Terri wandered into my vintage boutique as a fan of vintage dresses, a champion for women, a female determined to make a difference in a male-centric world and left as my friend, fellow activist and someone who empowered me to take a stand…
At the time, 2015, I was running my vintage clothing business, in a shop premises that was
1- owned by the local council, but had been offered up as part of a project to help & support local start up businesses.- a totally flawed project, run by men, unwilling to listen!
2- in a part of the town that was rundown, struggling for footfall, mainly service based industries.
3-overseen by many committees, run by 98% men
Terri was at that time the Deputy Leader of the council, and portfolio holder for the area of town my shop was located. At many meetings I hear ‘Terri’ mentioned and had always presumed it was a man- I know, I know never presume! One thing was evident, the Terri being mentioned was clearly well respected by the men in the meetings! However, I always felt, as a young women running her first business, they had zero respect for me and often patronised me, belittled my ideas and put me down. The day Terri wandered into my shop was the day I realised I had an ally, better than that even, someone on the inside who had my back! From that point on, when I felt unheard, devalued or misrepresented by the men in suits leading meetings (where decisions had huge impact on my business) I felt way more confident to voice my opinions, reminding the men I would be seeking the backing of Terri, knowing she would have my back! Knowing they respected her, and she had my back, gave me the confidence to stand up for myself! Women supporting women really does matter.
So I knew, when creating this project, Terri would most definately be on my list!
As Terri is local to me, and the first women on my list still living! I thought it would be fantastic if she wrote her own post. I sent over some questions as prompts. Terri shares with us her story below……..
I was born in Ilford, in Essex so am a genuine Essex girl which probably explains my love for large hooped earrings! I lived in that area until I was about ten, when my parents moved to Basingstoke. My mother came from an Eastern European background. Her father was absent but she had some contact with his family in Wales. Growing up in that area I feel privileged to have been part of a very vibrant, multi ethnic community. I suppose looking back both my parents were fairly unconventional, they didn’t marry until my younger brother came along, my Mother was an anti-establishment socialist who believed passionately in education, the arts and lifelong learning. And my father raced motorbikes as a younger man! I was very lucky that, living on the outskirts of London, I was given so many opportunities to attend concerts and plays and, most of all, museums and historic venues. I was an avid bookworm and absolutely obsessed with history, especially Tudor history, so these visits really helped feed this.
I had an ambition to act, and at eighteen auctioned for RADA. They told me to work on a few things and come back for the next round in six months, but I found the experience so difficult that I decided being a jobbing actor going from audition to audition probably wasn’t for me! But I spent some of my early career working in the theatre in marketing instead and fed my acting bug through amateur dramatics.I took time off when my children arrived, a son Daniel and daughter Rebecca. During my time off work I became active in my local community, helping with a women’s group, setting up the yearly summer fun lunch for families and writing in the local paper about community matters.
Once my children were both settled at school and old enough I went back to work, this time in Museum Theatre at Milestones Museum where I joined the team who performed small plays and presentations in costume and character for visitors. I also decided to go back to University during this time and completed a Masters at Winchester University in 2012. In 2011 the Lead Actor at Milestones and I decided to set up a small business combining history and acting, and Pedlars and Petticoats was born( www.pedlarsandpetticoats.co.uk twitter: @pedlarsandpetti ) We concentrate on Women’s history with a focus also on folklore and customs.At this time also I fell into local politics. My husband has been involved in party politics all his life, but I had resisted attempts to persuade me to stand as a local councillor until 2010, when I finally agreed, thinking somewhat foolishly that I could just get on with being a good community representative and avoid the politics. This didn’t quite work out and in 2014 I was given a Cabinet post as Portfolio Holder for Housing, Homelessness, the Top of Town and Arts and Culture, quite a mix!
The following year I was made Deputy Leader.Politics is still a very male-centric world and local politics is just a microcosm of the national picture. I found being frequently the only woman in the room extremely challenging. Women generally operate differently, we don’t tend to bang the table or have the loudest voices and can often find ourselves being talked over or talked down to. I found myself wanting to scream with frustration when, as happened so often, a decision was made on the basis of the loudest assertion or belief rather than on evidence. And it was a frequent occurrence that a suggestion or idea that I had would only be listened to when it was espoused by a male colleague, at which point it would become his idea and he would be congratulated by the other men!The only antidote I have found to this is to be supportive of other women. So if another women is in the meeting, amplify what she says. If she is talked over, intervene and insist that she is given a hearing, It may be small steps but it is the only way things will change.These frustrations, combined with an increasing detest of party politics, prompted me to stand down from the Cabinet in 2019, and I will be standing down as a councillor in May 2020. But I am proud of some achievements there, especially setting up the Social Inclusion Partnership in 2014/15 which has brought together statutory agencies, voluntary agencies, charities and other partners who all work with vulnerable and homeless people to try to work together to find creative solutions. This partnership has made a real difference to people’s lives and there are a wide range of exciting projects running as a result, and others still developing.
So soon I will have more time to focus on the things which really excite me. I am involved in the Camrose centre for Homeless and Vulnerable people in Basingstoke and am a Director of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, both organisations go above and beyond to support people who need assistance at crucial times in their lives and I am proud to be part of them.Through the Social Inclusion Partnership I am also helping to lead a new project trying to alleviate food poverty and inequality in the area. My eyes were opened to the level of poverty and inequality here whilst I was a Cabinet member and I am passionate about trying to make progress for people. I will have more time to devote to Pedlars and Petticoats as well, we have a number of exciting new projects running now including one looking at early female writers of fairy tales and folklore, a much more feminist slant than the standard fairy tale cliche. My childhood obsessions with history and acting are still going strong!
I have also learnt that self care is vital – so there will be more time for crafts and music, walking my adorable dog Teddy and connecting with nature.And more time for my family as well. I am very proud of setting up Pedlars, of trying to make a difference around Social Inclusion in Basingstoke, and of going back to university and getting a Masters with distinction. But my greatest pride is my children, to have two happy, confident and compassionate young adults making their way in the world who also find time for the interests and passions that make them happy would have to be the greatest achievement I could have. If I get to be a very old women looking back, I don’t think it will be the politics that I will remember as important, it will be family and friends and time spent in activities that bring real joy. If there is a legacy I hope that it will be a very happy family around me, and that I tried to make a difference for those who most need it.
Over the years Terri and I have supported each others projects and campaigns to make a difference to the local women. I’m really happy I was able to share a local woman and her story as my International Womens Day issue!