I meet up with Liz for a canvass session in the Liverpool constituency where she lives. The Metro Mayor election is coming up, as is a council by-election in Wavertree ward, the one next to Childwall where Liz is a Councillor.
At the start of the session our group is assigned a round. “It’s a bit rough,” says one of the organisers, “Watch out for the rats.” But Liz is undeterred. “It’s fine!” she asserts. “It’s just on the edge of my children’s centre catchment”. Off we go.
It’s not that ‘rough’, at least not to my eyes. There’s a lot of Labour voters and we meet several very friendly people who care deeply about where they live and want to have a chat about it. Liz is easy on the doorstep, happy to have conversations about everything from the Tory government to the local litter clearing strategy. I knock a door and speak to a young man who, on seeing Liz passing behind me, waves her over. He’s one of the parents from her children’s centre. His partner pops out for a chat too, clearly thrilled to see Liz on their doorstep.
And who wouldn’t be? Liz is one of those ‘Liverpool people’. She knows it, referring to herself as ‘gobby’ – an endearing term, not a negative, for a scouse lass. You can tell within minutes that she brings a smile and enthusiasm to every room and situation she’s in, especially when there’s someone to help and a difference to make. “Give me an underdog, and I’ll stand up for them,” she says when I ask about her motivations.
Liz has been an activist all her life, but is the first to admit that she didn’t realise there was a name for it until recently. Growing up through the 70s and 80s, with Chilean refugees sleeping on her parents floor, and being sent out with a tin to collect change for the children of striking miners before she could have her own presents at Christmas, it’s easy to see how she became passionate about helping people. Her first job after leaving school at 16 was at Liverpool’s Lime Street Station and she quickly became the station’s union rep. After this, a series of jobs from fostering to childminding led her to her current role managing a children’s centre.
It was after the 2010 general election, when the coalition government set about dismantling public services, that Liz joined the Labour Party because she wanted to do more than just vote. The new government’s cuts also threatened Liverpool’s children centres, leading Liz to spearhead the campaign to save them. She’s still leading this campaign today.
Starting with the centre at which she was working, Liz arranged a protest event, inviting parents and children to join hands and form a human wall around the centre, symbolising the ring-fencing of funding for children’s centres. After this, Hands Around Liverpool saw the same thing happen at every centre across the city, and a similar demonstration around the mayor’s office in the Cunard Building on Liverpool’s world-famous waterfront. This already sounds impressive, and then Liz casually adds that the campaign also saw her presenting a petition at Downing Street and meeting with the shadow minister responsible.
This tenacious spirit is evidently what drives Liz’s attitude right through her life. Not content with raising a daughter, she also agreed to stand for council when a vacancy came up, winning her seat in 2016, while at the same time completing a Masters degree in Lancaster. It sounds like there’s never a dull minute at home. On polling days the family – Liz, her partner and teenage daughter – host a committee room and provide butties for lunch for every canvasser in the constituency. While I’m there they are preparing for an epic extended family camping trip the next day, which the three of them seem to be in charge of organising too.
Liz’s partner suggests I ask her how often they celebrate Christmas. Intrigued, I oblige. Turns out the answer is 3 or 4 times a year. Liz loves Christmas, and declares that if you enjoy something you should do it as often as you like. Why wait for December? You might not make it until tomorrow. It seems like a fantastic idea, I agree. Easter Christmas, Summer Christmas, each time with crackers, turkey, presents and inevitably quite a party.
The campaign to save Liverpool’s children’s centres is still ongoing, and having worked together with the her colleagues in Liverpool’s Labour Council, and the cabinet member for Schools and Education Liz has managed to secure the future of the city’s children’s centres for another three years.
There’s a catch, though: because she’s on a temporary promotion as a manager, when the centres are combined and rationalised, she’ll automatically go back to her previous assistant role, losing some of her income in the process. That must be a tough outcome to swallow. “You can’t let personal circumstances stop you doing the right thing,” she says. Quite.
Liz is the Labour Councillor for Childwall ward and a member of the first cohort of the Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme.