“My Mum and Dad came over from Trinidad in the early fifties, to better their lives, like so many West Indians. It was actually Enoch Powell who was advertising in the Caribbean for workers to come to the UK to do the work British people weren’t able to do. They came from different areas in Trinidad; Dad was from a rural background, Mum was brought up in a town, but they met here in the UK, and I was born in Croydon. Dad was in the RAF at the time, and my Mum was nursing. However I spent 3 years of my early life in Singapore. We came back to north London, where Dad qualified as a solicitor, and Mum moved into midwifery. Later on when I was 14 or 15, we moved to Zambia, because Mum and Dad wanted to contribute to a developing community through their work, something they felt was important. Dad was helping people acquire skills to work in government departments, and Mum was finding midwifery in Zambia very different to the UK.
In Zambia, my Mum and Dad wanted to send us to boarding school. My youngest brother was sent to school in Truro, in Cornwall, but I resisted. We’d always had a connection with the South West because my family had good friends in Barnstaple, Devon; he was a doctor there. When we turned up, people knew who we were going to stay with because they were the only black family in the village. We had lots of fun there, going to the beach and swimming in the summer.
After working in Zambia, my parents decided they wanted to go back to Trinidad. Dad wanted to set up his own practice, and Mum started a retail business. To the astonishment of all of us, Mum’s business, a supermarket, was a huge financial success despite her complete lack of experience. My youngest brother now runs the business, which consists of several shops retailing DVD’s and computer equipment. Sadly my Mum died of medical negligence when I was in my 20’s. I was so privileged to have had her as a mother for that time, but of course I wish I could have had her a lot longer.
I always wanted to follow my father into law, but he told me I didn’t have a legal brain, I had a sociological brain. I think from a young age I had developed a strong social conscience. Maybe it was a female thing, but I was very inspired by my Mum, and as a family we had some pretty heavy duty political discussions round the dinner table. My father was very strict, very authoritarian, and I have to say that if it wasn’t for my Mum I would have had a rotten childhood. We weren’t allowed out, and we had to do chores before and after school, which none of my friends had to do. My parents instilled a great appetite for reading in me, and I used the library as a sanctuary, but I felt even that pleasure was taken away from me because my father censored the books I chose. I think my personality today reflects that almost Victorian upbringing, in that there’s no way I’d treat my own daughter like that, although finding the balance between freedom and self-discipline with children isn’t easy.
I totally loved my time at school, even the school dinners. I never had much problem with prejudice, unlike my brothers. Both of my brothers were compelled to fight, and their solution was to pick a fight with the biggest bully in the school, so that no-one else would wish to pick on them. Most immigrant families at the time felt that if you worked hard and excelled in education, you would later reap the rewards. In my case, I went to the Polytechnic of Central London to study law, met lots of interesting people and had a great time. However, one of the tutors commented that although they saw a lot of me around the place, it wasn’t often in lectures; so I got kicked out at the end of the second year because I failed a couple of exams. Back in Trinidad staying with my parents, I eventually went to the University of the West Indies and qualified with a sociology degree.
Since I was quite young, I’ve enjoyed being involved with community activities, trying to make a difference in people’s lives. Around 1990 I joined the Commission for Racial Equality, which was set up under the Race Relations Act. It was an absolutely fascinating time, and I did many different jobs there. I started off as a Complaints Officer, dealing with issues of discrimination, then moved into the social policy area. When Herman Ouseley, now Lord Ouseley, joined as Chair of the Commission I became the Head of the Executive office. Herman’s tenure heralded exciting and challenging times for the Commission and one of his initiatives was the “Kick it Out” football campaign. Through this I met many of the ‘movers and shakers’ of British society including politicians of the day like John Major, Michael Howard, and Ken Clarke, as well as famous footballers and musicians who supported us. In 1993 Stephen Lawrence was murdered, an event which was perhaps a watershed in race relations. The court used the phrase “institutional racism”, defining its existence; we knew it already existed, but the trial made it a matter of great public concern.
As my sister-in-law was born and bred in Charmouth we’d been visiting Bridport for over ten years before we decided to move down here. I had split up from my partner, and I wanted my daughter to grow up near her cousins. I’ve always found Bridport an incredibly welcoming, beautiful and creative place, and I’ve made so many lovely friends. So when the Commission closed down in 2007, I chose to take the redundancy package and move here. I really wanted to spend a bit more time with my daughter, because when I was working in London there weren’t enough hours in the day to be a Mum. The intention was to live on my own independent means, but ‘stuff happens’ so I’m looking for other ways to generate an income.
I’m involved with a number of voluntary groups because I need to be stimulated, but also because I believe in giving back to the community. I’m the Chair of the South West Multicultural Network; also I’m the Co-Chair of the Forum for Equality and Diversity which was set up under the aegis of Dorset County Council. I’m Vice-Chair for Magna Housing Association, primarily because I’m interested in issues around rural housing for people who may have been born and brought up in the countryside, but can’t afford to live here because of high property prices. I combine those roles with the work of governor for both a local primary and secondary school. I am also a director of West Dorset Sports Trust and a member of the Bridport Local Area Partnership.
All these involvements are great fun and very stimulating, which are something I do need, as well as hopefully helping to find a way forward for these community issues. I’m also a voracious reader, and luckily my daughter has picked up that interest. The only problem now is she’d rather be reading in the mornings instead of getting ready to go to school. Walditch has been one of the friendliest places I’ve ever lived; for example people offered to shop for me or take my daughter to school if I’ve been ill. As a village community it’s been absolutely great, and I think that’s generally the case in villages.
Most people aren’t comfortable talking about race issues; the large private sector companies I used to talk to in my previous job would far rather talk about gender inequality. Some people are frightened of difference, which can focus around disability, colour, religion etc, and it is sometimes media driven. My mantra in life has always been about being fair to other human beings, and to have respect for other cultures. The Network is trying to promote awareness of the fact we live a global life, and that unless you live totally self-sufficiently most of the necessities you buy are made by people from other cultures. If we rely on them we should be respectful of them and learn to be at ease with difference. People tell me I’m full of “joie de vivre”, and perhaps it’s because I get such a buzz from helping people to get to a position where they can help themselves. There can’t be anything more satisfying.