Gallant defender of threatened local land in Kirton, Trimley and Bucklesham
“When Stephen spoke to Kirton Parish Council last year, I was the first one to go up to him and shake him by the hand.” Jane McCarthy told me. You may recall there was one particularly significant item on the Parish Council Agendas of the Trimleys, Kirton and Bucklesham last summer. Namely, Suffolk Coastal’s Draft Local Plan. Stephen Wrinch was the man who was determined to oppose the development of St. Martin’s Innocence Farm, amongst other proposals. He kicked started the Campaign known as KATCAG late last Summer and Jane became one of the first to sign up. You may have seen her at KATCAG’s fundraising ‘Auction of Promises’ last month where she could be observed dispensing food, selling Raffle Tickets, and organising the draw. In truth, Jane was the main driving force behind the Raffle and was responsible for the extraordinary range of prizes. Watching this small human dynamo darting about room, engaging with the audience, I reminded myself to try and find out more about this valiant KATCAG foot soldier. When I asked Jane for a little more information about herself, there was no hesitation in her agreement to be interviewed.
Jane has lived in Kirton for about six years but had lived in The Langstons in Trimley St. Mary for the previous thirty two. Her origins however, are a little more southerly and in fact, she was born in the London Borough of Merton in 1954. For twelve years she lived the life of the urban child, where bricks and mortar rule, walking invariably involves hard pavements and any precious green space comes in for heavy duty action. Jane was quick to say she had a good childhood and happy time in the Joseph Hood School in south London. The teaching was effective and helped instil in her a love of reading and sound understanding of the rules of grammar. It may have contributed to her ethos of never sitting still but instead to always be busy and occupied with the necessities of the moment.
Life changed profoundly when Jane was twelve. The city girl was removed from the towns and planted in Suffolk’s rural Creeting. For some children, this might have been viewed as a hostile move but from the first moment she saw cows in the fields, she was enchanted by her rural surroundings and captivated by the wildlife. Suffolk opened her eyes to the small creatures we sometimes take for granted, especially bird life. The family invested in three bantams, who are not known for being wild but they fed Jane’s interest in feathery creatures. They were called Faith, Hope and Charity and it was Jane who looked after them. Feeding them involved boiling up potato skins with bran, was a comparatively simple act but when the family adopted some baby owls, the menu became more complex and upmarket,
“Neighbours used to dump roadkill on our doorstep,” Jane calmly informed me.
I blanched inwardly at the thought of making such a discovery and mentally awarded Jane extra points for her stalwart approach. Later she told me,
“Even now, Birds are a particularly significant part of our life. When I lived in Trimley and my children were at Orwell, they brought home a day old Sparrow chick. We called him Bernard Matthews, as he looked like a Turkey! I fed him every 3 hours through the first couple of nights, with Weetabix and water, using tweezers. Amazingly he survived and became fully fledged. We would take him in the garden and rummage for worms. Eventually he flew off and lived in our ivy hedge.
We also brought up a baby Magpie. All our furniture and carpets were covered in newspaper, as he was a mucky pup! We had endless fun with him for three months. We released him properly just off Gulpher Road when we went on holiday. Three weeks later when we returned, he was back in our garden. He obviously recognised the Water Tower and found his way home…”
Living in Creeting also meant a new school and Jane spent the next four years at Stowmarket Secondary Modern. When Leaving Day approached, Jane attended a Careers Evening, as was the practice of the times. Her first choice of a career was to work in Colchester Zoo but at that time Women were not admitted as Keepers and consequently her ambition was snuffed out before it had a chance to flourish. But one of the great aspects of Jane’s character is her flexible ability to adapt to what is in front of her and remain undiminished. The Evening generated an interest in becoming a Police Cadet and naturally, an interview with an Inspector followed. He asked her why she wanted to join the Cadets. Jane replied she was more interested in animals than people and then almost immediately realised this was probably not a sensible answer. Perhaps the Inspector could see beyond this typically cheerful teenage reply because if there is one aspect of Jane which comes to the fore, it is the pleasure she takes in helping other people. To her relief and amazement, the end result was not affected and she was accepted into the Police.
It was 1970 by now and working life began. Between the ages of sixteen to eighteen, Jane attended Suffolk College four days a week where studying included learning what were “reportable accidents”.
“We had to learn all about which creatures should be reported if they were damaged in a Road Traffic Accident. These included: sheep, pigs, cattle, horses, goats, mules, asses or dogs.”
The Law hasn’t changed much since then and the same criteria still apply. When not becoming familiar with reportable requirements, Jane would spend the fifth day at old County Hall, where the young Cadets practised Drill. I couldn’t help thinking they must have formed very tight formations because space there was extremely limited and confining in what had originally been the County Gaol. During the summer holidays, the Cadets were sent to St. Audrey’s or St Clements to help with occupational therapy. This included Basket weaving, a familiar component of many mental health institutions at the time. Other community based projects included working with Meals on Wheels when they were based in Cumberland Street in Ipswich. All of these activities were helping the young Police Cadets to become familiar with the needy in the community and were also regarded as positive public relations by the Police, according to Jane. Training finished by the time Jane was nineteen. It concluded with a twelve week course at the Police Training Centre in Ryton on Dunsmore, near Rugby. Just before she left home, Jane became engaged to her husband and everything came together in 1973 when she qualified and became an active Policewoman.
Jane recalled her first two years in the Police and reminded me how very different it was then to now. As a woman P.C., she was restricted to working with children, young people and Shoplifters and truth, many of her duties had a strong social work aspect to them as women were regarded as having specialist skills when working with such client groups. Other sections of society were excluded from her working orbit. Foot patrols were always conducted with another woman, not a man. (Initially, the very first Women P.C.s were followed around their patrol by their male counterparts who walked ten paces behind.) Occasionally, the C.I.D. would ask her to work with them on various cases; at the age of nineteen she found herself interviewing women who had been the subjects of sexual offences. Overall though, Jane and her fellow women Police Officers led a far more restricted working life than the men. Women were not permitted to wear trousers but instead wore ‘A’ line skirts, a pill box hat and single breasted jacket, nor were they were allowed to carry a radio, truncheon or handcuffs. But then, in 1975, ‘The Sexual Discrimination Act’ became law and theoretically, equal possibilities opened up for women in every walk of life, including the Police.
Jane joined the internal campaign to have the same technical support equipment as the men as well as the right to wear trousers, a far more practical uniform. How could women be equal to men if they didn’t have access to the same defensive and protective apparatus? The campaign was a success and for the first time, Police Women had the same working rights as men. They could conduct foot patrols by themselves and carry the same equipment. Overall, the nineteen seventies were a breakthrough period for Women’s Rights with the passing of The Equal Pay Act of 1970 and The Employment Protection Act of 1975 which made statutory maternity pay a necessity for all employers. It also ensured women couldn’t be dismissed for being pregnant. This was timely for Jane who had married in 1975 and gave birth to her first child, Michael in 1977. Jane took the full year’s Maternity Leave but left shortly after the year was up. Like many women, her preference was for part-time work, preferably a job share. But also like many women, this option was not possible because of the restrictions surrounding the concept. Jane gave birth to her second child, Sarah, in 1978 and for the time being stayed at home. Child care options have always been a headache for women and in the late Seventies, despite the range of equalities legislation which had been passed, there was not an overabundance of Carers available.
In 1982, Jane and her family moved to The Langstons. Her daughter went to First Stop Play Group, now a Pre-School Play Group, which initially operated out of a Double Decker Bus. Jane, who loves children, also went to the Play Group as a helper but quickly ended up running it from 1983 to 1990. The Group moved from the Bus when Bloors gave them a proper building. In a spate of enthusiasm for the Play Group’s new home, Jane decided to enter a Dulux competition, painting a picture of the Bus morphing into a proper building on one of the walls. She was pleased to tell me she had been successful in winning the competition and to the best of her knowledge, the painting is still there. It was at this point, Jane confided her love of painting and drawing; it was something of a revelation. It had been her top subject at school and a talent she fosters to this day. Examples of her work demonstrate a delicate handling of flowers and buildings, some of them undertaken when on holiday in France, a place she loves. Being something of a perfectionist, there is a degree of exactitude to each of her pieces.
Le Columber, France
Cordes, Provence 2013
When Jane’s children became old enough, there was an opportunity to work in a completely different area as a Ward Clerk on a private ward at Heath Road Hospital. Work was rather ad hoc by nature and included setting the menus, doing the flowers. Once she began to prove herself, there was an opportunity to attend a course, thereby enabling her to become a Health Care Assistant. Caring for people suited Jane’s working ethos and in 2003 she became a Pool Nurse in Ipswich, which gave her a foot in the door of Foxhall Community Hospital.
Combined with her regular working commitments Jane has always undertaken voluntary work and has always been supported in the practicalities by her husband, Wayne. It’s fascinating to see how and why women combined working with their contributions to the community during the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries. Taking the long view of Jane’s life to date, it seems almost inevitable she would have some involvement with various village or school organisations. Initially, she discovered being involved was a good way into finding out about her children’s activities in Trimley Scout Group and later Orwell High School Parent Teacher Association; fundraising and plant sales were part of her everyday life. These organisations are where she cut her volunteering teeth.
In the last few years, she has been attending Parish Council meetings on a regular basis and is something of an object lesson to us all on this front; if you don’t go, you don’t know. As a result, Jane was aware of the Draft Local Plan and KATCAG from almost Day One.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing at the Parish Council meeting. I was shocked at the greedy nature of the proposals. I’m not a political person but the future of Innocence Farm stirs my blood. I know it sounds like nimbyism but I love nature and I love seeing the stars. The increased light pollution will remove the opportunity to see the stars for myself and others.”
And this is why Jane, the girl from the City, jumped up and offered to help fight the Draft Local Plan. Initially it was the shock of the proposals for Innocence Farm but now it is something more. I asked Jane a similar question to the one I have asked other KATCAG members.
“Can you think of one sentence that sums up what motivates you? Why are you involved with the organisation?”
Like the others, Jane thought carefully before replying.
“It’s the destruction of land being used for lumps of concrete. It’s beauty going forever.”
To some degree, Jane’s answer is the reaction of many people who are distressed about the proposed alterations to our village landscapes. All battles need a Commander but without the Infantry nothing can happen. For someone who loves wildlife and cares for the rural spaces around her, Jane’s positive response was inevitable and her enthusiasm is infectious.
Keep going, Jane.
Sunflower with bee.
If you have any comments or would like to be part of the Trimley St. Martin project, please contact me at:
 Now united with Waveney District Council as on greater district council called East Suffolk.