a different atmosphere in the war anyway, I left at seventeen. I did one year at sixth form and I was working for a for local doctor as a sort of book keeper/receptionist for a few months because by then I made up my mind that I wanted to do nursing and I applied to Guy’s Hospital in London, I was accepted and came down .

When I came down Guy’s had been bombed and the nurses were evacuated out. The V1’s and V2’s were in operation then and I was sent from Guy’s to Farnborough Hospital as one of the Guy’s contingent, and we called this Bomb Alley as we were a casualty clearing station. It was an exciting time, I did just on two years, took my prelim and in the August it was the victory of Japan, went to a victory dance and met my husband who was on leave. He was an officer in the Indian Army and he had come back from Cairo and he had six weeks leave because he had been out for four or five years in foreign countries and we married the following year in 1946.

I would have liked to have finished my training, I was so far on with it, but in those days you were not allowed to. It was the same for the banks, civil servants, school teachers, women of all descriptions, that were in any form of training or a decent job. It was men who brought up families and were the wage earners, and we women weren’t expected to ‘clutter the workplace up.’ It was a shame because two years later this all changed. However I married, and you didn’t work in those days if you were married, it just wasn’t done. If you were poor you had to but ordinary women didn’t.

I had two children and I did a lot of voluntary work at that time because I was young and had a lot of energy and I was with Cancer Research and also with politics, with the Liberal party mainly, because I wanted to know how government worked, economics and stuff like that. When the children were about eleven and went to the grammar school I realised I could have long periods of the day to myself and I started wondering if I could earn some money.So we sold the house and bought a sweet shop with a flat over in a very nice part of Kent near the common and what not, and it was close to the school and it worked out very nicely. After about eighteen months there the shop next door became empty and I took that and I started a restaurant because we had a high street without a restaurant. I hadn’t a clue about it but I employed people.

Did you still have the sweet shop?

Yes, I had about nine staff and, basically it was estate agents, bank managers, women’s institute all that sort of crowd, for coffees, lunches and teas, and this went on for about five and a half years and then the London Steak House opened which was a big commercial concern doing evenings as well, and I knew they would give me a lot of competition, and at this time the boys were doing their ‘A’ levels so I thought I would stop, and I was getting a bit tired by this time. I applied to the Northern Polytechnic for Institutional Management. This was a two ‘A’ level three year course but if you were a mature woman and experienced, you could do it in a one year Diploma, full time.

I was early thirties, about thirty five. I did Institutional Management and I had intended to work as a University Bursar. Westminster College had a vacancy; there was a teacher leaving married to an air force officer who was moving up country, and they had a short term vacancy and I was asked to fill in for the rest of the term, and this gave me an interest in teaching so I started to do the Technical Teachers Certificate and in the September,( because there was a lot of management studies in the syllabus, which was quite new at that time), and I knew that I needed a lot more training in that, and nobody else on the staff had it either because it was new to everyone; I went to what was one of the first Business Management courses in the country, it was at Regent Street Polytechnic which is Central Poly now, it’s a University, and it was a post graduate Diploma in Management Studies. I was the only woman. I was with a lot of men and they were very very competent, they were from civil service, Banks oil companies, they were all graduates, and they were high flyers. It was one of these things that they used as a step up in their career pattern, so I was a little bit of an oddball.

A trailblazer. You were one of the first women.

Yes, I see myself as being there at the right time, in the right place with the right opportunity. The men on the course were able to go back to their employers, as you had to write a dissertation and they were able to use their workplaces for this; but I was working as an odd-bod on my own because I had to leave Westminster College because I’d only been doing a part-time temporary thing there, so I started to think back on the time I’d done in nursing.

At that time there was a bit of an uproar in hospitals. You know this MRSA thing, well at that time there was a similar problem there. When I was a student nurse hospitals were scrupulously clean and nurses did an awful lot of this and there was never any question of infection at that time, not in the wholesale way that there is now.

I thought about that I would do a dissertation on women working in hospitals and it struck me that as a housewife, housewives clean in different ways, you can get someone saying they’re clean but someone else would think they were rather dirty. Now when they were taken into the hospital people just accepted that all women could do housework – use a vacuum cleaner and what not, A hospital has to have a much higher standard than that to prevent infection and so the obvious thing was to put up a training scheme and in this training scheme you had to write in management skills like costing, personnel, job descriptions, work studies, you had to put it all in the dissertation and it was a good field to do it in.

I went to the Department of Health and they were very interested and they allowed me to go into three hospitals; voluntary as well as state, in order to find out what it was all about. So I wrote this training scheme and everybody was very pleased with it and The Institutional Management took it up and put it in their syllabus as part of their training for people who were going to be domestic superintendents.

It was in the 1960s. Then the Department of Health offered me a job with the Hendon group of hospitals in North London. There were seven hospitals, they were having a nursing shortage at that time. They had a post called a Ward Orderly which was a bit superior to the domestic assistants, who were being used by the matrons as nurses; well they were not trained to do this. The accountants picked it up because the domestic budget which included the ward orderlies was much higher than the nursing pay budget.

The matron could get hold of domestic assistants and ward orderlies, but there were a lot of unfulfilled vacancies nursing wise, and so they had said that the bill for the domestic side was far too high and she had to get it down by one third and so, in those days they weren’t very clever at these things, she put a notice in every third pay packet, just like that, on the Friday (they were weekly paid) and they went immediately to the trade unions and NUPE came in, and that was the very first time trade unions had ever entered hospitals. Everyone was scared stiff of them.

One of the things I had done with the management studies was to study Unions, the management side of it, and it was great as long as you know all their rules and you go along with it, there’s no problem, but managers never used to do this sort of thing, they felt that they were in charge entirely and had nothing to do with Unions and then they used to break the Union rules through some accident which used to create a lot of industrial chaos.

So I went in there and started this training scheme. They gave me an assistant, another Institutional Management girl and I put up about fourteen supervisors, so that I could keep control of staff in small groups through the supervisors, and we put the training scheme in. It took about two years to run it through, there was about 250 employees who went through it, and in this way I was able to introduce a pathology lab officer to talk about cross-infection. We could teach them the execution of their cleaning techniques, and quite soon I’d got the whole thing under control.

The women loved having the training and the unions thought it was wonderful. All the nursing staff was thrilled to bits because all their hospitals were nice and clean and the women enjoyed it. It worked itself out, there was a good job there but I got bored with it.

I went on to Oakhill and that was a Management College for the Health Service, for senior management training, and we were in Epping Forest in a beautiful house, we set up residential courses. The Health Service brought in the Salmon Scheme for senior nursing staff, ward sisters and matrons, I was preparing the syllabuses for their training and teaching on the course and brought in management consultancy people to cover various subjects, it was very nice. it was residential and all very civilised.

The National Training Officer asked me to prepare a course in supervisory studies for hospital domestic supervisors & in Hackney College a training course was prepared for the National exam in Supervisory Studies which attracted the attention of the Army so along with training domestic supervisors the class also contained Army sergeants who were Hospital stewards. While in this post I took a counselling course with the Westminster Parochial Foundation. .Chad Varah had started the Samaritan Group & Dr Mace who did the Family Doctor programme on the Radio was running the Marriage Guidance Council & these three groups were new in the field.

When I came up to Norwich I finished my degree with the Open University in Sociology & Psychology and decided to have a rest. Then I was introduced to Brian Anderson who had just come in as a new warden at St Barnabas in Derby Street. This was 25 years ago, and he was Assistant Head at Mill Hill boarding school in Somerset, the Athletics school, and as a part time job he was Spiritual Director of the Marriage Guidance at Bristol. He wanted to be a monk and he had been accepted but he was told to take two years away from his job to test his vocation, a very good guy, and he came up here to be the new warden.

He wanted to start counselling, not that he had done any, except from the Christian point of view. Dennis arranged for us to meet and I said “Let’s start a counselling group, but I don’t want to get into the spiritual side because I’m not qualified in that and I don’t see that the need is there.” So I put up a training scheme. based on the Westminster syllabus I saw psychiatrists, doctors and clergymen with Brian Anderson who had come up to the UEA and he had an assistant. I started off writing a three month course of weekly lectures and I started the first talk, the middle one and the last one and the other sessions I divided out into the various crises you meet at various times in your life where you get a breakdown and counselling is useful, but with each one I got a different person, a psychiatrist or somebody from Marriage Guidance, the head guy there, Family Planning, doctor, clergymen and so on, all doing a talk and from that we got twelve people who wanted to be trained in counselling, so I put up a training course, trained them, and I was there for a couple of years, then they brought in a new warden. Brian left, I didn’t like the new guy, didn’t get on with him so I retired, but the Youth Dean at the Cathedral said we can’t let you go, and I started “Off the Record in a doctor’s surgery. because I knew the doctor there. That’s still going at St Barnabas Church

Then I went to Victim’s Support, training the volunteers, I did that for a couple of years, it was all voluntary work. I did Well Woman and WEETU. I got in with the feminist movement at the University and we started all these things off.

Did you start WEETU?

I didn’t start it but I was in the Committee that did it.

WEETU is still going?

Yes, and Well Woman should be. We used to employ a doctor to give women half an hour to talk about their families whereas GPs wouldn’t allow you to. You have to ask for a separate appointment for a child or a husband. We saw that a married woman had to be involved in the health of her family. & needed to talk about them.

Was it the same committee that set up Well Woman as set up WEETU?

The same gang yes.

Can you remember the names of all the women?

J. W. was a big organiser, she’s dead. She was at UEA, and then there was a couple of lecturers, I’ll have to put my thinking cap on.

The final thing I did was U3A which is still going strong. There were only about twenty of us when it started . A friend had written to them and asked them to start one in Norwich. So she asked me to go to that first meeting with them. It was very well attended, fifty or sixty people turned up, the official from London appointed a Chairman, Secretary and a Treasurer and went back to London and three days later we got their resignation. So the Council took over and I was asked to start it off, but I said I would help with it because I was doing a bit of work for my son, he was a marketing lecturer down in Kent University of Canterbury.

I started the first group, then I started taking them abroad, house parties and things like that. Then seven years ago my husband got cancer and it was very drastic, he’d got cancer of the bladder, kidneys – he didn’t die, he was a walking miracle and I had all my time taken up with him and it’s only recently that I started thinking that sometime or other he’s going to die and I need to have something to fall back on, because I’d lost a lot of friends they die and they move away, and some went to the country. That’s what brought me here. (To the Health Shop Mile Cross)

So you’re voluntary here as well?

I came actually to do the EXTEND classes here. I used to do it a few years ago, then it all stopped at the Norman Centre. I came here, saw this, they weren’t doing EXTEND, but there was a little notice saying they were doing these classes for diet & exercise. & I thought that would suit me. Although I’m nothing to do with Mile Cross., at that time I think they were short of people to be trustees. So there we are.

Note: WEETU is the Women’s Employment, Enterprise &Training Unit, in Norwich

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