Suzanne Fletcher on her lifelong mission to speak up for the most vulnerable people

Suzanne Fletcher is one of the hardest working, humanitarian, compassionate people I have ever known. She has devoted her life improve living conditions for the poorest people with the least power.

Her local paper, the Darlington and Stockton Times, has done a wonderful profile of her as part of their series of features inspired by Middlesborugh Soroptimists’ list of outstanding local women.

Suzanne talked of her own experience of poor housing when she was small:

“We lived in an awful place, near the slag heaps,” says Suzanne. “It was difficult and dangerous as there was so much pollution in the air. Coal gas came up through the cellar, our plants died, as did my pet mouse, and the curtains rotted. My mother and father were both hardworking and did their best to keep everything clean, but when we complained the authorities didn’t listen. They considered our living conditions to be fine.

“The noise and swearing from the police cells at night kept us awake. My mother would prepare meals for the prisoners. They were sometimes sent back uneaten, but she was determined they would be treated with dignity.”

Three years ago, Suzanne made the national press when she campaigned against a horrendous policy which ensured that the doors of asylum seekers’ houses were painted red – which brought with it the sadly expected racism, threats and attacks:

The contract for housing asylum seekers in Stockton used to be directly with the council but when the government took out a private contract, the company involved decided to paint the doors where asylum seekers lived red. Consequently, these homes became targets of terrible abuse from, what Suzanne calls, racist yobs, causing real distress to the occupants.

Suzanne began writing and sending evidence to those she thought could help, but it was not until the press picked up on an article which had been written for the Times, that a media storm began on Tuesday, January 19, 2016. After very late phone calls that night, from the BBC, the next day at 6.30am she was in a taxi on her way to a television studio. The points she made in her non-stop interviews were not only about the red doors of the asylum seekers, but on their housing conditions in general, and the contribution they make, and want to make, to their communities.

She also talked about her time as Mayor when she did all she could to make the council and the town more open, inclusive and accessible:

In 2006, she became mayor of Stockton, and one of her aims was to bring together people of different faiths and backgrounds. She did away with the traditional slow hand-clap at the inaugural meal and had a group of African drummers, who were asylum seekers and refugees, playing instead.

Suzanne was determined to make changes. “As mayor, I was interested in my community,” she says. “I got to know these wonderful people and understood the problems of asylum seekers and refugees. I used my office to raise the profile of two local charities, Butterwick Outreach and The Mary Thompson Fund. I was the first mayor to have a blog, and it became popular.”

It’s her passion for justice and fairness that inspires her to campaign against things like the creation of a detention centre for women asylum seekers in her area:

“People should be treated with dignity, and be able to live in a community of love and respect for each other and for our environment,” she says. “It’s about justice and fairness, which has driven me on.”

I think everyone who knows Suzanne will appreciate this article and will be glad to see her getting the recognition she deserves.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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10 Comments

  • Catherine Hodgkinson 18th Jul '21 - 3:58pm

    Suzanne is a wonderful example of true liberalism at work. I found this article very moving and inspiring.

  • Well deserved recognition for Suzanne Fletcher. Whenever I read of Stoclton, I think of Dr George M’gonigle https://heritage.stockton.gov.uk/articles/people/george-cuthbert-mura-mgonigle/
    “In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s Stockton was going through a phase of slum clearance and the building of new council estates. It was thought that the better conditions on the new estates would improve peoples’ overall health. Dr McGonigle as our medical officer decided to study the overall health of people in both areas, however his resulting report to the health committee about his findings was not what everyone expected.

    He was comparing the Housewife Lane Area, this appears to be the area now between the Police Station and the Peugeot garage, and the modern estate was Mount Pleasant which is the location of the former Swainby Road. Dr M’Gonigle found that comparing deaths rates showed a 46% increase in mortality on the new estate compared with the remaining slum area, also health was worse in the Mount Pleasant families. He investigated and found that rents on the new estate were 9 shillings a week compared to 4s 8d in the slums, this meant that the families that had been rehoused had much less money to spend on food so their health suffered and many suffered from malnutrition.

    His report was published nationwide and appeared in the press both in this country and abroad, this in turn influenced housing policies in this era, worldwide. Dr M’Gonigle sat on a BMA committee looking at diet and income and his findings helped the committee convince the Ministry of Health to change their dietary standards. Dr M’Gonigle expanded on his report by writing a book’ Poverty & Public Health’ (1937), he also took part in a film ’Enough to Eat’ in 1936. When food rationing was introduced for WW II the government followed Dr M’Gonigles findings to ensure a balanced diet for all, rationing also gave mothers and small children orange juice, cod liver oil and milk. As a result many people’s health actually improved during the war. Due to the years that he carried on with his work on child health and the effects of poverty, the Evening Gazette named him ‘Housewives Champion’.”

  • Suzanne Fletcher 18th Jul '21 - 10:16pm

    @Joe Bourke is right, M’Gonigle was indeed a pioneer on the link between poor health and high housing costs. A plaque for him was put up in the Town Hall whilst I was Mayor. I felt for M’Gonigle that when he presented his case to Stockton Council way back then, they didn’t listen – happened to me all the time!! then they claim credit later.
    Another item on that website is about Brass Crosby https://heritage.stockton.gov.uk/articles/people/as-bold-as-brass-the-life-of-brass-crosby/ I discovered about him whilst I was Mayor, very interesting story, and a man after my own heart, having brought about the right of the press to publish the proceedings of parliament, in 1771.
    The Council (committee not officers) refused to put up a plaque or do anything to celebrate this man though, for the good reason that it was my work that unearthed all this. the officers did use my words to put on the website though. They didn’t have political parties as such in those days, but I am sure he would be a Liberal if around now.
    I am currently “finishing” the book on him that I started in 2007 (been busy!!). Any help with publishing anyone?

  • Suzanne Fletcher 18th Jul '21 - 10:30pm

    Just to say that I have been very humbled by such a lot of lovely things that people have said on FB and locally, as well as Caron here, that I could have done nothing without the wonderful support of John Fletcher who does so much in the background, and the very very many people have encouraged, supported, and generally put up with me over the years.

  • Christine Headley 18th Jul '21 - 10:42pm

    I know something about self-publishing, Suzanne. It’s a whole lot easier than it used to be. I would be happy to help you. I’ve just sent you a Facebook friend request (surprised we weren’t already!).

  • Lorenzo Cherin 18th Jul '21 - 11:49pm

    A fine link from Caron, to a deserved article, about a valued person.

    This is a Liberal Democrat who inspires!

  • It’s a great piece Suzanne. My mother used to talk about people who were ‘quiet inspirations’. She meant it as a great compliment. I always think you are a fine example of what she meant.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 19th Jul '21 - 10:45am

    A lovely article, about an inspirational woman

  • Adrian Sanders 20th Jul '21 - 10:21am

    What Catherine Hodgkinson wrote.

  • A wonderful article about a wonderful human being! It was a privilege to be in the same local party as Suzanne until I moved away

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