Oral History: Other – Sheila Smiles

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Popular Politics Project

Interview transcript: Sheila Smiles

Date and place of birth: 13 August 1949, Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire

Interviewer: Elizabeth Burn

Date of interview: 11 July 2012

Location of interview recording: Tyne and Wear Archives


E: …where were you born?

S: I was born in Chalfont St. Giles, which is a small village in Buckinghamshire…13th August 1949 and we lived in Cheshire in Buckinghamshire which was a small village and is now a town. And I lived there till I was 15 when I left school.

E: And did you go to the local school.

S: I did yes.

E: So what happened when you left school?

S: I became a ‘mother’s help’ and we moved to South End for a short time and I worked in a seafront café as a waitress. I then went to work in Rochdale hospital which was a subsidiary of South End hospital and I trained as a silver service waitress! Believe it or not we waited on nurses then and doctors and then I left there and we moved back to Watford in Hertfordshire.

E: that was in the 60s?

S: That was in the 60s and in 67 I started my nurse training.

E: Why did you decide to be a nurse?

S: …well when we moved back to Watford my mother was a cook and she had a job in a nursing home and cause I wasn’t experienced in anything I went to work with her as a kitchen help. And gradually got involved in making beds and talking to residents and one coffee morning…one of the girls said ‘why don’t you be a nurse?’ So it sounded like a good idea so as it was my day off the next day, I walked past the hospital, went in and said ‘could I have an application?’ expecting to take it away with me and I didn’t! They said ‘could I fill it in now’ and, this must have been about August time, and by November I was doing my training!

E: So you didn’t have to do any more studying or anything?

S: Not at that time, no. I went for an all-day interview and got accepted. We had a small exam, some English questions and some maths and I got accepted. So that’s it! The story of how I became a nurse. Very odd, but there you go- that was it at the time, that you could do that!

E: Then what happened?

S: Well, I went on holiday in the June of 1969 and at the time it was called ‘18 to 30s’and you went in mini-buses overland to Morocco. Left from London, there were 4 mini-buses and I went on my own and there was another girl on her own called Pauline and we shared a tent. And when we got to Morocco, the 4 vans all arrived at different times, 2 of the vans were going to Marrakesh and 2 to Fez – the van I had was going to Marrakesh- but I had booked to go to Fez- so I had to swop places and the only seat that was available was at the back of the bus and I sat down and there were 2 Geordies on my right, and the one nearest the window was my husband to be, although I didn’t know that at the time and being a Southerner I didn’t understand a word they said! And for the rest of the week my husband-to-be looked after me and followed me and we became romantically involved…

E: How many years have you been married now?

S: 42 years!                                                                                                   3.45 mins.

E: Congratulations.

S: Thank you, and when we came back to England we wrote to each other and he came down to visit, as I was still doing my training, and…remember this was June, I qualified in November but he wanted to marry me straight away and I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t marry till I was qualified cause my mother had financially supported me and I didn’t think it fair, so we married on the 3rd of January 1970 and we lived in Watford till the November when we moved back up North.

E: And where did you move to?

S: Cullercoats.

E: Cullercoats.

S: Yes, Cullercoats, we lived with (her husband’s) mother for a couple of years and then we rented a flat and eventually bought a flat.

E: In Cullercoats

S: No, in Whitley Bay now.

E: That’s next to Cullercoats?

S: Yes, we couldn’t get houses that we wanted in Cullercoats at the time.

Shelia now discusses her involvement in raising funds for the Community Centre:

E: So how did you get involved in the Community Centre?

S: When I lived in Station Road in Cullercoats, when it was the old village- we lived in the village (the old fishing community) and we were told that…they were starting to raise money to get a Community Centre…

E: Was this in the 80s?                                                                               5mins.

S: No…we moved out in the 80s, so it must have been in the mid 70s (see Community web site for exact dates) and my friend was number 1 member and I was number 2 member!

E: And were you working at that time?

S: No, I wasn’t working…, cause I had one child, probably the 2 children, cause one was born in 1970 and one in 1973….So I probably had the 2 children by then. After…. a few months both of us were asked to go on the committee…and my understanding was Val Clarke, who was the ….Liberal Councillor at the time, was spear heading it and she worked very hard to get funds for us.

E: And why did you think there should be one?

S: Because it seemed…I came from a village which wasn’t particularly ‘villageey’. You know, we were neighbourly but I can’t remember there being any particularly village activities going on, it was quite a sprawling village; while this seemed such a nice little village at the time and obviously I had 2 young children and I thought ‘well if there’s going to be activities for them, playschool or whatever that would be nice’. So I was quite enthusiastic about helping to raise the funds to build it.

E: How much did you have to raise?

S: I can’t remember how much we had to raise- but we had to raise half the amount…and the picture you can see out the front (of the community centre) of the Cullercoats lady, the fishwife- that was on a board outside the rubble that was here at the time…and as far as I can remember it had one of those thermometer things to raise… (the money). So that sort of started it … (indistinct on tape)

At the time…I think it was the end of July, there used to be floats coming from Briadene (along the coast at Whitley Bay) …come right along the (sea) front to Beaconsfield, which at that time was flat…so it used to come along the coast route, these floats and each year would be a different theme. And Cullercoats Community Centre (committee) used to put a float in. I remember one year…it was Vikings and another year, I’m not quite sure what the theme was – but we were Treasure Island- I’m not quite sure what the theme was? It could have been books or Pantomime, but Cullercoats Community Centre (committee)used to do a weekend (to raise funds). So one Saturday, we would go to the field, near Links Road, and there would be a fancy dress for the children, there would be a hat competition, there would be a cake competition, a funny vegetable competition and all sorts of stalls! Raising funds.

E: So it was good fun?

S: It was cause my friend and I we don’t mind dressing up, and we were stewards, cause on Sunday when they had the fancy dress they also had children in fancy dress and we used to walk them from Cullercoats along to Beaconsfield- so we were stewards so we used to dress up as well as the children.

E: So it was a lot of money to raise?

S: Yes, and also the streets in the village would do something involved with the theme of the year- so the ‘year of the Vikings’ I remember somebody gave me an old fur coat and because my children were the only one in my street (Station Road) we joined in with Eleanor Street …and I made all these boleros from this fur coat, somebody else made shields out of cardboard and at the time we got milk bottles with these silver tops – so the shields were covered with silver foil and the silver tops stuck on to look like studs! Somebody else made the helmets and I can’t remember there being boats, there may have been. I can’t remember…and that was on the Saturday- we’d gone along to the field and every street would be judged and they would get a plaque or something…

E: And did you get any opposition?

S: No…

E: And when was it completed?                                                                         9. 43 mins.

S: I’m not sure…because we moved to North Shields at the time and that must have been July of (19) 80…and it must have been built around that time because we moved to Whitley Bay in 82…

E: So you’re talking about it being here nearly 30 years!

S: Yes.

Sheila then describes how she returned to nursing when the children were older. Now she and her husband are retired they both regularly attend the Cullercoats Community Centre, which is still self-supporting and continues to provide coffee mornings and various classes for the older and younger members of the community e.g toddler groups, dance and exercise classes etc. They have recently started a heritage group that is collecting all of the old photographs and memorabilia from the village, where there was a thriving fishing industry for many years. Sheila continues to help out at events and the thriving Centre is run by local people who still work to raise funds to keep the building in good repair. She concludes the interview by discussing how the ‘sense of community’ continues in Cullercoats village and the new housing development has allowed both young and old to mix in houses that are far more sanitary than the old cottages which were small and damp. Sheila believes that the Centre provides the hub of the community:

S: It has a very community spirit- if somebody does not come to the coffee morning, or they haven’t been seen, somebody will go and find out why they haven’t been seen, why they haven’t come to the coffee morning when they usually come…the sense of community is still there, very much so in Cullercoats Village. And they are very proud of being a village, you know and working in the community.

E: Thank you very much indeed Sheila.


Interview length: 15.25 mins.                                 Place: Cullercoats Community Centre.    

Interview carried out by: Dr Elizabeth Burn.