Since I was asked to write this blog, I have been searching my memory for the moment that I met Suze. Actually, I don’t think there was a single moment, more of a steady smoulder that blazed into life. We got to know each other when she was working for English Heritage and I for Museums, Libraries & Archives (MLA) West Mids. I had heard about the good work that Suze had been doing through English Heritage and the New Audiences and Access Network (NAAN). And I heard about the ENERGY! People said “she has so much ENERGY! You’ll know when you’ve met her!”
And so I did.
Back in early 2005, we were both invited to sit on the Advisory Panel of a new National Trust project, Whose Story? Opposite me sat a lively, wild-haired, witty and committed woman who knew her stuff and spoke good sense. Guess who?
At the time, the Trust hadn’t even raised the money to get started, but the project’s aims chimed loudly with both of us: to widen the breadth and diversity of the volunteers and visitors engaging with historic properties in the West Midlands, and correspondingly of the range of histories told therein.
I started running with Suze that day, and I’m still trying to keep up.
We’ve both had other jobs in the decade since then, and been through redundancy, self-employment, ‘proper jobs’: the rollercoaster ride that it seems all dedicated servants of heritage must endure in these Austere times. We’re never paid enough for the time we put in (that goes without saying), but we do have the pleasure of working with some amazingly dedicated and phenomenally gifted people. And we have remained friends and a source of support to each other ever since.
When English Heritage foolishly let Suze go, I was thrilled to be in a position to hire her for the outreach element of the World Of Kays project for University of Worcester. She’s so talented and I found that she can turn her hand (and her husband, Andy’s) to anything. Within weeks, she had set up arts workshops, recorded and edited oral histories, and created a simply fabulous vintage fashion event in the Commandery. The University Finance department never knew what hit it…
When she came to Birmingham Conservation Trust to work as a Development Officer, Suze transferred not only her energies, but also her absolute commitment to making sure that every community member can play a part in restoring historic buildings to the heart of their communities.
When working on the public consultations for Stirchley Baths, Moseley Road Baths, the Standard Works and the Cadbury Barn, Suze has left no community group untapped. She knows everyone. And she has a glorious ability to reach out to everyone, to be so adaptable, friendly, charming and welcoming, that each person feels confident to speak up and share their views, knowing they’ll be heard and given voice.
When it came to the moment that she needed to kick off the HLF activity plan for the Coffin Works, she once more applied her unending energies to making sure that we didn’t just open an attraction, but that it was the BEST attraction. We worked closely together to disentangle the Activity plan targets, and to make sure that we could pull in more money to hit them from AIM Biffa.
And boy! Has she done it! Working with the amazing staff and volunteers at the Coffin Works, we have a building to be proud of and an award-winning attraction that regularly receives top marks from its visitors, and sits at the heart of a network of community organisations, all dedicated to improving the aspirations, achievements and quality of life of the residents of Ladywood and the wider city of Birmingham.
We must not forget to think here of her lovely husband Andy, and their clever boys, who have provided such valuable assistance to the Coffin Works, either by rebuilding huge chunks of its furniture, by testing all manner of children’s activities and tours, or by modelling Newman Brothers outfits. Our publicity brochures will be less bright without them.
There are so many more accomplishments I could list and that we will miss when Suze goes. But thank goodness, she is not going far – as Activities Manager for the Jewellery Quarter Townscape Heritage project, Suze will still be a fixture on our BCT horizon.
We wish her the very best in her new job and look forward to seeing her continue to shine as she welcomes yet more people – communities and individuals – to derive great enjoyment, use and satisfaction from engaging with their own heritage.
Good luck Suze!