When she joins the ‘Women March’ tomorrow morning in Warrior Gardens it will be a very special moment for Hastings’ former Mayor Judy Rogers as she will be walking in the shadow of her great aunt who was one of the leading campaigners for women’s suffrage and a close friend of the Pankhursts the family now synonymous with the movement as a whole.
Judy’s great aunt was Minnie Baldock who co-founded the first branch in London of the Women’s Social and Political Union. Minnie was born in 1864 and lived in the East End, she joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1892 and went on to take charge of the local unemployment fund that was used to mitigate extreme hardship. And even though women were not then allowed to be members of parliament the ILP chose her as their candidate to sit on the West Ham Board of Guardians in 1905.
In February 1908 Minnie was one of 12 women, including Emily Pankhurst, who were arrested after walking single file through the streets towards the Houses of Parliament to present a petition, they were charged with resisting arrest and obstructing the police.
With that kind of pedigree it’s no surprise that Judy found her way in to politics although she smiles wryly when she talks about her earliest political experience handing out leaflets for the Conservative party!
Judy explains that while her father was a stalwart of the Labour movement and a great socialist her mother and grandmother were ardent Conservatives and as a young girl, at election time, they put Judy to work: “As I got into my mid to late teens I saw the light,” says Judy who has been an active member of the Labour party ever since.
She has been a member of Hastings Borough Council since 2012 representing the Castle ward and was briefly a member of East Sussex County Council too, representing Silverhill and St Helens. She won that seat at a by-election in 2016 but lost it a year later which was, she says, a great disappointment for her.
The fact that she has been Mayor of the town has a special poignancy too. Although she has no way of knowing this for sure Judy suspects that her great aunt would have known Muriel Matters – another great champion of the campaign for women’s suffrage – after whom the building which is home to the borough council is named.
But it’s not just this weekend’s march which gives the week special significance in the Rogers’ household; Thursday marked the 20 year anniversary of their move to Hastings a move Judy says was, quite simply, “…the best thing we ever did.”
If anyone else follows her on Facebook they will be amazed at what she manages to fit in to a day but being busy is nothing new for her, it’s the way she has always lived her life; from being chair of governors at one school while sitting as a regular governor at another to juggling a full-time job as a single mother with a young family, Judy takes it all in her stride.
For the past two years she has been Mayor of Hastings and while initially reluctant to take on the role she has had what she describes as the time of her life. She says she has made so many new friends during her two years as Mayor and these days a simple shopping trip can turn in to a marathon as people want to stop her to chat, and not just about about politics or issues to do with the borough council, they want to chat to her like they would someone they have known all their life.
She arrived in town in 1998 to take up a job with Table Tennis England which had its base in Hastings at that time. These days she still works for them even though the base has moved to Milton Keynes, she now does 20 hours a week in the role of Safeguarding and Ethics Manager.
Although she has worked for Table Tennis England for two decades Judy admits that she’s not actually that good at playing the game. Her involvement in the sport started when her children took-up Table Tennis as a past-time. Eldest son Andrew started playing when he was nine which meant Judy’s younger two went along to the club and picked up a bat almost automatically. In fact by the age of five, daughter Gina was showing a precocious talent being able to return the ball to an opponent while barely able to see over the table.
Judy started doing some voluntary work for the club, then got involved in a regional role, still as a volunteer.
“This was in the mid-1990s when people were beginning to start talking about sports development and I did a voluntary role working as a club development officer,” says Judy. Her move in to working full time in the world of sport was a big change from the world of insurance where she had spent the early years or her career. Her first role was as national development officer for people with disability, Judy explains that Table Tennis was one of the first sports to put disability sport alongside the mainstream.
Married twice Judy has three children and she is delighted that eldest son Andrew Battley was also recently elected to Hastings Borough Council making them the first mother and son to serve on the council at the same time.
And it’s thanks to Andrew that Judy was able to make such a success of her career. When she moved to Hastings her job involved some nights away from home and it was Andrew, who was 19 at the time, who stepped up to look after his younger siblings Richard and Gina.
For a woman who is so clearly passionate about what she does it’s not surprising to find out that in the past she harboured ambitions to take her political carer further and did seek a parliamentary seat. That was in the mid-1990s when the family lived in Suffolk, “I was looking for a constituency and I made the shortlist on four and was runner-up in three of those,” she says. The fact that she did not achieve her parliamentary ambitions meant she took the job with Table Tennis England that ultimately brought her south to Hastings
In two years as Mayor she attended 1,000 events and is proud of the fact that she didn’t turn anything down. She is grateful for the support of her deputy Nigel Sinden, who stepped up to the top job last month. Highlights included attending the Queen’s birthday party.
But for Judy it was meeting so many people that really made her time in the role so special, “I’ve made so many good friends through doing that job,” she says. There are many achievements of which she is proud but setting up the first community picnic last summer is something she is especially happy to have been involved in.
For the future life is unlikely to slow down any time soon. In the new council Judy is in the cabinet and has special responsibility for corporate services. A devoted mother and committed councillor Judy looks back over her years in Hastings with great fondness. It was a big decision to move her family from its home in Suffolk but looking back she is certain of one thing, “Moving to Hastings was the best thing we ever did, it was the start of a wonderful adventure which is still continuing.” she says.