To grow up in the suburbs of Romford in the late ‘60s–70s, as one of the very few Black families in the area and equally scarce Black children at my school, was to grow up ever vigilant of ways to “fit in”, “assimilate” or be annihilated, to develop strategies for becoming invisible while being hyper-visible, to understand the language of true English cockney outside the front door while being fluent in Jamaican Patois behind it.
I had a love/hate relationship with Romford. I learned many important life lessons in racism – individual and institutional, implicit and explicit – but also how a love for books, stories, plays, imagination and curiosity can be ignited and nurtured by teachers who are, simply, interested. Thanks to my English teacher, Mr Fraine, and my drama teacher, Mr Burns, I was given permission to imagine and from that imagination to create.
As soon as I was old enough to leave Romford and pay my own rent – I did.
Bolstered by like-minded friends, I migrated to inner city London and had full exposure to Black culture, politics, parties, clubs, theatre, exhibitions and all of the arts scene!
And then I came out onto the lesbian and gay scenes. I say ‘scenes’ plural because there were distinct white and black scenes. When I was taken by the hand and led into the black scene – I was home! Fully immersed in battles to keep the buildings where we gathered open, and to keep The State off our bodies and out of our relationships, my education was taken to a whole new level. My passion for social justice, fighting structural oppression via community activism (I had a particular knack for sit-ins, love-ins, read-ins, bed-ins and kiss-ins against Clause 28, Poll tax and racism on The Scene, instead of being at work…) led me rather quickly out of the world of classical music publishing and advertising, mixing with the likes of Sir Simon Rattle, musical directors of the Royal Opera House and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra while drinking from magnums of champagne – to social work in Hackney.
And I loved it! Then and now, as a social work academic.
My education continues with the new challenges of being Interim Head of Subject Area (Community Development and Leadership, Social Work, Youth and Refugee programmes).
I like being physically active. I played football for over 20 years, first with Hackney Women’s Football Club, the first Out and Proud, entirely lesbian-run football team in the Greater London Women’s Football League. I then co-founded Phoenix Women’s Football Club after my son was born, before returning to Hackney Women’s and earning the nickname Boomerang (among other names…) as I took my old position triumphantly at left back, with the rain and wind lashing down on the Hackney Marshes on a Sunday afternoon in winter… (I now prefer yoga in a warm hall, with a soft mat beneath me).
I am a regular and enthusiastic cyclist. As well as cycling to work I regularly take part in organised cycle Sportives of about 60 miles as well as combining cycle trips with camping. For my birthday in 2019, a group of friends and my son attempted the Coast to Coast Cycle ride, from Tynemouth, across The Pennines, though The Lake District and on to Newcastle – one friend and myself on foldies! It was hellish – but I completed it! In fact, only two of us made it. The original line up was depleted by two, and we waved them off on the train at Keswick!
I like the theatre. I am curious about other people’s stories and how those stories are articulated. Before lockdown I saw a live performance of one sort or another – whether dance, theatre, poetry, comedy – every week. Performance is often reflected in my lectures, and informs my arts-based research interests.
Life is too big and detailed and complex and varied and surprising and perplexing and contradictory and frustrating and funny and pleasurable and thoughtful and exciting and colourful and loud and proud and difficult and emotional and funny and activist and ordinary and political and literary and challenging and tuneful and full… to name just one passion. But, if a thing involves spending time with my son, the simplicity of walking my dog and the connection in keeping good company with good friends and good food, then I have a passion for it.
One of my proudest moments was being told by a student, “you don’t look or act like a senior lecturer.” I hope I am a “Mr Fraine” and “Mr Burns” to students who are similarly inspired to imagine and create. I would also choose making the noise of 10 at my son’s graduation – not sure he would concur – and the fact that he made it through living life whilst Black relatively unscathed and graduated.
As an alumna, London Met means the gateway to the path that led me to realise my passion for social work, to go on to become Principal Lecturer, Head of Social Work and to make a difference to students who come to social work education from diverse backgrounds. Students like me.
At London Met – I am reflected.
I’ve come a long way from Romford baby.
"Life is too big and detailed and complex and varied and surprising and perplexing and contradictory and frustrating and funny and pleasurable and exciting and colourful and loud and proud and difficult and emotional and funny and ordinary and challenging and tuneful and full… to name one passion."
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"It is the place where I’ve met some great people who I consider friends. People who share difficulties, struggles, disappointments. Situations that brought us together. I met lecturers who believe in me and keep pushing me to achieve the very best of me."
"As an alumna, London Met means the gateway to the path that led me to realise my passion for social work, to go on to become Principal Lecturer, Head of Social Work and to make a difference to students who come to social work education from diverse backgrounds. Students like me."
Nils Perez Codesal
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