I am the youngest of five children, well was! I’m grown up now, obviously it goes without saying. I was the first one in my family ever to go to university. I then trained as a social worker, I worked my way up and became the first woman director of Social Services here in the South West, and then, because at that time Social Services were doing so well, they gave me housing to sort out.
Then, I took early retirement because the political climate changed and since then I joined in 2010, ACH because of my previous experience and now I’m vice chair of the board and it’s one of my proudest things to be.
Why and when did you choose to become a board member for ACH?
I was approached by the then chair, Andy, who said “Eileen, you’ve just retired!”. Then I said “oh yes?”, suspicious me! He introduced ACH to me. My social care and housing experience was exactly what ACH needed at that time, it was in its infancy – it was a growing organisation, not nearly as big as now and they needed the knowledge of the law for starters (housing legislation and Social Services), but also it would be nice as they said – because they were two men – that they wanted a woman at quite a high level on the board to represent the women and make it clear that ACH was about equal opportunities and fighting inequalities.
What do you think you have contributed to the board?
Firstly, being a woman, just being a woman. Even if I was as thick as two short planks, and I’m probably as thick as one short plank but it’s being there and being a sort-of figurehead.
The first thing people want when they come to this country is security and safety and the safety of a roof over their head, so that’s the housing component. But we soon realised that they also needed the care and education component, and if I can bring that to ACH with the entire team (make the whole team motivated and working to those aims), then we can do a lot of good in Bristol, Birmingham and in Wolverhampton.
What are your future aspirations personally and with ACH?
Can I start with ACH? Because it started with Bristol, it’s now expanding into the Midlands – I think tomorrow Europe and then the world - because I think the model we have got is, I think, as good a one as any other organisation I’ve encountered, for the refugees and the dispossessed people we deal with. But, for ACH and myself it comes together. We want to work with other refugee agencies in say France or Germany, and I’m beginning to make connections there in Marseille and in Aachen, that in a couple of months hopefully the staff can then pick them up and work with the other agencies across Europe and learn about best practice and learn from each other and make the ordeal of settling in European culture a lot easier for refugees and the dispossessed people we do try and help.