Organiser Sue Hollywood-Powell was inspired to work in the trade union movement through the major campaigns of the 1980s, not least the anti-apartheid campaign.
Her first job in the movement was as Secretary in the International Banks Section of BIFU (Banking, Insurance and Finance Union), before moving to the NUCPS, which after a number of mergers formed PCS. Whilst at PCS, she attended TUC personal casework and ACAS mediation training, and was qualified to represent members in workplace hearings.
When Sue was expecting her second child, she took the opportunity of a five-year career break after her maternity leave. “I’d returned to work six months after having my first child, and felt that I’d missed much of her early years. I didn’t want to do that again, and also didn’t relish contending with the rush hour with two young children in tow.”
With this in mind, Sue subsequently trained to become a NCMA/OFSTED Registered Childminder and set up her own business from home. She then decided to focus on caring for SEN children. She attended evening classes and qualified to work with children on the autism spectrum, and learned Makaton sign language to help with communication barriers.
After running her child-minding business for five years, she became a Teaching Assistant supporting a child with Autism, Down Syndrome and speech/language difficulties in a mainstream school setting. “The role was taxing, but extremely rewarding” and opened Sue’s eyes to the huge challenges faced by the parents of children with SEN trying to access support services and funding.
Old habits die hard and Sue soon set up a union group at the school, acting as its shop steward and reinvigorating her passion for trade unionism. Missing the buzz of the union movement, Sue joined the FDA as a Secretary in 2014, before becoming an Organiser the following year. Her role includes everything from event management and recruitment to casework and providing advice to members. She particularly enjoys being able to champion the principles of trade unionism and encouraging people to reap the benefits of union membership.
The last few months have been very challenging, with no face-to-face interaction with members and potential members, but Sue has enjoyed the opportunity presented by the new FDA Learn and Keyskills webinars, which she has been hosting regularly: “This has brought some challenges but on the whole it’s been a good experience and has improved my confidence.”
In her spare time, Sue volunteers at the Royal Bethlem Hospital, doing mental health advocacy work, and, when it isn’t suspended due to coronavirus, is also involved with the parkrun that takes place in the hospital grounds.
She enjoys keeping fit, and with the absence of gyms over the last few months, has been running 5km in the morning before starting work: “It’s something that I wouldn’t have made time for pre- Covid, but it’s been really beneficial to my physical and mental health.”
Interview by Scott Dobson