Age: 75
Location: Clapham Park
Estate, Lambeth

I got my degree when I was on the New Deal for Communities to improve housing.
I got an MBE for it.

I was on the Board of Directors of the Clapham Park Project. It was a New Deal for Communities (NDC) government scheme to improve housing, get people into work, teach them about health, teach them about safety in the community. We used to have big consultations with the community. We tried to empower the people.

Diabetes is in the family, high blood pressure is in the family, I've got it, my brothers and sisters had it, my mother had it and it just won't seem to go away

Arthritis was my first ailment. The arthritis condition is a bugger. Doesn't matter if you walk, sit, lie, you always got the pain there and all they give you is painkillers. That causes another problem because you suffer from constipation.

Later I was starting to get very thirsty, to go to the toilet a lot so the doctor sent me up to the Diabetic Clinic at St Thomas' Hospital and that's when they confirmed I had diabetes. I had it for quite a while before the diagnosis.

The diabetes used to be just an inconvenience to begin with, but now it's a nuisance. When you got diabetes it could bring on heart problems, things like hypertension, high cholesterol, that sort of thing.

I got vascular disease according to the hospital because of smoking, but I don't believe them, because I got family members who've got it and they don't smoke. Vascular is the thickening of the arteries. If it goes on too long, a limb might die and you've got to have it amputated.

Just before Christmas, I got this cough. The doctor came out. She examined me, because my breathing was very, very bad, and called for an ambulance. I ended up on a ward in A&E.

They discovered I've got the little nodules in a cluster on my lung. I call them mushrooms, myself. Anyway, I come home, and I have to go to the special clinics. I go to the Cancer Center at Guy's. I go to the chest department in St Thomas'. I've been to The Lung where they test your lungs. He said to me, my lungs are pretty good for my age and considering I smoke.

I've always suffered from bronchitis, every winter. Certainly, the last two winters prior to this one. When the children were little I had a flood. There was a tank up in the ceiling and the ballcock went and all the water came down in my flat and ruined so much, it was ridiculous.

Because of circumstances on the home front, things were very difficult. Without going into too much detail, I decided to get out, I got a divorce.

I worked and I studied simultaneously, because when you're destitute, and I really mean destitute, I never even had a bed. I was sleeping on the floor, because the flood had ruined my bed. I thought well, when you're on the floor there's only one way to go and that's up, and I thought that that was through education. I drilled it into my children, you've got to have an education. All the things you can't do now you can do when you get your education and good job, and it worked out that way, fortunately.

Sue was on the Board of the Clapham Park Project and took a degree while bringing up her children

Sue was on the Board of the Clapham Park Project and took a degree while bringing up her children

Housing in the Clapham area

Housing in the Clapham area

Sue's children from her second marriage

Sue's children from her second marriage

Being destitute? It's soul destroying. And you got two small people to look after. And you were very, very wary and scared of social services, if they come along and took your kids off you. This was constantly in your mind.

You did your best for your children. They didn't have what other children had. Holidays, bikes, stuff like that, you know.

It was just the bare necessity. We had good food. They had a roof over their head and in the winter I used to heat their rooms because we didn't have central heating then.

And I sat in the dark, in the cold, and ate what I could. It wasn't regular. I got that hungry at one time when I was put down to a meal I couldn't eat it.

So I know what it's like to be hungry. I know what it's like to have nowhere to live.

When the children were growing up I had to find cleaning work, the hours suited me, because they were at school by this time. I had to take them to school and meet them, because they needed that continuity because of all the disruption of the divorce I went through. They needed security and continuity, that's why I worked them hours. I used to work as a cleaner for a lot of vicars around Brixton and my own area.


I take five tablets in the morning, and I take three at night plus twice a day I inject myself. I take a tablet for my diabetes. I take a blood thinning tablet, I take a tablet for cholesterol, one tablet to keep my stomach in order, because they can upset your tummy, and another tablet for high blood pressure.

I've had pulmonary rehabilitation. I go on a treadmill, I go on the bike, I go on this thing that has weights at the end, and you've got to push them up with your feet. I do light weight lifting. I do steps.

Early in her adult life, Sue was in the army.

Early in her adult life, Sue was in the army.

Army life allowed her to travel the world

Army life allowed her to travel the world

So you're taking tablets like they’re going out of season for this thing or the other. You get fed up, believe you me.

The diabetes also means I have to watch my diet. You pass the cake and you’re drooling. Sometimes I don’t, sometimes I’m naughty so I compensate by putting a little more insulin into my system.

When these people, consultants and doctors turn around and say to me, I should give up smoking. I turn around and say, "Don't go down that road". I enjoy a fag and I enjoy a cup of tea.

I tell them, when you get old, you haven't really got a social life. I've met a lot of people I know don't really drink and we're too old now to have sex. Unfortunately. What have we got left?

Being restricted in my mobility has been terrible. Very, very frustrating and sometimes I get bad tempered. I don’t suffer fools lightly.

When you get to my age you spend a lot of time on your own. Your brain goes into overdrive. You think this and think that. I got my household in order. My funeral, I’ve planned that.

Sue with her children from her first marriage

Sue with her children from her first marriage

I got my degree when I was on the New Deal for Communities (NDC) government scheme to improve housing. It was about communities. I used to have day release and still get some work done throughout the night-time. I used to study, but I was lucky, most of the work consisted of things that I was doing every day in the field.

I got a civic award as well. I felt really proud of that, actually.

I said to the people when I got my MBE, "I'm taking this on behalf of the Clapham Park Project for the community", and Prince Charles gave it to me. He asked me what I did, and he said to me, "Thank God there's people like you".

Eventually, I became part of the New Deal for Communities (NDC) government scheme to improve housing.

I got an MBE for it.

Having gone through bad accommodation myself, I just wanted something good for my neighbours.