Sue Hall 2: Full Interview

Duration 26:16


Sue Hall
Interviewed by Phoebe Collis
9th April 2019

PC: OK so this is Phoebe Collis for West Yorkshire Queer Stories on the 9th April 2019. My participant will now introduce themselves by saying their name, date of birth, where they live and how they identify, if that's OK.

SH: Yeah, my name is Sue Hall, my date of birth is 14th of the 6th 1953, I'm a lesbian and I live in Leeds […].

PC: OK, could you start off by telling me a bit about your work in manual trade? Sort of, what you did, what kind of led you there?

SH: I-I [stumbles] what lead me there, um I'm just trying to think back now... I suppose I'd left Women's Aid, this was the back end of the ‘70s and I wanted to do something different, I wanted to kind of go into something, um, I wanted to go into a manual trade. I'd always used my hands, worked with my hands, so it was something I wanted to kind of work in.

And at the time there were, um, schemes, like um, for adults, training schemes, re-training schemes, and I got onto one of those, and did my training in Leeds, as a wood-machinist, not as a joiner and I left there and got a job in Otley, and that lasted for so long, and around about that time a group of women got together and through Leeds City Council managed to get some funding to start up Leeds Women's Aid – not Leeds Women's Aid – Women's Workshop and it was looking at identifying trades and areas where women were unrepresented, and that was carpentry, joinery, and machining and electronics and computing.

PC: OK, so how many women were sort of involved in the projects? Was it quite a wide-scale thing or?

SH: There was a few women from the council which I can't remember now, who were kind of behind the scenes and then there was a management committee... but it wasn't really, it was kind of people that were interested, in term of employees, there was two in the joinery section, two in electronics and computing, and there was a manager, finance worker and an employment and development worker and we also brought people in to do kind of literacy and numeracy skills...Yes, so that's about right.

PC: What was your role, what did it sort of entail, in the day to day running of the workshop?

SH: Well, one of the things that we, when we started, we wanted to run as a collective, so that everyone had an equal part in the organisation and we also operated parity, because – still the case really – that people that are in the computing and electronics and managerial sides were getting more money than those in the kinda carpentry, joinery and lower skilled, if you wanna call it, areas. So what we agreed right from beginning was to operate parity, so everybody got the same wage. So we worked as a collective and what that meant really, in some ways, some things took forever to decide, cause there wasn't a hierarchy, and other times everyone had a say, so we used to meet once a week on a regular basis, and [stutters] management committee where people came and went, but there was like er, kind of strong kind of group of people – women, that worked together, and what was good at that time, we brought in, kind of, policies, that a lot of, certainly, organisations didn't have, and there was the equal opportunities policy but there was kind of anti-discrimination, there was lots and lots of detailed stuff and lots of stuff round lesbians, and kind of – so, as a lesbian it was just so easy to be out and doing stuff... it was great.

PC: Did you ever have any struggles within, any difficult times?

SH: Within the organisation?

PC: Yeah.

SH: Only when it came to disagreements over [exhales], over a policy item. So it wasn't, it wasn't like anything major where someone's walking out, and, and the idea is it wasn't like um – some, some things took a long time to kind of agree to, and a lot of discussions, a bit like Brexit really. [laughs]. Except we got somewhere. So, there wasn't difficulties in that respect, I think outside, outside agencies, round manual trades, er, there was some resistance to begin with. But that got better over time, cause we was going for about 18, 20 years really, and at the time then there was Women in Manual Trades nationally going on, so you could go to the conferences and meet other women who were kind of in different trades, so it was good.

PC: What would you say was sort of the biggest success, do you have any sort of notable moments, or, would you say on the whole it was successful?

SH: [tuts] I think the biggest success, for me, was seeing women coming to the organisation, cause there was women who'd never done anything like that before ever, [unclear] no 'I'd been banging away with a hammer for years and what have ya', that women were coming in and trying something completely different, and they were able to without somebody saying, 'oh well you can't do that', or you know, they were able to kind of just come in and do it. And I think one of the things that's really good is it was such a mixed group of women, in terms, there was lesbians, there was kind of, er, culturally there was a massive difference that in a lot of ways you wouldn't expect to get on and be accepted one way or another, and that wasn't the case, so I think in terms of success if anyone said, 'oh well women can't work together', or, 'women can't do that', well, that proved it wrong, in terms of, 'did we make a massive inroad into the industry?', still trying... still trying.

PC: Did you find it sort of – did you receive criticism or was it a hostile environment, maybe outside of the workshop?

SH: I never, I don't think I ever found any really. I'm just tryna think, nothing stands out to me that someone's been a right prat. No. No, I think because we, because I, or because we kind of approached things in a, in a certain manner, er no we didn't. No we didn't.

PC: How did you feel when it came to an end? What were the reasons for closure?

SH: I left before it finally closed. About three years before, and it was funding. It was just funding, it had been funded by Leeds City Council and Europe so it was kind of back to back funding and it was just coming to an end really and one of the things I think, um, not necessarily a major player but outcomes changed quite a lot. I think the whole, the whole thing around training was changing, like we used to do a lot of evening classes for women, so that was funded by Leeds City Council in the days where – and in September you used to get a list of what classes you'd like to go to, and go along and enjoy doing, all that was fading out. So a lot of the stuff round kind of evening classes and just general funding was going and erm basing everything on outcomes and outcomes not necessarily, 'this person went into that trade and became this that and the other', I mean women went off as in a lot of things and go into different areas, erm, on different parts of things, like I still see someone who got a job in B&Q and she loves it and it was that kind of step up, and she still does a lot of stuff for herself that kind of made it for her so.

PC: Do you know of anything happening now that is similar or?

SH: No... No there isn't. Not that I know of... No.

PC: So you said before you did the workshops you did Women's Aid?

SH: Yeah.

PC: Could you tell me a little bit about that?

SH: Leeds Women's Aid that was back in, was it ‘70s, beginning of the ‘70s, where again it was kind of a group of women that got, got together and discussed I think well not think – London was going then – and it was a group of women again from different areas different professions that realised that there was a need for refuge here. So again a group of women worked together and we managed to get two terrace houses on Burley Road that exist now, and we kind of just opened the doors and before we knew our way it was packed and it wasn't the best thing to do at the time but it was the only thing we could do and there was a lot of overcrowding you know sometimes there was two families in a room and it was just absolutely rammed, and it took a long time to get established, to get kind of fundin. I worked there voluntarily and eventually I was paid, erm, I think I stayed there for another about two years then I left, so yeah.

PC: Do you think you made quite a lot of difference in that time?

SH: I think for certain women yeah, I mean I never forget again another time where a woman came up to me, out of the blue, and said I really want to thank you very much and I'm thinking 'Okay' and she sort of remembered me but I didn't her, about how she'd gone through the refuge and now things were going fine for her. So for a lot of women erm it, it kind of it made them able to move on and I think you know everybody kind of moved on a lot of women went back and I think the main thing, the main things about Women's Aid and still is that women are believed, and they're not judged if they go back, so it made a lot of difference to those women, in conditions that were quite atrocious at the time.

PC: Were there any, again, struggles when you were there? Any particular moments?

SH: Struggles.

PC: That you can remember.

SH: Me personally no, again cause again I was out, I was an out lesbian I wasn't kind of, I wasn't kind of hiding behind anything. Everybody knew who I was and where I was coming from, and at the time there weren't many people working there. I mean it’s much massive organisation much bigger organisation now than, than you know kind of when I were there and a few, couple of others. No I think the struggles, the struggles if you like, not me personally, but just the struggles of everybody living in such a confined space, and having to kind of, deal with things like, one, one thing that, that kind of kind of, well suppose it did kind of, concern me cause it just felt like it was erm the inequality of it is that – great great story this is – we got scabies in the house, so the nurse the nurse came in and said, 'right we're gonna have to paint you all’, so everyone's kind of going into their rooms and getting stripped and painting, kids. I mean there was a lot of women and when it came to me I thought, 'oh I really don't want to do this,' and she said, 'here you are do it yourself', and I just thought that's wrong, that's wrong, cause why couldn't they do it themselves? Why couldn't they be trusted? Whereas I could, well in fact I didn't bloody do it anyway so I was worst of the lot, do you know what I mean, so that, I didn't like that inequality – but yeah again, again it worked as a collective, there wasn't a hierarchy that didn't come in for a long, long time so.

PC: Is it still going now?

SH: Oh yeah, yeah yeah. Yes it’s kind of gone from strength to strength and gone through lots of struggles financially. I suppose it when I think back in terms of, what wasn't ever discussed or even, even considered really is er, domestic violence erm amongst lesbians. I mean it just, just assumed it didn't exist whereas I think things have changed where there's a lot more kind of openness to that.

PC: Yeah, do you think there's more acceptance of that happening now or?

SH: I think [exhales] I think among amongst the lesbian community there probably is I don't know about the kind of, straight kind of side of things... I'd like to think I'd like to think so I think, I think it’s probably still quite difficult for a lesbian to be able to go into a refuge... but should be able to, but in my experience there wasn't any, any lesbians that went in.

PC: Did you not have any out lesbians that were in the refuge then?

SH: No, not to my knowledge, and I would've known. No, no and it wasn't because – well then again there was other, other groups of women like travellers who were another hard group to reach, so it wasn't just lesbians, it was certain groups of women that felt they couldn't access the refuge for various reasons.

PC: Was there a real mix of women there then, would you say?

SH: Predominantly working-class women, predominantly working-class women, um some middle-class women but predominantly working-class white women. When I was kind of in the beginning now it’s different, it is different now cause there's different, there's different kind of er, areas of Women's Aid you know there's not just the refuge there's outreach, there's all kinds of different strands. So if someone can have access without actually needing to come into the refuge, whereas when, when I first started that's all there was, was the refuge really, so.

PC: Do you still do any work for them now or?

SH: I don't actually, no, no. I went back, I um, so I went from the workshop to Rape Crisis then from Rape Crisis I went back to Women's Aid and stayed there for about another, four/five years, then kinda left and started working in a different area, not not in the voluntary sector, so, cause I'd worked in the voluntary sector since I was 19 so it’s a long time.

PC: What was Rape Crisis, was that similar to the refuge?

SH: Rape Crisis was a counselling service, and, and helpline and women used to access the service, service and come in to speak to people and they could ring up on the phone and I ran the volunteers’ course, as a volunteers’ coordinator and arranged training for volunteers who then came in and kinda counselled women or did the helpline.

PC: Did you enjoy doing it?

SH: I enjoyed, I enjoyed kind of working with volunteers, again it was nice kind of meeting kinda and kinda working with different women. Um, er, the content wasn't the greatest cut in the world, but yeah it was good again it was working as a collective so it was good, no hierarchy, no it was good yeah.

PC: So, do you feel quite proud that you were involved in such sort of, I mean, pivotal things really in Leeds?

SH: I suppose I-I [stammers] I don't see it like that, cause someone would say you know well [stammers] I-I just kind of went to work, I mean I don't think – I don't big myself up at all I just think well that's, that's who I am really. In fact coming to see you my partner [unclear] said, 'Look you're going' I said, 'OK I'm going' [laughter], yeah there you go... Yeah.

PC: And so, what is it like being a lesbian in West Yorkshire? Do you think you've noticed any sorts of changes from when you were younger to where you are now?

SH: Oh yeah. A lot of changes, a lot more acceptance. I was thinking back when I was, when I was how old, oh God, I think when I first came out at 18 I mean my whole experience when I, when I talk to young women or hear about young women's stories now and they're just completely different to, to kind of my experience and I just wonder now how I would cope with it really, um.

PC: In what way?

SH: Well there was no, there was no... it wasn't obvious, it wasn't kind of, it wasn't there, it wasn't out there. You had to go and look for something, so um there was this bloody dreadful magazine – I don't know if it’s still going – called Forum, no you don't want to, and it is like, I wouldn't even look at it now, but it was, anybody and anything went in there. And I just thought, ‘well there must be something’, cause I knew what I felt inside, I'd always felt it since I were a kid so, and there was an advert for GLF, Gay Liberation Front, I don't know if you've – anyway, and it was students that used to meet down by the Fenton, and I thought, 'oh I'm going to go' and I'll never forget cause I used to – I also worked with my mum and dad at the time and I drove down the night before to look to see where I was gonna go. I worked out exactly where I was gonna park and I went that day and I kinda I thought, 'oh God' and I kinda knocked on this door and waited and then these, these guys came up and kinda brought me down and it was just completely different world, no women, just men, and I just thought, I just, I dunno, I just kinda went with it really, and then from there I kind of met a couple of women and from there then I got into the Women's Movement, which changed things quite a lot for me, in terms of where I was at the time, and my views, well I didn't have any really.

So it was like then coming into politics at about 19, and meeting mostly straight women actually, not many lesbians not many dykes, couple around, went to a few kind of university kind of discos and that and there was lots at GLF conference but not many women. It was very much male kind of led, just over the years then getting into – and then through Women's Aid that's right, through Women's Aid and it was a national organisation again, meeting more women, meeting more lesbians so it was like coming into things there, but in terms of then, I mean it was just, you weren't out, well I was out ‘cause I was fortunate enough in my work to be out, but in terms of living from day to day, we just got on with it but what, what kind of decided, we decided – gets complicated this – I ended up with three kids, but I'm not the biological mother. So my first relationship I ended up with two kids and my present relationship with one child, not kids – probably older than you actually – and um and I at the time cause then it was – there was no kind of, you know you get [unclear] and all these adverts, bit sickening, but all these adverts about what you can and can't do, and then there was nothing and I kinda knew this men's group and I talked to some men, well one bloke and said that there's a lesbian who wanted to have a child, so then I kind of organised that I kind of went, when they were ovulating, when she was ovulating cause I started off with one, that um I'd go collect the kind of sperm come back and that's it, and yep then we had Joe and then we had Tom but in the meantime quite a few of the women asked me to do it, so about, I think about 7 or 8 women that I ended up kind of organising insemination for. They all had girls except mine, well I do love em.

So, and then Caroline my present [unclear] we had three lads and Joe's 34 this year, Tom's 32 and Orlando's coming up to 29, so when they were young it was hard for them because we were always – they always knew what the situation was, but it was like it’s not just a case of us coming out, it's for the kids – do you know what I mean? – so they were saying, 'where's your dad' and all this and they'd be really honest and then realise being honest wasn't really good because they'd get it in the neck as kids and we had some problems at home in terms of some people started slashing our tyres and stuff like that, but it all kind of moved on. So a lot of that kind of changed, it’s got easier for the boys, and [unclear], because it’s more open and out and because kind of you know lesbian and gays can get married so there's a lot more acceptance and listening to them talk now. I kind of, I'm sure it’s not all young people but a lot of young people kinda just, yeah, 'so what', take it all on board and you know when the boys have met partners, future partners and talked about it it’s, 'oh yeah OK cool', in fact, 'cool', you know, 'yeah cool', you know, so it’s a bit kind of, so it has changed in that respect, and I'm pleased it’s changed for them. Joe is gay and but – well not but – he lives in Germany and is a ballet dancer and he's fine, and what was interesting about Joe, you'd think that coming from lesbian parents, that for him being gay wouldn't be an issue but it took him ages before he could tell us. Now I don't know if that's because he was a man, ‘cause we were quite hard and radical feminists, you know was it ‘cause he was a man liking other men but he found it hard and I just thought that's sad really ‘cause I thought we'd of made it easy. The other two were alright coming out heterosexual, that weren't a problem but [laughs] but yeah, so just the whole attitude now is kind of very different, so, yeah there you go.

PC: You also said finally that you were in – you were heavily involved in the Women's Liberation movement?

SH: Yes, I was kind of, I wasn't right good at talking politics stuff but that's where I kind of came through that and kind of ‘cause I think I would've gone on a very different route. I would have kind of a lesbian that was down the New Penny and just very straight in my lesbianism if you like and it’s through kind of coming into the Women's Movement and I'll never forget I went to – ‘cause again at that time the Women's Movement was very, very middle class and I'd gone along, someone had taken me along and I was sat and they were talking about misogyny [stumbles] – and patriarchy, and words I'd never ever heard of and I'm sat there thinking I don't know what’s, I don't know anything, I just didn't know anything, nothing and it was just completely, I'd come from the meeting not understanding what had gone on but just enjoyed being around women [laughter] and then bit by bit I started learning stuff and uh, so I was involved in the kind of a lot of the radical side of stuff, yeah not very good at doing the talking really, and the walking and the marches and things like that so.

PC: Did you go to many marches?

SH: Went to some of the Reclaim the Night marches here, yeah those kind of yeah around women in action and stuff like that, yeah none of that happens anymore now so... well it’s that thing isn't it, the internet just gives everyone the opportunity to do what they want and trying to curb it or kind of control it is impossible.

PC: Definitely. Well, thank you very much.

SH: That's alright. Good, good.