Heather Led Leatherhead
For my final week as editor with the Social Reporting project I decided to do four recorded interviews of people that I would describe as “Local Heroes”. But so many people told me that the 'H' word was unacceptable I had to take a hard look at it. Although the meaning can be as mild as, “a person noted for special achievement in a particular field” for many people it has a mythological/Marvel comics connotation. It can also imply someone working in isolation or worse still, someone who just comes in and fixes a situation before rushing off. “Hero” can sound like too big a deal to apply to “ordinary” people, a cumbersome label making them feel like they've over-sold their achievements. No one would describe themselves as a “Hero”.
But what other word is there to describe the extraordinary women I had the privilege to interview last week? They have all contributed enormously to their community with hardly any acknowledgement. None of them have flown in and quick-fixed a problem but they have all shown stamina and determination to bring about positive change, often over several decades! None of them has worked in isolation but have been catalysts for bringing people together and building much stronger communities.
As far as I can see, they have all given more time to the things they care about than your average person, taken responsibility for things that other people haven't bothered about and have shown more skill and passion in doing this than the people we normally celebrate. These women are roles models. They are an inspiration. They were doing the community-building part of Transition before the concept of Transition was invented.
As a child I wondered why she was always out at meetings, talking earnestly to people on the phone and filling our kitchen table and living room with boxes of paperwork. It struck me recently that in my five years of being a social activist, I have never met anyone who has been critical in so many important projects, worn so many different hats and achieved so much, as her. She's been busy in Leatherhead, Surrey since the late seventies when she joined the labour party, became a local councillor on Mole Valley District Council and eventually became Chair - even though she was the only Labour councillor! The projects I could mention without thinking very hard are numerous: helping set up a community centre; setting up a project to give local disadvantaged children access to the countryside (LEAP); supporting Leatherhead Night Hostel; helping make shops and shopping more accessible to disabled and older people, including setting up Shopmobility; helping set up the Leatherhead Clubhouse (a club led by mental health service users); helping drive a very transition-influenced project called “Leatherhead Tomorrow”; founding the All Saints Family Project which is now part of Leatherhead Trinity children's centre; and being instrumental in setting up a Credit Union. And all that while bringing up four children, helping out with grandchildren and being very active in her church.
If there's a word that gets across the idea that some people, like my mother, are absolutely freaking amazing I'll gladly use it. But for the moment, "hero" works for me.
Photos: Heather Ward in Battersea Park, by the author.