Popular Politics Project
Interview transcript: Amanda Normand
Date and place of birth: 1969, Meadow Well Estate, North Shields
Interviewer: Elizabeth Burn
Date of interview: 4 November 2011
Location of interview recording: Tyne and Wear Archives
Italics used for editorial voice of interviewer
Background details of interviewee (summary of first 3 minutes of interview):
Lived on Meadow Well Estate, until 1995 (date amended after interview), her mother and other relatives continue to live there. Cllr Normand still lives in North Shields.
Schooling: Meadow Well Primary and Norham High, which she enjoyed. Left at 16yrs. Married at 17, and had a daughter at 18. When riots started in 1991, she was22 years old, divorced, and at home looking after her child, living in a council house on the Meadow Well.
Rest of interview:
E: …When was there trouble on the Meadow Well?
E: And how old was your daughter then?
E: So, She was only 4. So you were at home with a 4 year old. Had she’d started school then?
E: When there was trouble. Could you tell me about the troubles? 3mins.
AM: All I remember was..em..I’d put the little un to bed, and there was flames, like bright lights outside and me front door was really hot…em…and when I opened the door the youth club across the road was in flames em…and there were loads of people in the streets running round saying there was going to be a riot…which was pretty scary… and they started running into my path and hiding things in me hedge, like videos and God knows what else they’d taken from the shops.
E: And were you on your own with the child? Was your husband there?
AM: No we were divorced by then… So I was on my own with Terri, and I phoned me relative who lives in Wallsend, to see if he could take the little one, so that she didn’t see or witness anything and he said he couldn’t get through in the car because they had blocked off all the roads with God knows what…
E: So this was during the evening. Was it dark?
AM: No it wasn’t dark at this point but it was like… getting late on by the time they had cut down trees and stuff and blocked the road so he couldn’t get through with the car to get the little one, so I had no other option but to keep her, but she was asleep thankfully and slept through the whole thing; never woke up.
E: And then what happened the next day.
AM: Ah…it was just like a ghost town…it was awful. It was like..em..I remember opening the door, through the night and this like MASSIVE police officer with all the get up on, you know, the riot gear, shouted “GET IN DOORS” and I just slammed the door and he really shouted like as if I was one of the looters (laughs) you know it was quite frightening and the next day it was like a ghost town and it was like everything was burnt and everything was closed and it was very quiet… it was so surreal…em…It was a pretty scary thing to go through and I remember the news reporters coming and…like talking about the estate but NOT actually interviewing anybody (laughs) and saying “look at this, look at the mess they’ve made…this is what the riots did last night…blardee, blardee, baa” and I’m walking past and yer just kind of labelled as well…like you could feel as if you were just being labelled.. tarred with the same brush as everybody else and I nearly stopped him to say “actually my…I wasn’t involved with it and me daughter slept all the way through” but I didn’t, I didn’t say anything.
But to have gone through that and living there was awful, but apparently, it all started …there were rumours going around for days before hand …cause these two lads who had been driving in a stolen car, I think it was, and they’d been speeding and the police chased them for miles like in the car and apparently rammed them off the road, deliberate, and apparently the car crashed into a lamp-post and the police instead of running to the car to help the two lads out, had apparently said “let them burn” and it blew up the car and that caused like PHEW (makes a whistle sound)
E: Did they die?
AM: Yea, they both died, they were local lads from the estate, they both died, and that caused like people to get really angry cause there was already a ‘us and them’ kind of thing with the police anyway and I think that was just the catalyst for the riot to begin.
E: So how did you get involved in community action?
AM: I’m not sure how I actually got involved, I just lived on the estate and I just thought the place needed things and I could see what was missing…so like I approached…like I went into the clinic, like Meadow Well Clinic it was and there was a health project there, that had been set up directly after the riots, and I approached the Health Project Manager, just with some ideas… saying “you know people are depressed on this estate” and he was asking us why? And I was telling him what I thought the reasons for that was and how I was a young mother staying at home but was going insane with boredom, and ( I) just says I wanted to get involved with stuff, so he said “ would you be interested in setting up projects with us?” And I was like “yer we need something for mental health, to tackle the depression and stress that people are under”. And one of the Projects, the first project to be set up was ‘Meadow Well Mind’ which is a mental health project so that was me…that was the beginning of my involvement really. I helped set that up.
(This project is still operating in 2011).
E: For what age range?
AM: From 16 plus to 65. And it was a really successful project and I was…I got a part-time job out of it as well cause I was the Project Administrator and PA to the Project Manager, it was only part time, a couple of hours a week, you know, but it really helped. But I always had an interest in proving things and I think the managers kind of seen us as a bit of a …you know the person that they could come to for ideas and I could be the link between them and the residents.
E: So was anyone else in your family interested in politics or community work?
AM: No… Not really, just myself I think it kind of, I don’t know, just… I always think about my fellow man sort of thing, but …as a resident, you know, I always think of the woman next door who’s stuck with the kid, and me stuck with a kid, so you know (laughs) that kind of thing. So I recognise needs…so think that led us to approach…
E: So what happened after that?
AM: After that I kind of…got a bit of a reputation for being the ‘link person’ to approach if you needed anything. If the professional agencies needed any ideas or if they wanted me to relay anything to the residents or find out what the residents were thinking or needed, they would come to me. And they would say “we’re thinking about doing this. What do you think? How do you think that will affect the people on the Estate?” And I would give me opinion, and from … I came up with the idea of ‘Parents Together’ and ‘Community Mothers’. 10mins.
It was a project where a mother (was) supported other mothers, either new mothers or inexperienced or just under a bit stress and needed a bit support. So I got trained up to become the first ‘Community Mother’.
E: Did you get paid?
AM: No, it was voluntary, but it was all relevant to gaining experience and what have yer. And from that we came up with the idea of … I used to run parenting courses called ‘Positive Parenting’ and …alongside a Health Visitor, helped her run them courses and she eventually let me do the Teacher Training for Parent Community Education..
E; Did they pay for the course?
AM: It was free. It was a free course if you were unemployed and I was able to teach residents then parenting skills and then I went on to college from there and they kind of sponsored us to go to college.
E: What did you do at college?
AM: …I think it was GCSEs…I can’t…and pre-nursing. I did pre-nursing and I did psychology.
E: Which college was this?
AM: North Tyneside.
E: North Tyneside, and then what did you decide to do?
AM: I always wanted to join the police, that was me ultimate thing I wanted to do; so I went in the ‘Specials’ but it didn’t work out for us. I didn’t enjoy it particularly, once I got in there, it wasn’t my thing, so the sergeant suggested, cause I was quite sympathetic to the people I was arresting, the sergeant suggested that I go into Social Work.
E: (prompts) was that because of the television licence? Can you tell me about that?
AM: Just,…I had to go and arrest a woman who had 5 kids and didn’t have a TV licence and I felt really sorry for her, because I think at the time, I didn’t have one myself (laughs). And I thought that was hypocritical to arrest her when I didn’t have one, so… and I was sort of sitting in the back of the van where we had arrested her and I was kind of talking to her about it and the sergeant said “have you not thought about another career? You know like social work or counselling.”
E: So was it about the money or the cost of the television licence?
AM: Well she hadn’t paid— she’d getting a fine for not having a TV licence and she hadn’t paid the fine so there was a warrant out for her arrest…and that was that. Then I went to study law. I decided that I was still interested in law and I applied for the law degree and got accepted, but when I went along there I didn’t feel as if I fitted in…
E: Was this Northumbria?
AM: Hum, hum (yes) and I went to see the career’s advisor and said “I don’t know, I don’t think it’s for me”…
AM: I just thought it more middle-class, it was more for the middle-class rather than (for) someone like myself who’s from working-class and didn’t speak like them, you know. At the time felt intimidated by them, you know. So I decided that I’d go and study Social Work, even…I kind of fell into the role of Social Worker, its wasn’t me greatest ambition to be (laughs) a Social Worker, but it was kind of a natural progression into that line of work.
E: And how did you go from that to being a councillor? Why were you interested in politics?
AM: I don’t know, I just feel it’s all been a natural progression for us, I feel I just kind of…
E: Did you know any councillors?
AM: No. No I didn’t know any of the councillors’ funny enough, I didn’t meet any of them or anything – I just was very active on me Estate, setting different things up and I was well known cause of it and kind of …respected. But I also felt really strongly about people’s rights and I hated the way that … people get portrayed in a certain light and people talk about your Estate and talk about the people who live there and they don’t really know, so I wanted to be the ‘voice’ of the people who they were talking about.
E: So did you join a political party?
AM: I joined the Labour Party, cause I thought they were the closest to the working-classes. I joined it because I naively thought that I could change the world, 15mins.
you know what I mean. And that I’d make a big difference when I got in there and funny enough, that I’d be welcomed as well…When I joined I thought I’d be welcomed with open arms… cause I’m quite an ideas person and I thought they would be up for new ideas.
E: And by this time you were married, is it with 3 children at this time?
AM: No two.
E: Two. So did they welcome you? Was it the local Labour Party meeting?
AM: Yea, it was a local one and no they didn’t…Not at first, there was friction within the party, within the Labour group at that point, the local labour group, there was friction, there was an ‘in’ war going on- infighting that I wasn’t aware of at the time, and I felt that I was the piggy in the middle, just joined.
E: And were there people like you there were there, were they the same age as you or, by this time you were in your 30s?
AM: No, no I joined when I was in my 20s. No I was the youngest; it wasn’t until I got in my 30s that they felt that I was ready to stand for a seat.
E: Were there a lot of women there or was it mixed?
AM: A mix really … but they were older than myself, they were mostly in their late 50s, 60s… I was the youngest one to be elected. But my first seat was St. Mary’s, which is a Tory held ward. I didn’t realise it at the time but I had no chance of winning it (laughs)
E: But you had the experience of standing as a councillor?
AM: Yea,yea and obviously I didn’t get the position, but the next time around there was an opportunity to stand for the area I came from.
E: And what did your family feel about it?
AM: I didn’t tell them (laughs) I just thought it was a golden opportunity and I think they kinda wanted to get rid of the sitting councillor that was there, I didn’t know that at the time. But all I could focus on was that was what I wanted to do-it was for the ward that I grew up in and I knew about, so ideal.
E: So what did your family think when you got it? When you were elected as a councillor?
AM: …Me dad was over the moon. He was really proud and stuff…I don’t think me mam and my brothers and sisters quite knew what it meant…
E: So you didn’t know any councillors before?
AM: No, just the ones in the Labour group you know, but I didn’t know them outside the labour group or work with them or anything.
E: So you’re still a councillor now, how long have you been a councillor for that ward now?
AM: 5 years now.
E: 5 years, and what’s your future ambition, are you still wanting to help people?
AM: I would love to be an MP…but it feels like somebody saying ‘I want to be a pop star.’
I can only describe I as, like it’s a dream, you know what I mean it’s a dream and anyway it’s a dream that I struggle to get in my mind, that I could possibly do it cause it seems like so much as kids have dreams to be pop stars.
E: And what barriers would there be?
AM: Well I think, self-belief is a barrier, and the language…is a barrier …confidence, self-belief, them kind of barriers. And I think not many working-class people are in…
E: Is that why you are doing some more studying? Are you studying at the moment?
AM: Yea I’m trying to do an OU course, cause I’ve been for an interview for an MP before, last year…and they said to me at the interview they were “really impressed”. They found us quite “refreshing”…
E: Was this in London?
AM: Yea, they said “I found you really refreshing and different to anyone we’ve had before and we think you’d be excellent engaging with people on the doorstep” which I kind of knew myself…But they said “you do lack self-belief and the fact that you told us that you weren’t even going to put the form in and had to be kind of encouraged to do that, cast doubts in our mind about whether you’re ready yet” and to be honest with you I didn’t feel ready … but I still don’t… 20 mins.
E: What are you studying?
AM: I’m doing Social Policy through the OU, it’s at a post-grad level so it’s quite hard.
E: Are you enjoying it up to now?
AM: Yes, yes it’s fine, it’s just a bit intense and I’m not used to the language with it. It is developing me language skills.
E: And you’ve got 3 children now?
AM: Yes, 3 children.
E: And how old are you now?
E: So you are going to keep on supporting the community?
AM: Definitely, yea, I’m still working as a volunteer in the community. I set up a project for unemployed people and that’s pretty much based on my own experience of being unemployed and how there’s lots of organisations out there that are forcing people to get jobs, putting pressure on them, meeting targets and they don’t realise that people… I don’t believe that people are unemployed, not everybody anyway, by choice- they would take a job tomorrow and it’s awful being unemployed. It takes away your confidence and identity and that’s why I decided to set that group up cause I can empathise with the people it’s affecting… and I think it’s an opportunity for them to beat the isolation and depression and stuff that comes with that… if that makes sense?
E: Thank you very much indeed for agreeing to be interviewed. Good luck with your ambition and your studies.
Interview took 22mins, and was carried out in the interviewee’s home in North Shields at 1pm on 4th Nov. 2011, by Elizabeth Burn, who also transcribed it.