After leaving the city life to have children, I decided to mentally pull up the draw bridge and concentrate on being a mum. Motherhood has been a choppy journey and over 5 years I became more and more isolated and suffered severely with Post Natal Depression. Some readers who know me may be shocked by this because I did pretty well to cover how utterly lonely I felt. I would volunteer at the school and would often be seen dotting around organising community projects and getting myself out there, so how on earth could I feel isolated? Isolation isn’t all about sitting at home and not seeing people. It can be simply not connecting with the world around you. I was consumed by anxiety about my SEN child and doubt that I was a good mother and I became increasingly worried about my own health. Sometimes I struggled to finish a sentence. I would walk into a room and not even know where I was or why I was there. My brain had slowly became like mush because though life was busy and exhausting, it wasn’t stimulating. I found myself withdrawing from people and not being able to connect with anyone.
Then a chain of events began which led me to the Conservatives. I attended an area committee meeting where I expressed my annoyance about a burnt car which was left by the side of my child’s school. I thought that was that, I have done my bit, only the car remained. All of a sudden this feeling inside of injustice and anger that I have been ignored bubbled and I couldn’t let it go. I made many calls and investigated who it was that was responsible for it and eventually with the help of a Cllr Liz Harsant we got the car removed and I became a member of the Ipswich Conservatives and this was the beginning of my journey.
Getting results felt good and it was a personal win. I had forgotten that I once had a dream of being an MP and I had a keen interest in politics. This car was the start of me remembering who I was, in a way. After joining the Association, I went along to a campaign meeting. I was incredibly nervous of how I would be received as I was no longer a ballsy woman but an exhausted mum who was a bit fed up with my councillors. I took a deep breath and walked into a place where I didn’t know anyone, expecting to not go back. But something strange happened…I was made to feel welcome. Though there were many that were much older than me and some that were far richer than me, it became clear that we have the same core beliefs and values which connected us all, even if we all were very different individuals. I went home and said to my then husband “I like them, I’m going to go back”
With each meeting, I felt myself growing slightly in confidence and I was participating a little more. Some meetings were heated especially around the election but it was like a family arguing. One particular person took it upon themselves to be like a mentor to guide me through the rules and procedures and boy are we different but again we are connected so it works. This person is still a mentor to me and helps me even though it doesn’t benefit him in the slightest. I don’t think I have ever been in this kind of environment before, where you can be so different to the person sitting next to you but have so much in common at the same time. We’re all Tories, therefore we’re part of a quirky family.
I have had a strange experience that may not be like others. My first canvassing experience (door knocking) I turned up thinking I was going to a meeting, only to find the Home Secretary was on her way and I was going to be knocking on doors and speaking to voters with Amber Rudd !!! Luckily Cllr Nadia Cenci was there to grab me and say right let’s do this and I shadowed her.
I also had a tragic murder happen in the area I live and I wanted answers like many of the other residents but was terrified of public speaking. Cllrs Paul West and Ian Fisher happened to attend the meeting I was at and both went out of their way to give me a pep talk to tell me my voice was as important as anyone else’s. Ian helped with how to phrase my question and gave me the nudge of encouragement. I was able to ask my question and I looked over at them after for reassurance and both gave me another nod that I did fine.
It hasn’t just been motherhood that has knocked my confidence but also having a disability. I have always been worried about being seen as a liability and I get incredibly frustrated that it can at times hold me back. With the Tories they have always accommodated the fact I have a disability. The Chairman has always made sure that I never overdo it when door knocking and would pick me up and let me wait in his car for the others if I wasn’t able to do as much as anyone else. If there is a house with stairs he will gladly jump in and take that one to save my legs from the strain. Not once have the group suggested I don’t join in or express that I may be holding them back.
I was encouraged to go to Conference with them and I had not been away on my own since I fell ill with my disability, other than to a Hen Party with a friend I have known since I was 11. I have always been with my husband and so I didn’t think I could go. But with the encouragement and a promise I wouldn’t be abandoned in Birmingham, I took a leap of faith with a group I barely knew and went with them. Conference was amazing, it was like a bubble full of friends I just hadn’t met yet. I made more friends there and the Ipswich Tories stuck to their word and I came back a changed person.
My marriage broke down in that month too which meant my life completely changed and I had one massive knock back. Both Cllrs Liz Harsant and Ian Fisher would call me on a regular basis to make sure I was doing ok. Liz introduced me to some of her friends so that I had people to socialise with if I needed to get out of the house. Former Cllr Stephen Ion and his wife also became a support system to me during this time too. With now being a single mum, I have to bring my kids to the meetings quite often and it’s never been an issue. My daughter has her favourites and will share her chocolate and have a giggle with them. In fact the children were made to feel so welcome that after the most recent election, my daughter felt sad she hadn’t seen her grown up friends, so I had to ask for one of them to pop over and see her to cheer her up! At this moment in my life, I could have crumbled and gone back into hiding, but this lot simply didn’t let me. They kept me focused and pushed me to keep going.
I’ve now been part of the Conservative Party for over a year and in that small amount of time I have been able to grow into a much stronger person with a sharp mind once again. I read the council papers with understanding and find the whole thing stimulating. I am also venturing out and have recently been to 2 conferences completely on my own. I drove to Birmingham for the Conservative Women’s Conference where I made more Conservative friends. Without even a moment of doubt I stood up and spoke about policy ideas to this room full of amazing women without shaking or feeling sick and nervous. I felt confident in what I was saying and worthy of being there with these ladies.
Then last week I went to the outstanding Conservative Progress Conference where I had the best time. It didn’t even cross my mind that I was going on my own to be there with strangers because though I may not know the people I am going to be around when I arrive, I know that we support the same team and will have an instant connection.
As with any other Conservative experience, I made friends. We listened to each other and shared personal experiences, all from different walks of life. On the second day I had my walking stick as these events are strenuous and no one quizzed me on it, they just helped me without even thinking. I had to climb stairs so each time there was a different person there to help me up and someone else would have my bag. The people in our group would change as people mingled with others but the atmosphere and feeling of friendship never changed.
I believe it’s human nature to want to belong somewhere and to something, but finding that thing you belong to can be a long journey. I have found the Conservative Party and have found a way of forming connections with people, which has helped me incredibly. When I joined the Conservative Party, I’m not sure what I expected to be honest. I thought it would be a bit dull, a bit of a chore but one of those things you get involved with for a small period of time. What it has actually been is a massive support system I have never had. The people this party seems to attract, are those that see what you can do and draw that quality out of you as they champion your strengths. They aren’t the type of people who allow you to feel sorry for yourself either. You get the cards you are dealt and then you work with it. This approach has helped me rebuild myself to be the strong woman I once was, who keeps moving forward. I now have more self-belief and confidence and am probably even a better mother due to the strength I have found whilst being a part of my quirky family that are the Tories.