My friend Sue Ward and I have known each other for twenty seven years or more. We used to work together in Oldham Youth & Community Education, but there is a sense in which we never stop working together, each living with similar mindsets.
We met on Limeside, a largely white working-class estate on the edge of Oldham, where we were made at home in the tiny library, with librarians who worked so hard to give information and to open doors for local people. We were part of a local basic skills project funded by the Home Office. Sue’s main interest was in the wellbeing of local families needing childcare and she was instrumental in setting up the first creches ever run in Oldham – which we funded through the back door of petty cash. These small initiatives allowed local people to meet, talk, relax and learn together, knowing their children were safe. Some of these people moved on to become Creche Workers themselves, although paid a pittance, as so often support workers are. The use of creches widened until they were offered to support most adult education classes across Oldham. Creche workers would cross the town by bus, using their meagre wages for bus fares. There was true commitment.
It was during this time Sue shared with me her wish to become ordained in the Church of England. At that time, it seemed like a woman climbing Everest alone…and all power to her elbow, her icepick and her clampons, I said.
Our children got to know each other, with shared visits and activities together and Sue and Melvyn even offered us their home as a sanctuary when we were between homes and waiting to move into our new home. I had the top bunk in their son Chris’s room, with model planes around me, while their family was on holiday.
Our working lives separated after two years – Sue working in education in the Probation Service and me into projects for young people leaving care and Kosovar asylum seekers. Sue was ordained into the Reverend Sue Ward role she had studied for and eventually went into hospital chaplaincy, with all the qualities and gentleness such a role required.
We had a spell working together in an anti-racist training team in the Church of England, working out of Manchester to different locations in the north – where we learned all the time about existing inequalities relating to ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, living with disability and bigotry in the church.
By now the Rev Sue Ward had shapeshifted into ‘Sooze’ and myself into ‘Leggi’ – and she was leading teams in hospitals and training volunteers to work alongside as team members.
Sooze and Melvyn moved to Rodley near Leeds to place themselves midway between their children and grandchildren. They have a quiet watery home near a canal and a conservation project to look towards from their window on the world. We share visits, meals and love – always a welcome signpost for people who need people.
Sooze and Melvyn have been an intimate support to John and I, especially in times of crisis, as when our son Dom told us that he had been sexually abused by a family friend and we were contorted with anger and helplessness. Then, later, when Dom was dying with aggressive rectal cancer in 2011, they were at our side throughout the journey of learning and pain and grief.
More recently, when our beloved daughter Ria died suddenly, they were alongside us again with love and comfort, not only for us, but for our whole family and Ria’s children, listening and responding to what was needed in leading our daughter’s funeral.
Now Sooze and Melvyn work for the people of their local Calverley Parish church, amidst the fears and loneliness caused by Covid19 and Black Lives Matter. I thank God for them.
“But if the while I think on Thee, dear Friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.”
Sonnet 30, Wm. Shakespeare.