It is exactly a year since I met Wendy Bratby, slaving over a hot stove at a community cafe run by Queens Park Residents’ Association, in the shadow of the high rises at Layton.
She was one of those women you feel you have known all your life – shy, immensely motherly, helping others, not to win brownie points, but because she, genuinely, liked people.
It’s a privilege of my job to meet such people , who care enough to make a difference, and you carry them in your heart forever.
Wendy was my age, 55. She had four kids, 12 grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, worked as a cleaner at the NHS Drop-In, and ran the cafe as a volunteer three days a week. I found that humbling. If you want something doing ask a busy woman.
She died this month. Cancer. It claimed another inspirational community campaigner this year too, Coun Doreen Holt. It’s an immense loss to their families and their respective communities.
Both communities appeared in a list of England’s 10 Most Deprived neighbourhoods this week. Revoe, Doreen’s patch, was up there (at number three) ahead of Liverpool’s Anfield, where I grew up, Wendy’s Queenstown (at number eight) pipped Manchester’s Collyhurst. Grange Park’s Horsebridge was in fifth place. Didn’t leave much room for the other seven – only one from the south, of course.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in Anfield and never considered myself socially deprived, or because I get into all three localities regularly, meet community campaigners, and know most residents are decent people doing their best to get by with the hand dealt by fate, or birth, in the postcode lottery of health and welfare, but I am heartily sick of this town being kicked when it’s struggling to get back on its feet.
Yes, I’d like to see the balance of investment shift from bright shiny tourism treats to support jobs for residents that last all year, and pay more than minimum wages.
But while investment can promote civic pride, money can’t buy a sense of community identity.
It runs deep when you live where generations of your family have been raised, and like it, for all its failings.
And it rankles to hear it rubbished by statisticians and others heading in to find out what all the fuss is about. And liking a place doesn’t mean you can’t, or won’t, see its failings.
But some don’t wait for the council to get its act together or prioritise the people who choose to live here, or stay here.
Take Wendy. She moved here from a district of Birmingham and rated Queenstown a heck of a lot better than her old home. She felt welcome here, and repaid the sentiment by cooking square meals for those who might have otherwise missed out. We met because she was nominated for a Local Heroes award and, somewhat to her horror, won it. No more heroes any more? No way...