I’ve always liked Eastbourne – but thought of it as a gentle sort of place, for walking and thinking. I now have it filed under words like ‘exciting’, ‘friendly’ and – yes, ‘socialist’.
Eastbourne CLP are good at fun. They have regular events called things like ‘politics in the pub’ and ‘politics in the café’ and today (16th February 2019) I was one of the lucky women from around the south east who got invited to Eastbourne Women’s Forum’s first birthday party.
There was a real buzz at Eastbourne’s Seaside Community Hub. The women had got together to have fun and eat cake – but also to tell each other’s stories, to inspire and to organise.
Nancy Platts from East Brighton, talked about being a councillor in a deprived area. Never mind ‘managing their expectations’, Nancy’s out there looking for ways to empower, enthuse and enable – and it sounds as though it’s working. Nancy’s story shows how councillors – and communities – who believe in themselves don’t have to give in to the tyranny of austerity.
Helen Macabe, from Eastbourne CLP, runs the Community Hub, and her own business, which she set up from nothing by working with local charities. She talked about how getting really involved with the community, really caring, finding your skills and fearlessly presenting your best work to organisations can lead to wonderful things. Helen’s story shows how sometimes, doing what you really don’t want to (like getting up and getting dressed on a Saturday morning!) can lead to doing things you really love.
Emily Clarke from Lewes CLP talked about running the community café there, about all the friendships, projects and campaigns that have been born in that ‘pay what you think’ café. Emily’s story demonstrates the importance of building and maintaining a community – to protect the vulnerable, but also to bring out the best in everyone.
Heidi Lane, landlady of the local pub, the Crown and Anchor, talked about how she took on a run-down, near-bankrupt pub, engaged with the community, and turned it into a busy, lively and much-loved establishment (I can vouch for that – I met up with some of Eastbourne CLP there a couple of weeks back and had such a good time I very nearly missed the last train home.) Heidi’s story shows that you don’t have to be ruthless to be successful in business – her secret is engaging with others, and training, paying properly, and genuinely valuing her staff.
And just in case you think this was all terribly terribly serious, Roz Ryan, a comedian from Brighton, told us all a lot of things I have no intention of repeating. What did Roz’s story show us? Well, it was jolly good fun – and it is still quite notable that a woman can have fun being a stand-up comic.
What a buzz – what a fantastic group of energetic and fearless women.
Hastings and Rye women’s forum is just beginning. If we’re as lively as the Eastbourne group in a year’s time, I’ll be well happy – and you know, I think we will be – for one reason or another, I’ve visited quite a lot of women’s groups around the country in recent months and everywhere I go, I find the same energy rising. Women have been pushed too far, for too long. Now, they are getting together and preparing to push right back.
Look out austerity, look out Tories, look out anyone who thinks they can get in the way of a group of determined women. Despite everything, this really is a great time to be a woman in the Labour Party.