Romsey community activist profile: Mairead Healy
What is your background?
I’m originally from Derry in Northern Ireland but left when I was 18 to study in the UK. Since then, I have moved around a bit, starting off my career working for the European Commission in Brussels, then working in human rights in London before I then moved to Dublin to lead a youth charity for several years. After that, I moved to the south of England where I was Chief Executive of a youth mental health Service. Currently, I work for an international human rights organisation, and I am also a postgrad student at Cambridge, training to be a child therapist, which is such great fun being a student again!
Why did you become an activist?
Growing up in the 1980’s as a working class catholic during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, I was very much aware of the civil rights struggle affecting my community, particularly as the events of Bloody Sunday took place just a few streets from my home, where civil rights demonstrators were murdered by the British army. As a result, it instilled in me from a young age a strong desire to be involved in struggles for justice and advocating for those without a voice. I also recall a pivotal moment, as a student hearing Tony Benn speak for the first time, at a Stop the War Rally in London, and the power of his call to action has stayed with me ever since. In addition, as an adult, I also experienced some life changing events through the loss of some of my close family members in traumatic circumstances, which also affected my decision to campaign on particular areas of inequality.
So you have been involved in activism and campaigning for a while now?
I have been really privileged to be able to work with and volunteer with various communities over the years including Gypsies and Travellers, survivors of institutional abuse, refugees, individuals who are homeless, young people and individuals whose human rights are denied to them. As a result, I strongly believe in the value of grassroots capacity building to ensure that those without a voice can be supported to advocate for themselves and ensure their voices are heard and represented in decision making. The recent Black Lives Matter movement is a powerful example of the power of grassroots campaigning coming together to affect powerful change.
What do you think are some of the biggest national issues facing the country right now?
Obviously, it goes without saying that the implications of the pandemic will be felt for many years to come and there will be significant economic consequences of this, combined with Brexit. We saw the serious and tragic repercussions of the last austerity measures imposed by the Tories and Libs in coalition and then the Tories and we need to make sure that history does not repeat itself, in standing up for our most vulnerable communities and holding the govt to account to ensure they do not again disproportionately suffer the consequences of widespread govt cost saving measures.
In addition, the pandemic will also have significant repercussions in terms of the long-term mental health impact on our society. Not only have a huge proportion of our communities been impacted by the trauma associated with losing loved ones in the pandemic but also many of our front-line health and social care workers will also feel the traumatic effects of this long term. Also many will have been impacted by the loneliness associated with isolation during the pandemic and the resulting mental health impact of this. It is important that adequate mental health provision is in place for everyone struggling in the aftermath of all this. We already had a national crisis in provision of mental health services before the pandemic and now more than ever, it is important that the government ensure sufficient mental health provision is available for everyone who needs it.
Do you think there has been anything positive that has come out of the pandemic?
What has been incredible to see, is the way communities have come together to support each other, during these difficult times. This includes Romsey mutual aid, which was set up by some of our own Labour activists in Romsey to support those most vulnerable in our community. Despite the mishandling of many aspects of the pandemic by the government, it has been local communities and volunteers who have come together to take action to fill the gaps and ensure those who are vulnerable in our communities don’t fall through the cracks.
What do you love about Romsey?
What is not to love about Romsey! Having moved from hipster Hackney in London, Romsey has the same cool quirky laid-back vibes as east London but with more authenticity and a lot less pretension! The mix of different communities living in Romsey, combined with the strong sense of community spirit has made me feel right at home. Romsey Labour are at the heart of all the local activities and it is so great to be a part of such a vibrant local ward with such engaged activists who really care about their community.
How do you see the future of Romsey?
I hope that we never lose our quirky edge, and Romsey continues to be a creative hub for independent shops, cafes and businesses, bringing much loved colour and vibrancy to our community. I also hope that we can create more community spaces and opportunities for community activities, particularly once the pandemic is over as we all look forward to getting involved in social activities not taking place on Zoom! I am also in favour of continuing the traffic reduction measures currently in place, which I think has added to our sense of community. The future is bright for Romsey!