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Friday, 29 May 2015

Super hero with gift of planting seeds of success

Margaret Jones is a bit of a mover and shaker in these parts. Put her in a cape and a jewelled bandana and you could easily mistake her for Wonderwoman.

She makes things happen – important things. Margaret has a natural talent for bringing together people who can make the kind of difference they didn’t know they were capable of.

“Put the right two people together with a good idea and watch everything grow,” she says. “It’s as simple as that.”

Not so simple. More of a gift – one she shares with that legendary comic-book caped heroine. But Margaret is different. She clinches her many achievements without having to squeeze into a gold basque or take to the skies at a moment’s notice.

Poor wearily airborne Wonderwoman. She must be very envious. She never aimed, without cash, for a community bus – ending up with two.

Margaret is 72 and a tireless champion for the interests of the mentally ill and those challenged by learning difficulties. She used to be a school nurse in Wigton and has for most of her adult life been the kind of person to whom people have turned when they’ve wanted life to pan out a little more happily.

She’s just a wonder-working lady. She delivers. For the young, old, lonely, restless, the bored and isolated, men, women, families – she has delivered all kinds of solutions, in umpteen ways.

But to my mind, one of her greatest accomplish-ments was and is to this day the remarkable Wigton Biscuit Club. She was its founder. That’s what I call delivery.

Recently I learned that the last time I made admiring reference to this club, ripples of consternation resulted... around Wigton, obviously.

“Danders were up a bit,” said Margaret firmly, advising that her dander had been raised by a friend whose dander had risen on her behalf – and she’d written her a letter.

“There was a thought the reference may have been derogatory. Nobody likes anyone being derogatory about Wigton Biscuit Club.”

As if! Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Those of us not naturally inclined to make things happen when we feel a bit down in the dumps, are bound to wonder at the ingenuity, energy and sheer get-up-and-go embodied in those who are. People like Margaret. Clubs like Biscuit.

She was still working as a school nurse when approached in 1984 by someone who reckoned a new club would cheer things up a bit. Wisely she’d identified Margaret as just the individual to get things moving.

She was. Whipping up a core membership, setting joining fees as a packet of biscuits and 10p, Margaret’s Biscuit club was soon up and running for 85 members and became a fixture in Wigton’s social calendar.

“It wasn’t without difficulty,” said Margaret. “I had to face a hostile Senior Welfare Club and promise we’d never hold meetings on the same days they met. We’d never be unfair competition.”

Margaret has left Wigton now. And she misses the place. She and her husband retired to Dalston, where Michael is the only male member of the Women’s Guild.

“He wonders about that sometimes but gets treated very well by the other ladies – they flutter around him a bit – which gives me a break.”

They’re active in the flower club and the painting club. Add into the community mix Margaret’s work for Carlisle and Cumbrian mental health charities, advisory and training bodies and her chances for a feet-up afternoon strike as few and far between.

“I was actually going to have a nap when you rang,” she said, without hint of rancour. “But it’s all right, I’m quite relaxed here in my dining room.”

Goodness knows how. Which I suppose was always the point of original reference to Wigton Biscuit Club – one of hundreds and hundreds of Cumbrian community social groups, formed by local people, for the benefit of local people who’d rather be up, out and doing something together than napping away their lives.

“People stay healthier and live longer when they’re meeting regularly with friends who share their interests and problems,” said Margaret.

That’s clearly true. But it also seems characteristically Cumbrian. In other parts of the country community clubs, with no greater purpose than friendship have all but disappeared.

“I don’t know about that,” said Wonderwoman. “Like you, we’re offcomers. We didn’t intend to live here very long when we came from Wolverhampton 50 years ago. But I suppose we’ll stay now.”

Hmm... me too.