Val Duncan, 1953-2011

Val Duncan’s Political Life.

My dear friend Val grew up with two major influences on her life: her Mother who influenced Val to become a Feminist, a feminist Socialist; and then, her Father who was a strong NALGO trade unionist and who took Val when she was very young, to attend trade union meetings at his workplace. This was to have a lasting influence on her life for once Val grew up, she became an active member of the engineers union TASS/MSF.

At school, Val campaigned against 6th Form students having to wear the school uniform and led a successful petition to have the rule changed. Then, after winning the fight, she saw the other side of the argument and the value of wearing a uniform to limit the fashion competition amongst students. However, typical of Val she kept quiet about her
change of view.

*After leaving school Val trained as an engineer. At the age of twenty three, Val completed her Master’s Degree (MA) where the subject was ‘Women into Science and Engineering’

As a lifelong Socialist, Val held a number of positions in both the Labour Party and the trade union movement:

Val was Regional Secretary for the TASS/MSF trade union in the Milton Keynes area and was responsible for administration of the union in that area and was heavily involved with its women’s committee.

Val joined the National Assembly of Women which campaigns around the TUC ‘Women’s Charter’ and several of whose members are attending the ceremony today. In 2006 she became that organisation’s National Secretary and represented them at a major Women’s conference held in Venezuela.

When Val moved to North Tyneside she became Secretary to the Tynemouth Branch Labour Party, of which she had been a member since her youth and from which she resigned in 2003 over the Labour Party’s role in the invasion of Iraq.

Soon after she came to the North East she joined the Labour History Group and very soon became its Secretary for the North East, and was much missed for her reliable precise skills with people and admin., when she resigned at the start of her illness.

Val helped to form and became Secretary of the Coastal Anti War Group. A cross party alliance based around the late Paddy Cosgrove and whose membership contained the Chairs of the Conservative and the Lib Dem Parties as well as Labour Party members opposed to the continued occupation of Iraq by Britain and USA.

In 2007 and along with her friends, Liz Henderson and Vicki Gilbert, Val helped form the Socialist choir called ‘Making Waves’ which rewrites popular songs to focus on the threat to the Environment and the social damage of living in such an unequal society. The choir still performs one of Val’s best songs, a reworking of the Carole King Hit: ‘It might As Well Rain Until September’.

In 2009, Val became an active member of ‘Keep Metro Public’ the campaign to stop the Tyne & Wear Metro being privatised and where she was responsible for organising the letters to MP’s and councillors and for collating statistics and other data for the campaign groups.

Recently, in 2009, Val and her friend Vicki identified that there was no public provision or space such as a youth club for young people in Cullercoats. So, after holding a Co-op Fair Trade Coffee Morning for the teaching staff at Marden High School, they devised and agreed a number of teaching sessions with the objective of engaging and helping the pupils to develop models of their ideal youth centre. Once completed, the students presented their project to the Mayor of North Tyneside and Cabinet Office.

My friend Val loved ballroom dancing and regularly attended the Seaton Delaval Social Club sessions held on a Friday night for several years. Here, she made many friends and like her late Father who also loved ballroom dancing and who she took with her, she will be sadly missed by those members who knew her. Val also enjoyed Line dancing and belonged to two groups with her friend Carol.

She worked part-time at a local Post Office with her friends, amongst whom was Kath, who became one of her closest friends, supporting her and the family throughout,

Val was also a part of our reading group and chose the latest book which sadly, she never got -‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’.

We swam together every Thursday morning until her illness prevented her and I find it hard to write about the loss of my dear friend: A wonderful, loyal, kind, gentle, compassionate woman – the only person I knew who no one had a critical word to say about. I will miss her balanced and creative political advice as well as her personal support, as that of the sister I never had.

Vicki Gilbert – 11th Nov 2011

This appreciation was first published in North East History Volume 43, 2012