Deborah: You’ve lived in the Woodford area for 42 years. Can you tell me some of the changes you’ve noticed in that period?
Cathy: Its changed completely. When I first moved it was a very white middle-class area. Over the years more and more people of different nationalities have moved in. We’ve got wonderful Turkish restaurants and the International Store on George Lane, which has brought more and more people into the area. It has made it a much more friendly area than when I first moved here.
So you’ve actually found it’s become more friendly?
I think so, particularly living here just off George Lane. I know nearly everybody in the shops and everybody knows me. Even the bank manager knows me by name, which is very unusual in this day and age.
It is unusual. Have you actually gone into other people’s homes who are from other cultures?
Well we used to have a nice young couple who lived next door, but they moved. He worked at the London Hospital as an anaesthetist. He was from Libya. We used to go in there and they’d come in here. That was very nice. There are very good friends, a nice couple who live on the end of the road, they’re from Madagascar, I think it is.
So You know everybody in the street?
Not everybody, but quite a lot of people. Quite a lot of us ladies get together, have a little drink. We call ourselves “the ladies what moan”!
I love that. So there have been quite fundamental changes in that period?
I think so, particularly in the shops. When I first moved here the shops were quite old fashioned in a way. There was another cinema here in George Lane and no Sainsbury’s. There were 3 butchers’ shops, the wet fish shop, several greengrocers, they’re all gone. A lot of the little shops are gone but there are a lot of ….. my daughter’s of the opinion that unless you open a Turkish restaurant or a nail bar you can’t get permission to open anything in South Woodford! We do seem to have an awful lot of both those.
Do you miss those smaller shops, those independent little shops?
I don’t, no. I love the International Store. I use it for my fruit and veg. I’m afraid it’s so handy having Sainsbury’s as your corner shop, it’s really handy. It’s a very good place for somebody who doesn’t drive, like myself, it’s a good place to live because everything is here, the doctor, the dentist, everything is on my doorstep. and of course my freedom pass …. that’s also wonderful.
You mentioned to me that you’ve been associated with the Hall for quite a while.
About 15 years.
And you first became involved with the hall through your granddaughter?
Yes, the older one, when she first started with the playgroup there. I used to go along and to watch the Christmas shows.
The playgroup Christmas shows?
Yes, the first time I went there was to see her dressed as an angel. That was lovely. When I retired 10 years ago I think my younger granddaughter was still at the playgroup then and they were looking for somebody to help out with the mother and baby group on a Wednesday afternoon, to make tea for the mums and my daughter said “Oh my Mum might do that, she’s just retired”. It was only for half a term originally. That was ten years ago. I was with them 9 years. I saw children coming in as babies, then seeing them at school when I used to pick my grandchildren up from Churchfields. I still see some of the mums. The children are now going to senior school, some of them.
So you found pretty good relationships as a result of that?
It was lovely actually, because being an older person, although I’ve got young children and grandchildren of my own it was lovely mixing with that big group of young mums. It’s such a good thing to do for those people, to have that mother and baby group at the Hall. It’s brilliant. We used to get, that’s another way I’ve seen the demographic change in the area, you’d get periods where you’d get all English girls coming in, then you’d get a lot of Eastern European girls, then you’d get a lot of Muslim girls would come in. It was really strange because they’d seem to come in blocks. Everybody was very friendly there, everybody mixed.
You say it’s a really good thing to have that at the Hall. Why?
Because I think we all ought to co-exist in peace and harmony. I know it sounds a bit twee but I think there’s nothing wrong with everybody being together. I don’t like this everybody in little parcels. I’m going to go political now and say I’m going to vote to stay in the EU because I don’t like the thought of “little Englanders”
Oh, so what you found about the mothers and babies club was that it caused cohesiveness.
I think so.
And it helped people to have a greater understanding of each other at the end of the day, mums were just mums.
Yes mums are just mums and children play together. Children don’t see black, white, Jewish, Indian they just play together. It’s good for them. Obviously for them its normal, but it’s good for the mums to see that. To me that mother and baby group is a really good thing that we’ve done at the Hall.
Do you know how long it’s been there? In totality?
It was already established?
Yes, as I say, both my grandchildren went there. I’m not sure if it was there when I first came to Woodford, my son didn’t go to that playgroup, he went to one in Derby Road. I don’t know if there was one, there then. Its attached to the playgroup, the mother and baby group, it’s run by the same lady, Caroline, who’s been running it for years.
Oh, Caroline’s been running that for 17 years and the playgroup’s been there for 50 years.
Oh there you are then. I don’t know how long the mother and baby groups been going.
I’ll check that. It’s just on a Wednesday afternoon?
I hadn’t actually realised that was an extra.
Yes I think they do a Tuesday afternoon for what they call the “rising 5s”, the older playgroup children, and then Wednesday afternoon is the mother and baby group.
Did you notice if the mums of the babies actually formed relationships and became friends?
I think some of them did, some became friends, some kept themselves to themselves. The children didn’t. I always chatted to all of them, I was in the kitchen. All they ever saw of me was this half! I have got legs as well. They were all very friendly, dads as well.
Dads would come as well?
Yes there were one or two househusbands who would bring their child along and some, who, if mum was doing something else, would bring the child along. Grandparents too. Two grandmas and a granddad would come along.
So socially that’s quite a change as well.
Yes very much so.
When you first started did men come there at the very beginning?
No, not at the very beginning. I think the first one that came along was, there was a girl who brought her 2 children along, a baby and a little toddler. She went back to work, she had a very good job and so her husband, he would come along.
And that was about 5 years after you started?
No probably about 2 years after I started. He was the first one.
Did you know if any other men had come before that?
I don’t know.
That’s quite a big social change in itself. That’s quite something to witness.
I was quite used to that, because we had guy along the road here, we always called him the househusband. Caroline, his daughter, is now 31 and he looked after her right from the time she was born. His wife had the better job.
So have you enjoyed your 30 years living in Woodford?
I love it I wouldn’t live anywhere else. Apart from anything else my children live here so there’s no way I would move. The only thing that might tempt me would be Barcelona! A place in the sun. I love South Woodford, I prefer it to Woodford Green in fact. I lived there just behind the Green and came here in ’79.
Were you married in Woodford?
No I was married the first time in Leyton and the second time at the registry office in Barkingside.
Of course, I also do go to the Hall for U3A.
O course you do! How do you find that?
Well I love the U3A, it’s been a lifesaver for me, with losing my husband so unexpectedly. It’s getting more and more crowded. They have to shut the doors now at 9.50 instead of 10 am to stop more people coming in. I mean, that Hall can hold 200 people? We’ve got just over 600 members altogether now. It’s a really thriving U3A.
What do you do?
I run the 2 book groups for them. And I belong to, we call ourselves “The Freedom Pass Rovers”. We’re a member-lead group and we take it in turn to sort out a walk and visit somewhere once a month. I did start doing Italian but I had to stop, but I’ll start again in September. There are lots of outings.
Organised by U3A?
Organised by U3A, yes we’re going to one in a couple of weeks’ time to the Botticelli Revisited exhibition at the V & A. We’ve done things like going round the backstage of the Palladium, the backstage of the Royal Opera House. Last week we went to the River Police Museum and had a talk. There are lots of nice things to do.
Did you join up immediately you heard about the U3A?
Yes it was quite funny, my daughter phoned me. She’d been walking past the Hall with a friend and saw these ladies of a certain age milling about outside. She’s very nosy and said “What are you doing ladies?” And when they told her she said “Oh my mother would love that”. So she phoned me up and I went along the next week, so I did join right from the beginning and my husband joined as well.
Oh your husband joined as well?
Yes we both belonged to it. He just came along to the meetings and we went to a group called Looking at Art.
I’m aware that you have a meeting is it every week or every month?
Every month, first Tuesday of the month.
And there’s always a talk?
Yes and we have a speaker.
Have they been good?
It’s a bit like a curate’s egg, you know good in parts, some of them have been fantastic some of them not so good. We had one lady who was a stunt performer and she was mad as a bag of frogs. She was leaping about the stage and I felt belittled by it because she was treating us like 5-year olds. Very peculiar. It was almost as if she was used to doing this act to schoolchildren. We were all sitting there going “Ooh”. Some of them, one was a man in charge of when the gas runs out, which sounds really really boring, but he was such a good speaker, it was fascinating, totally fascinating. So it’s swings and roundabouts.
And from the social aspect, you love that?
Oh yes, I know an awful lot of people there because I belong to the Townswomen’s Guild as well. We used to meet in the Memorial Hall too. We used to meet in the little room next to the big back hall. So I’ve got quite a lot of association with the Hall, but we don’t meet there any more, there used to be a dog class in the main hall, we couldn’t hear ourselves speak, so we had to move above the church.
So in actuality that has happened since you were part of the Townswomen?
I joined the Townswomen since I’ve joined U3A. I joined it through somebody at U3A. And I joined the organisation which meets at Bancroft’s School, called NADFAS, the National Association of Decorative and Fine Art Societies, also through somebody at U3A.
So the fact that U3A started at the Memorial Hall has completely opened up your social life.
Totally, totally. When my husband and I worked, we worked together, we had our own business. We were always together throughout the day and night every day so we didn’t have any friends. Our closest friends moved to the Midlands 20 years ago. We had lots of acquaintances but no real friends so when he died I was a bit lost. Obviously, we’d been together all that time and it’s really important, you know U3A is brilliant, really brilliant.
I’ so glad, because I know that U3A are very loyal to the Hall and I know that they love the Hall.
I think we bought some floorboards!
Oh you bought some floorboards, that’s so lovely, that’s really lovely.
And another thing, the dancing, John Hutson’s dancing, my granddaughters went to his dance school. I used to sit there with them because I used to take them to the dance school.
So quite a lot, your involvement with the Hall?
Of course, I knew Barbara, Barbara Slaney, I knew her really well.
So really you lived here for about 30 years, it sounds as if you’ve been associated with the Hall for a good 20 of those years.
I’d say 15 years, because my older granddaughter will be 17 this month.
That’s still quite a long time isn’t it?
Yes and actually it’s quite a centre of our lives in a way because of various things, particularly U3A.
Thank you so much.