Sue Jandy: volunteer

Estimated reading time:6 minutes, 16 seconds

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story. Many families debate fiercely about whether to stay living in Islington as the kids grow up. The lure of idyllic countryside and a slower pace of life (not to mention cheaper houses and allegedly better schools) often wins. Only problem is the people moving out may have it wrong reckons Islington’s Volunteer of the Year 2011*, Sue Jandy who moved to the Arsenal area from Swindon in 1987. Interview by Nicola Baird


Sue Jandy.

“A man brought me to Islington,” says Sue Jandy with characteristically deadpan humour. “I didn’t know about London but Richard (my husband) said the only place ‘ordinary’ people could live was N5. It was a complete lie! He had been commuting up and down from Swindon. He found it exhausting and he wanted to live by Arsenal because he was a huge fan. We ended up buying a house in Gillespie Road. Every morning he’d look out of the window at Highbury stadium and say ‘it’s still there!’”

“I used to support Swindon with my family, and I still keep an eye on them. But Swindon has only been up (to the Premiership) once – for one season,” explains Sue who is now an avid Arsenal season ticket holder watching every home match from the East Stand with Richard and a gang of friends she’s met since moving to Islington.

Country v city
Sue was brought up in Swindon – her granddad was a train driver for the Great Western Railway and had a pigeon loft. Her dad was a newsagent with a couple of greyhounds in training. She played darts in one of the local pubs, and even learnt to ride horses across the Wiltshire countryside. But Sue explains that it’s nothing like The Archers. “Swindon is a huge sprawl. It’s a very odd place. I lived in a house there for two years before I moved to London and though I knew the neighbours by sight I never spoke to them. Everyone drives or commutes. It’s not an especially friendly place. We came to Islington in 1987 when the Save Gillespie Park and sidings was kicking off and straight away my neighbour Noreen Wilson (who has now moved to Loughborough to be nearer her son) took me along to a meeting where I met Chris Ashby and Pat Tuson, Diane and Dave, the same old gang, and Angela.

The result of this meeting was a fierce campaign that has endowed Islington with Gillespie Park – a jewel of a nature space squeezed between Arsenal tube and the main Kings Cross railway. “It’s beautiful,” says Sue who is still a regular visitor to the park, “right now the pond is full of tadpoles. When all the trees are in leaf you could be anywhere. We are so lucky to have it.”

Noreen worked at the Drovers Day Centre for elderly people on New Road, near the Pleasance Theatre so she knew lots of people and generously introduced new neighbour Sue to more and more locals. “I found Islington really friendly,” remembers Sue.

Bus man’s holiday 
Sue has always worked full time. For 17 years as a regional manager at the Crown Estate Office and the last nine years as a Community Support Worker at City & Islington College at Finsbury Park’s campus, known as the Centre for Lifelong Learning. Her days are filled with organising courses for people, often with learning disabilities, and events including gardening, an organic café, a learning café, health festivals and open days. But instead of thinking she deserves time off when she gets home, she makes time to do things locally too.

So she’s secretary of the Friends of Gillespie Park which has been organising the annual Gillespie Festival since the inaugural event in 1986 – the year before she moved here. The festival now attracts around 2,500 people and in 2013 will be held on Sunday 8 September.  “I think IVAC* made me Volunteer of the Year more for longevity than anything else,” laughs Sue who was Chair of Freightliners Farm for years and is still a member of its management committee. She’s also a trustee of St Mary’s Secret Garden (which is in Hackney just behind the Geffrye Museum which has links with Freightliners). When her daughter Caroline, now 23, was small Sue was on the PTA for Gillespie School and then Highbury Fields School. Sue is one of about eight mums from that Gillespie cohort which still organises a catch-up once a term. “We eat, drink, talk and go everywhere local including restaurants close to Blackstock Road – Gems, Il Baccio, Stingray, Pizza Delique,” she explains.

There’s more: for the past 15 years Sue’s played badminton once a week with friends at the Sobell Centre. She also a regular at the Fitness First gym on Avenell Road (she claims this is where “half of Highbury go”) and a long-time member of a local book group.

Most of us don’t have this energy. But Sue says it’s worth it – as much for the friendship as the way it helps improve the local area. If you’re inspired to do a bit more for your street, or pet place/cause then here’s what Sue says you need to do: “Just get on with it! With email it’s not hard to organise anything, and it is so easy to contact people. I think it’s a mind set, you need to just get on and do it. When the task is brand new it’s always more scary but just break it down, try and delegate jobs and it will gradually come together,” says Sue practically. “It’s different when you are fundraising, then you have to ask more forcefully, but when it’s just getting people to turn up it’s easier.”

Sue’s recommendations

“Arsenal helps make the area what it is. It’s why we moved here. And because people need to know what’s going on – it’s something everyone exchanges information about. It’s something besides the weather you can have a moan about!”

“We go to Freightliners Farm a lot. Pete at the café makes divine food and his scones filled with rhubarb and strawberry jam and a huge pile of cream are utterly delicious. King’s Place has lots of things I love – comedy, talks, music. Union Chapel is good too.”

“Best pubs: the Bank of Friendship for my annual joint birthday drinks with Tom Kogan and the neighbours’ nights run at the Auld Triangle. I also like the Highbury Barn – not just because the Landlord happens to come from Swindon…”

“If I had one wish, it would be great if Gillespie Park could be kept open during concerts and home match days. Arsenal needs to provide a steward or two for that to happen. And it would be fantastic if Freightliners Farm could become more financially secure so it’s not a constant battle of fundraising.”


IVAC Is now known as Voluntary Action Islington

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This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.