Oral History: Cooperative Voices – Teresa Pagan

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CWS Voices Interview with Theresa Pagan

Pelaw and High Heworth Store 1960’s, Felling Shore Society

Interviewer Terry Welsh in Hertfordshire House 12.02.14

Location of interview recording: Tyne and Wear Archives

Theresa told me about her life when she worked at the Pelaw and High Heworth Co-Op stores in the 1960s.

 Theresa was born in Bill Quay and lived there for the first six years of her life. There were six others in the family with Theresa; her mother and father, two brothers and two sisters. They moved into a newly built council house in Pelaw, one mile away from Bill Quay, when Theresa was six years old.

She went to the local Primary School, St Alban’s,and at eleven to St Bede’s in Jarrow. At thirteen she transferred to be one of the first pupils in the new St Joseph’s Grammar School.

 When Theresa left school, she didn’t start work straight away. She had no idea what she wanted to do. She signed on the dole for six months Amongst the places she went to for interview was the CWS offices at Blandford Street but she was unsuccessful. She eventually found work in the drapery department of Pelaw Co-Op on Shields Road. A friend of the family was on the committee at Pelaw Co-Op and put a word in for her.

The first day is remembered well and she knew a lot of people there. She says that the new people she was introduced were really nice. She remembers going into a vast building, only part of which was an old shop. She recalls the big staircases and vast lofts.

The family were glad she was working after the six month search for work. From her pay packet she was able to give her mother money for her board and she spent the rest.

 After a year she was transferred to High Heworth Co-op. Although only a few miles away, High Heworth was difficult to get to, being at the top of a hill. Sometimes she managed to get a lift. Other times she could catch the 82 bus which took a very long time and went everywhere. But a lot of the time, she walked.

Theresa’s job at High Heworth was to work on customer’s grocery orders, putting them up, packing shelves and serving people. It was very busy all the time. It took a while to get the hang of the packing but Theresa mastered it.

The man who was in charge of the orders had a lot of local customers. When he was on holiday,Theresa and another girl filled in by going round to the houses of local customers, collecting orders and taking payment. She was walking round the streets carrying money, but, in those days, nobody thought anything of it and she felt safe.

Everybody in High Heworth seemed to shop at the Co-op. Regular customers came from the miners’ cottages and from the new housing estates.

After eight years she was transferred back to Pelaw Co-op. She worked in the supermarket and was on the checkout. Other work included filling shelves, cutting bacon and slicing cooked meats. Certain days were very busy. She would help in loading the lorries with potatoes if they were short staffed in the warehouse.

Eventually she started doing the books for the manager, totting up figures at the end of the week. She had to balance what had come in as cheques and cash with what had gone out. Everything was written down. At Pelaw, when the boss was on holiday, Theresa had responsibility for the keys and took them home.. This meant that if the alarm at the Co-Op went off, it was to Theresa’s house that the police came.

All of the bosses she worked for at Pelaw and High Heworth were good and she says she was always treated well. There was not much training though and it was a case of getting chucked in and doing it. There were no staff perks or discounts. She cannot recall any organised social life for Co-Op workers.

 Theresa left the Co-Op at the age of 28 when she got married. She never went back. Her husband worked as a joiner before going down Westoe Colliery. They had three children and, as they grew up, Theresa found part time jobs in Marconi and the corner shop.

She spoke well of the organization throughout the interview and obviously enjoyed her time there.