Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do?
I have known the House of St Barnabas since the 1980s where I lived and worked as a deputy warden when it was a hostel for 39 homeless women. Although I hated the old-fashioned job title, I loved the work. In 1989 I was married in the chapel. Even now, I can sometimes ‘see’ some of the residents — Ivy, Audrey, Celia, Ellen, Olive, Enid, Josephine and countless others – in what was their dining room, sitting rooms and dormitories. Along with the many distressing moments, there were also plenty of heart-warming times. After four years ‘on the frontline’, I returned to my journalism career and joined the Board of Trustees for the House. When it was no longer feasible to accommodate our residents, I helped to plan a future role for the House. I am a founder member of the Club and a mentor – and delighted that the House continues to challenge homelessness through the Employment Academy. After a career writing for NGOs including Save the Children Fund and Rainforest Foundation UK, I now volunteer with refugees and asylum seekers. I’ve also completed a Churchill Fellowship which took me to Greece and Ireland to explore integration strategies for those forced to flee from war and violence.
Where have you been spending lock down?
At home in London — in front of my computer and when the weather was better, outside in my garden (when the weather was better).
How’s lock down been for you? Lockdown allowed me to complete two major writing projects –my 38-page Fellowship report and a book: ‘Following Nellie Bly: Her Record-Breaking Race Around the World’ to be published by Pen and Sword Books in spring 2021. Journalist, adventurer and humanitarian Nellie Bly circled the world faster than anyone ever had – 72 days – in 1889-90 – alone with just a Gladstone bag. She beat the fictional 80-day record in Jules Verne’s famous novel. In tribute to Nellie, I followed in her global footsteps 125 years later. The book is an account of both of our journeys. During lockdown, I kept a journal and submitted excerpts to the UK Mass Observations Archive which records everyday life in Britain. Locally, I helped refugee and community organisations to reach those most isolated.
What’s something you’ve learned about yourself (or the world) over the last few months?
I have been inspired by how we looked after each other and our most vulnerable communities as evidenced by the mutual aid societies that sprung up and the continuing work of charities who swiftly adapted their services. I admire our resilience. But I am more determined than ever to question authority.
What have you missed most about the House? What do you look forward to getting back to?
Although I love every single inch of the House, I realise it is the ambiance and the people I miss the most – staff and other members. I look forward to the art exhibition openings, members’ drinks and the range of events the membership team provides for us. Maybe I can even join Ella Berthoud for ‘Under the Covers’ when my book is published.
If you could have a drink with one person (real or imaginary) at our bar, who would it be?
After following in her footsteps around the world, I guess I would have to say Nellie Bly (1864-1922). Even more important than her travels, she invented investigative journalism and used her writing to challenge poverty and disadvantage throughout her career. She was a true humanitarian.
Say hello to me to talk about…
Anything you like, but especially stories from the House of St Barnabas, your adventures, ukuleles, Paris, and of course Nellie Bly.
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