COMMUNITY LEDGE #1: Alison Cooper
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a horse jockey! But we didn’t live in the countryside and couldn’t afford many riding lessons so that was quickly over. But that has always been my secret little fantasy – until becoming more aware of the welfare issues of racehorses.
Did you go to university of higher education?
I was a mature student and studied Criminology and Applied Psychology and finished about nine years ago. I didn’t do it for re-training purposes really, I wanted no pressure on myself as I wasn’t sure if I could manage it, so it was for interest/curiosity only. I loved all the lectures – could have done those forever – but I found all the reading and course work a struggle. It was fascinating though and glad I did it, if only to realise what a restrictive and un-motivating format and business it all is!
How did you make use of that (or didn’t you)?
Well, during my course I had learned about Restorative Justice (RJ) and Addictions – RJ being something I was totally inspired by – and so afterwards I did a couple of years’ worth of voluntary work in Neighbourhood Mediation, Restorative Justice alongside the police and also at CGL which is our local Substance Misuse and Alcohol Support Service. After a couple of months, I applied for a job at CGL but based at Hastings Police Custody where I would speak to people in the cells and see if they needed our support. I was a link between the cells and their recovery if they wanted it. Nowadays I’m at the main clinic as Hastings Custody has been shut for nearly two years!
What were the main kind of jobs you did before you were thirty?
I trained as a Nursery Nurse as a young woman. I came out of school having done a very mediocre job of it and didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I was good with kids and my mum came up with the idea. Looking back, it was a great move because the initial NNEB course for this training was in Eastbourne, so I had to travel a bit and I needed to get independent. I was a very shy and unconfident girl and it did me a lot of good! Nannying served me well; after training I went straight to the States, did some travelling on the Greyhound buses and landed a job in LA, nannying for the people who created the TV series Thirtysomething and had a whale of a time. I also worked in Rome for six months, which was an amazing opportunity. Apart from this I’ve done bits and pieces like a secretary in a property maintenance company in London, worked in junk shops, cleaning in old peoples’ homes, cafes, building sites, auxiliary nursing for older people in their homes in the middle of nowhere, a life-drawing model, as an assistant at a school for autism and a facilitator for alternative education for excluded young people.
When did you find you wanted to get into community work?
Oh, I feel like I’ve always been helping people … It gets pretty exhausting! If it wasn’t work, then I’d usually be doing some sort of voluntary work as well like for the British Trust Conservation Volunteers. I used to love scrambling up trees to coppice, make a natural hedge fence or wade through a pond clearing it out. A good way of keeping fit too! I’ve also volunteered for The Stroke Association and the Fellowship of St Nicholas at an after-school club. Maybe it all started when as a child of about six – I remember walking home one day and realising that the very elderly man walking in front of us, a total stranger, was going to die soon. I was inconsolable.
What was the first community work you organised for yourself?
I joined a lot of things but organising myself came much later in my development! So, in the mid-90s I started to run community music projects to build people’s self-confidence (this was the germination for my present music charity the Time to Shine project) and I also organised the most incredibly heart-warming street party where I lived in Hanwell, West London. It was amazing in how it brought the, once unconnected, neighbourhood together and how it totally changed the vibe into a friendly, helpful and therefore safer place.
Do you get involved out of a sense of duty or because you actually enjoy moving things in a positive direction?
I am a full-glass full person, mostly because I won’t give up in believing in people and our beautiful world. A sense of duty doesn’t come into it, as that makes it feel like a conscious action and something that’s an onerous task! It’s innate to me to want to help someone or something that needs help, for the good of the whole. I remember being quite shocked some years back, realising that being empathic (on any level) maybe wasn’t a given in everyone … therefore I realised how fundamental it was to be taught empathy at a young age, to nurture that quality, to make for a happier community.
How did you get involved with Transitions Town Hastings?
About five years ago, myself and some friends were sitting in the Doom & Gloom [the Horse & Groom pub] berating the political climate and capitalism as a whole: in that our lives and environment were only being judged and measured by financial wealth and growth and nothing else, which causes huge unhappiness and poverty in so many ways. We thought it wasn’t good enough and felt that the aims and ethos of the Transition Towns Network suited what we wanted to start focusing on. We re-started Transition Town Hastings (it had started and stopped a few years previously) and had a very successful launch a few months later, which was a great motivation to keep going …
What are the main projects that Transition Town Hastings is involved with?
At the moment, we have the community fruit, veg and herb garden on the north platform of St Leonards Warrior Square Station, we are holding our 3rd Big Lunch on Sunday 2nd June at Warrior Square Gardens (basically everyone brings something to the picnic and game playing ensues!), the Seaside mosaic will be designed and created by the community from 10-21st July at Zooms Arts and we are planning our second Sustainability-on-Sea Festival from 21-29th Sept which culminates in the Big Green Fair at the Stade. Not bad, eh?
What’s the driving force behind it?
There are about five core people at the moment and that has been pretty consistent for five years. We all do so much, in and out, of TTH. And I think we all do an exceptional, professional and inspiring job; but it is exhausting, to be honest, and we all do wish there was more involvement to take the weight off. It can be hard to fathom why we have over 550 members online but only approx. 40 people who may take part – and not all at the same time? I understand that people are busy, they sometimes have hard stuff to deal with and all this climate change stuff can feel so overwhelming but… it’s only overwhelming because not everyone is taking part! If we all pulled together, it would make ALL the difference.
What do your think are its main achievements?
To be honest, I think our main achievements have been to still be going after five years, to have remained steadfast friends throughout and to have initiated, created and facilitated so many successful, community activities, projects, meetings, campaigns, to have over 550 members and to have such a known and admired reputation in the town – it’s EXTRAORDINARY! Well done US! (I think we don’t celebrate enough!)
How important is the station garden project?
It’s important because it’s a really BIG, visual project that can be seen by the community and linked to TTH. Locals and visitors alike often comment on how beautiful it is and how much better it looks. It’s important because it provides a real social activity with so many physical and mental health benefits for everyone to enjoy. It’s important because anyone can join in and anyone can help themselves to the produce. But we could do better in terms of planning ahead and encouraging more people to volunteer, especially families and people who feel isolated. That’s why we’d love to have more people on board who may be inspired to shift the garden on to a more educational side …
What have been the highs and lows of the project so far?
It’s mostly highs! I just love how we all come together and pull together to get things done in the garden. There’s no hierarchy either: we all discuss different ideas and the best way to find a solution to something and everyone is really appreciated no matter what job they take on. The lowest ebb was the struggle with watering as there’s no water on the garden side of station! But it’s sorted now – YIPPEE!
What sparked the mosaic project?
Well, I suppose once you start putting your love into a place by working at the station garden, you look at it with more observant eyes and you just want to make it a better and better environment. So when those two ramshackle, drug dealer den of telephone boxes were finally removed from the left side of the front of St Leonards Station, it revealed a large wall that, to me, was just begging for a mosaic! Now we have raised all the funding needed, we will invite the community to make the mosaic from 10-21st July (public sessions to be confirmed – watch this space!). The first thing our lovely mosaic maker Emma Harding has done is organise a beach-combing walk for families on Monday 3rd June at 6pm to collect things to draw for the mosaic design. And if you’d like to be a volunteer to help facilitate the sessions please get in touch with us on email address below!
What about the Time to Shine project (T2SP)? How did that come about?
Gosh, well this started as a community project that I got involved with in London over 20 years ago. I was doing a percussion course at the time and started taking part and then helping organise these great projects which were about building people’s confidence and giving them an opportunity to shine (hence the name). It was a lot of fun: participants had only two or three rehearsals each to practice their chosen song, with a live band, which led to a very emotional and incredible finale evening where friends and family could come and witness their courage and see who else they were … not just their annoying sister or non-verbal son! I came back to Hastings with the idea of expanding this idea to working with specific groups of people on the edge or those often excluded from society. After years of it being on the back burner of my brain, I met Michael Grant who ran the Hastings Voice Squad choir and asked if he’d join me in this quest to set up T2SP. He loved the idea and we’ve never looked back.
What were the original aims and how has the funding changed these aims, if at all?
The original aims haven’t changed: it’s about giving people the opportunity to express themselves without judgement, to not have to be perfect and still have fun, to actualise a vision and build determination to succeed, to build trust & respect within a team you can rely on, to feel the fear and do it anyway and thus be more prepared for the next fear in life and importantly to create a different view of who these people are and what they are capable of within society.
Where has T2SP got to so far?
Well, we’ve completed two projects with Seaview and are just starting one with Young Adult Carers. We have a fantastic board of six incredible trustees and we’ve just been given full charitable status! For more info or to donate, please check out www.timetoshineproject.org. We are also holding a fundraiser night on Saturday 6th July at 7.30pm, which will include four of Micky’s choirs (including NHS staff choir) singing along with the Invicta Jazz Orchestra (www.facebook.com/InvictaJazzOrchestra/photos/a.310630279366534/629290054167220/?type=3&theater).
Bearing in mind the way things are evolving in the world in terms of ecological damage and the fight back from concerned citizens, are you hopeful for the future?
I always have to be hopeful for the future and believe that LOVE wins over everything … otherwise what’s the point of anything?
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They will be picked with great care by a panel of experts – or at least given a bit of thought by a few people at HIP. But we need your help in deciding, so get onto social media and talk up anyone you think should be there or get in touch [email protected]dent.co.uk
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