I wrote this in November 2017 for the Women’s Words Mcr project, hosted by the Pankhurst Centre. More info about the project can be found here.
We all have many stories, this is one of mine, thank you for sharing it with me…
I was born in St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester on 6 February 1979 during the Winter of Discontent. It was 61 years to the day since (some) women in the UK got the vote and three months before the UK elected her first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
I was a ‘surprise’. Named Eve, ‘because it would be easy to spell when starting school’ and ‘as an attempt to reclaim the first woman as a Manchester feminist’!
Born to Glynis Joy Francis, named after Glynis Johns (known to me as the suffragette mum in Mary Poppins), and Christopher John Duncan. My mum, the daughter of Joyce, a cleaner, and Eric, a gardener come bricklayer, in Sussex. My dad, the son of Rosalind, the nanny and then wife to George, an aristocratic war veteran in Reading. Both had been drawn to Manchester by its radical reputation and in search of work and both had rooted themselves as youth and play workers and community activists. Without their own place to live, when I was born they moved in with friends, a family of five, on Brundretts Road, Chorlton. I shared a room with a teenage Rebecca.
Money gifted to my mum for a pram went on a bike and my earliest memories are in a papoose, on my mum or dad’s back singing nursery rhymes as they cycled the streets of Manchester and between adventure playgrounds. Early photos show me surrounded by groups of doting ‘troubled youths’ on camping trips and play-schemes. Bikes, canoes, the outdoors, play, adventure and waterproofs all feature heavily.
After about a year my parents went their separate ways but continued to live close by and worked hard to keep the relationship amicable. For the next 13 years I grew up between two households, one on Ellesmere Road, Whalley Range, a commune of lesbian families, and the other in Chorlton with my dad, step mum and, from age nine, my little sister. At age 14 my mum fell in love with my best friend’s dad and soon after my best mate became my sister!
My overriding memory and feeling from my childhood in Manchester is of people, positive action and cooperation. From day-to-day reciprocity to whole-scale community organising and protest: Life was filled with people, helping people help people. Communal cooking, shopping, household chores were the norm. Both homes provided refuge to a flow of friends and friends of friends who needed a temporary place to stay. There was never an abundance of money, or time, but always an abundance of help on offer and nourishing diversity of people, food, conversation. As the proverb goes, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. I was raised by a village, not the quaint rural type, a radical urban village built on shared values and shared endeavour. Like most villages, it was woman-powered.
Life was busy and full of hard work, passion, community, activism and solidarity. The mugs in our kitchen told a million stories. We marched many miles, against mine closures, Section 28 and the Poll Tax. And we sang, the lyrics for ‘Never going underground’, ‘Sister Suffragette’ and ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ all remain etched in my memory. International injustices and victories were fully present. There were regular sit-ins at the Church of the Ascension, resisting the deportation of Viraj Mendis. Food items were banned from the house in protest at apartheid. A lodger lost his wife in Rwanda. I rejoiced at seeing Nelson Mandela on TV and being handed a piece of the Berlin wall. And I witnessed Manchester rapidly change around me. I saw Hulme Crescents come down and the first ‘wine bars’ open in Chorlton.
I enjoyed school. I went to Gable Nook nursery in Chorlton from 6 months, followed by Manley Park nursery and Primary school in Whalley Range. I was a quiet, conscientious, bright and self-motivated child. School life came easily. In a predominately Black and Asian neighbourhood I was in the minority as a white kid in class, a positive experience which no doubt shaped my model of the world. My memories are happy ones. I had lots of freedom, trust and love. I was actively encouraged to question the world around me, to follow my own dreams, to play and to explore. I think I knew this made me lucky.
My experience of an inner city comprehensive education was pretty mixed. I attended Oakwood High School, now Chorlton High and attended by my eldest son, and then Loreto Sixth Form. There were fights, drugs, sex, muggins and hairy moments in parks but also lots of friendships, learning, support and fun. I saw injustice and inequality everywhere, it was hard to miss in Manchester in the 80s and 90s. I became very politically active in my own right. Three months into my adulthood, 18 years of Tory rule came to an end. I stayed up and watched the results roll in. It felt like a new dawn, I wore a smile and red for a week!
And now, nearing my 40th year, I’m back where I began and still growing. My experience of growing up in Manchester led me to Oxford University to study Law. After a wonderful 14 year career as a human rights solicitor, I left the legal world to focus more on community building and inclusive, representative and collaborative politics. I now use coaching, facilitation and human-centred design to help people make good stuff happen, nurturing the compassion, curiosity, courage and cooperation I experienced growing up.
I love to live, work, care and play in this great city. I feel grounded here. My roots are intertwined with those of the city and together they hold me strong. My parents’ fire and activism lives in me and a shared sense of responsibility to people and place. I’m raising my three sons as feminists, proud Mancs and conscientious global citizens. I enjoy cycling the same streets and giving my time to the schools, parks, spaces I attended as a child, reinvesting in the soil from which I grew.