Marjorie explains why she has spent her life trying to create a better Blackpool
She’s quick to point out that being born in Blackpool had nothing to do with her but at 72 and having been here all her life, Marjorie Nye reckons she’s probably here to stay.
I enjoyed my early childhood here very much, the rest just happened, life keeps you in a certain place at a certain time, so I’m still here
“I enjoyed my early childhood here very much, the rest just happened, life keeps you in a certain place at a certain time, so I’m still here. I did try and move away once but it never worked out, I don’t regret that, there’s lots to do in Blackpool, lots of things to tackle.”
With 30 years in the probation service on her CV she knows the resort isn’t all sweetness and light and in retirement she is “still trying to get on with things in Blackpool - to improve the place for people, everything I’ve done has been to help people in the town in various ways.”
She admits: “There are lots of ways things can be improved. Blackpool is not a perfect town by any means. And through my life working and getting involved in community projects I have found that you can never really do too much, there’s always something else.”
“I believe in helping people achieve things because people have helped me achieve things and that keeps me going because I do believe you can influence peoples’ lives - because my life has been influenced by others and what I’ve achieved has always been with the help of other people.”
Her first “crossroads moment” started “because at the time I thought it’s a good thing to do but it made me think a lot about loss and the things Blackpool had lost.”
That was thanks to her friend Coun David Owen and his passion for theatre and buildings in Blackpool.
“He asked if I would help him with a campaign. It became very important and took about two years of my life, trying to raise money to save the Grand Theatre. David taught me a lot about building heritage and things that you need to save in a town such as Blackpool.
“I helped in a small way, going to the Downtown Bar (now Ma Kellys) every Saturday night to run raffles, standing outside the Grand giving out leaflets persuading people to support the cause to save the building and get it listed. And it’s still there which gives me great joy.”
The same can’t be said about the Derby Baths. Even Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber weighing in couldn’t save what is still a plot of grass.
“It really upset me when they knocked them down. I used to go there as a youngster. My first feeling was that it was an awful thing to do and made me realise that buildings are valuable and irreplaceable.”
That’s why she later joined the board of the Winter Gardens Trust.
“You do what you can, we are not in easy times but it gives us hope that we can keep these wonderful buildings going now they are in council hands.”
Marjorie was also closely involved in Grange Park and Mereside play schemes in the late 1970s.
She had been encouraged to become a volunteer for the probation department.
“My children were getting old enough for me to think about going out to work and again it put me on another path of helping people,” she says.
The senior probation officer suggested she trained properly. She became a student probation officer at Lancashire Polytechnic.
“I’d have never thought of it, I was just a mum, I thought I’d end up working in a shop or something like that,” she says.
Instead her Blackpool placements developed into schemes to help keep local youngsters off the streets and “educate them into more creative ways to spend their leisure.”
Working together with the Parks Department and social services led to a two year play scheme at Grange Park and then another two at Mereside.
“It taught me an awful lot about how people live on estates, how they bring up their children, what their children’s needs are, how they need to play to enhance their lives. I learned so much and started studying social sciences a bit more.
“I met lots of people over the four years. I’d always had a feeling for helping people and community work on the estates so it was a perfect grounding for knowing what goes on in Blackpool. It was a side of life I knew existed but you don’t get into the hearts of peoples’ lives unless you are there with them.
“Play is a wonderful way to educate people and we all enjoyed it.”
But all good things come to end and she qualified as a probation officer.
“That took me off things like that and the days of three service organisations co-operating together don’t happen much anymore – in fact the probation service hardly exists anymore. There’s no funding now.”
But it was another learning curve.
“You learn a lot and meet people who are obviously worse off than you are. There are some nasty people that you can’t do much to affect the future of but there an awful lot, especially younger people, who you can help.
“In those days the probation service had a motto - ‘advise, assist and befriend’ - but it isn’t like that anymore. Probation moved on to harder offenders. In those days there was a lot of scope to sit down with people and help them and I like to think that I did that and turned them away from worse things.”
But, says Marjorie: “It’s good to recognise the downside of Blackpool because if you don’t recognise where the problems are you can’t help them, solve them or help to improve them. So you need to look at the bad things and, yes, it does upset me that we are the seventh most deprived town in the country because it doesn’t have to be like that. You just have to do what you can to help.”
So was retirement a wrench?
“No. Quite a relief actually because the probation service had changed so much, it became harder to do the job because resources were taken away and the workload was greater.
“I recognised by the time I was reaching 60 I was burning out and that scared me.”
But retirement gave her the scope to change direction. She had previously written poetry for private consumption but decided to develop her creative writing skills.
“It took me about six months to meet enough people and then we thought we could do better than teach ourselves how to write, why not go out and teach other people? It was quite arrogant really but it did develop into interesting things.”
For a while she crossed the border, developing poetry for children in Wyre schools.
“We had competitions, helped them become published poets,” she says. Then came an adults’ writing competition which resulted in the book Grist To The Mill – because she worked a lot from Thornton’s Marsh Mill.
The final was held at Blackpool Town Hall: “We got all the three mayors to meet up for praise and prizes. It went down well.”
The Fylde Community Arts Project developed from that and ran for about eight years to give local artists and musicians more exposure and utilise Marsh Mill more.
It was all, says Marjorie, “a refreshing u-turn, another learning curve, l’d always enjoyed writing even when I was writing reports for court. I missed it. And it was appreciated.”
Then a couple of years ago came “possibly the last project.”
Together with fellow creators she went into a trio of Blackpool schools, started a story then left it for the youngsters to complete and illustrate.
“We had a whale of a time proving to children that they could be creative – and the reward was a book at the end of it which was published last year.”
She reckons her grandmother was her first inspiration – and she’s used her as the spark for several stories she has recorded for the Talking Newspaper.
Her gran came to Blackpool from near Manchester in the 1930s just before the Second World War, opened a boarding house on her own when she was 60, and took in RAF and Polish airmen.
“She did a lot for the community. I like to think I got my interest from her. She ran the sewing circle and helped the drama group.”
As well as the Talking Newspaper she is also one of The Gazette’s community correspondents.
“I was led by the nose on that one but I’ve always loved The Gazette,” she says. “As part of a self-inflicted austerity package after the death of my husband I stopped my subscription to The Gazette for a year but it upset me. After 12 months I’d no idea what was going on in the town. So I started reading it again, you have to know what’s going on in the community”
In fact “community” should be her middle name.
“Blackpool consists of hundreds of groups of volunteers who do a lot to keep the town afloat - in the hospitals, food banks which sadly have to be there, the Grand Theatre, the Winter Gardens, friends of Stanley Park, the Civic Trust, the Salvation Army and so on. Put it all together and it’s a huge contribution. I’ve just played a small part in the things that I have done.
“Blackpool is run on people doing good things, it’s team work, ‘what do we do next?’ should be the town’s new motto instead of ‘progress.’
That’s what she likes most about the town.
“It’s the enthusiasm of people who do things. In a town with Blackpool’s problems you don’t sit back and get complacent, you get up and do things, it, I like the spirit people have to help try and change their town – and themselves.”
What she likes least is: “The deprivation. The money that’s being taken out of the town. That’s meant libraries and childrens’ centres under threat. Anyone with a social conscience would see that taking grants away from local authorities means there’s going to be problems with social welfare.”
So what’s brought her most satisfaction?
“In the 1980s through concerns over bad housing in Blackpool and problems with benefits and energy cut offs within poor families I helped start a Child Poverty Action Group with social worker Barrie Parker and welfare law legal advisor Ron Heywood.”
It ran for nearly a year until they couldn’t cope with the increasing referrals. Together with practicing barrister Mike Ramsden they then campaigned for a Law Centre in Blackpool.
“Twelve months later we decided to become a charity and run it for the whole of Lancashire,” she says. “It launched in 1984 called Free Legal Action Centre (FLAC) - to be run on legal aid and support from local solicitors as a drop-in centre in the evenings .”
It ran for nearly 10 years and was, she says, “hard work” combining it with a full time job.
“It was only with the support of legal help and the dynamic work of Mike Ramsden and Ron Heywood that we were able to represent people in the high court with judicial reviews for housing issues and other welfare problems that we were able to recoup thousands of pounds for people who had been affected by the poll tax and other unpaid benefits.”
She resigned in 1993 due to over work.
“I had to carry on as a Probation Officer and the day job was getting harder.”
The centre finally closed a year later when Ron and Mike found permanent jobs in law that took them away from town. But it was, she says, her proudest achievement.
Would she ever leave Blackpool?
“I do. I’m having six weeks in Cyrpus. I need the sun and I don’t suffer dark nights very well. But I miss it when I’m not here, I miss the people I know, I wouldn’t leave permanently.”
As the Arnie Schwarzenegger of community projects would say: “She’ll be back.”
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