Meet former Blackpool teacher Florence – an election hopeful at the age of 96

Conservative Party candidate Florence Kirkby, 96, at her home in Newcastle upon Tyne. Mrs Kirkby is one of the oldest candidates in the upcoming local elections. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
Conservative Party candidate Florence Kirkby, 96, at her home in Newcastle upon Tyne. Mrs Kirkby is one of the oldest candidates in the upcoming local elections. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
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A former Blackpool teacher, 96, said she will stand up for the elderly and for teachers if she wins a seat in this week’s council elections.

Born in 1921, Forence Kirkby was 18 when the Second World War broke out, and spent most of the war years teaching in the resort, where many of her pupils were evacuees.

Miss Kirkby is running for the Conservatives in the newly-created Manor Park Ward in Newcastle, and is believed to be one of the country’s oldest candidates.

She unsuccessfully stood for election in Westerhope several years ago, but decided to try again this year because several voters asked her to.

She said: “If I am elected I will be looking to the future for Newcastle. My particular interest is in education and in health.”

“There needs to be a voice for older people - about a quarter of people in their 80s and 90s are in homes or being cared for, so that leaves three- quarters who are looking after themselves.”

Miss Kirkby is a long-time member of the Carers Association and said elderly people who are not in need of urgent medical care are often isolated and in need of other kinds of support.

“When you hear about older people (in the media) it’s usually that there are too many of them and they are absorbing all the resources of the health service. There’s no acknowledgement about what they can contribute,” she said.

“I thought it was time there was somebody who could take a stand.”

The candidate spent her entire career in education, having first worked as an English teacher at secondary level before going on to become headmistress of several schools.

She also served on the governing body of Newcastle University and in 2013 she was awarded an MBE for services to education.

“Education today is the same as it has always been - controversial. There have been huge advances but there’s always room for improvement,” she said.

“At the moment schools are being asked to do rather a lot without necessarily having more staff to it.

“I welcome schools having the freedom to decide what they need, whether that is more staff or greater resources.

“There is nothing like schools being in touch with the wider community to find out what’s really needed, rather than somebody’s pre-judgment about what they think is best.”

Miss Kirkby was involved in politics from a young age as her father was one of the early members of the Labour Party in Manchester and was a close friend of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.

When asked how her father would feel about her standing for the Conservatives, she joked that in later life he had abandoned some of his youthful ideals and ended up investing in property.

“You start off young and full of optimism, then in middle age you get a bit more realistic about what you can achieve,” she said.

Miss Kirkby said the war made her realise just how important democracy is.

When asked what advice she would give first-time voters, she said: “I would advise them to read carefully all the information and make up their own minds and not be too guided by people they know.”

She urged voters to to think about the consequences of their vote, saying: “If you want more money to be spent on education, be prepared that something will have to be done to raise it.”