'I'm the baby born in a park who's helping people in Doncaster through art'

There may not be many who have been born in Clumber Park.

Friday, 27th July 2018, 4:24 pm
Updated Friday, 27th July 2018, 4:32 pm
Sue McDermott, pictured, who is a long serving volunteer at The Point. Picture: NDFP McDermott 3 
Picture: Marie Caley
Sue McDermott, pictured, who is a long serving volunteer at The Point. Picture: NDFP McDermott 3 Picture: Marie Caley

But one person who can make that claim is Sue McDermott, aged 69, from Braithwell, Doncaster.

Sue's father was the head forester at the park in 1949, when Sue was born, and the job came with a five bedroom house inside the grounds, while he looked after the trees on the estate in Nottinghamshire.

But Sue's life was turned upside town at the age of 11, when her father died, as a result of kidney disease, leaving her mum to bring up her children along.

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With the house tied to the job at the park, the family had to leave, and instead moved into a house in South Leverton, near Retford.

From that moment, Sue's mum had to return to work, and held down a number of jobs. She would go out to work in the fields picking fruit at market gardens in the morning and the afternoon, returning home to cook school dinners, which pupils from the local school came to her house to eat. She would do the preparation for the meals before she left the house in the morning.

Sue went to Retford Girls High School, where she enjoyed practical subjects like cookery and music.

"I was a bit lazy at that point," said Sue. "You could say I was a slow burner and I didn't get many O-levels."

She went on to college, but says she was more interested in boys and going out than her college work, but went on to study 'advanced domestic craft' at Sheffield Polytechnic, where she was taught skills ranging from how to run a home to making jellies and fondant ice crime.

From there, she got a job with the gas board as a home service advisor. She was trained to do presentations to groups and at people's homes showing how to bake, and showing them how to convert from town gas, a type of poisonous gas made from coal which was once piped into homes to heat ovens, to natural gas, as used today.

She married electrical engineer Michael McDermott in 1970, and the couple moved to Tickhill.

Sue began training to be a teacher at High Melton College, mixing her studies with running party plan clothes sales and running an outside catering business. She thought teaching would fit in well with raising her family, and worked as a teacher in colleges.

But 17 years ago, she changed jobs - and took on the job of setting up the Workers Education Association across South Yorkshire. The WEA is a charity dedicated to bringing education into the heart of communities.

When Sue started, it had no presence in Doncaster. But two years later it was running in community venues across the whole of South Yorkshire, as well as Chesterfield and Scunthorpe.

"It was a really big job," said Sue. "I had to arrange venues, and people to teach the sessions. I even did a lot of the training of the teachers. Much of it was subjects like adult literacy and numeacy, as well as teaching English as a second language.I didn't have administrative support.

"The WEA is not done in colleges. It's done in village halls. When I went to bed at midnight, the house was litter with papers. I realised it was taking over my life and and I left after I'd finished setting it up, two years later. Two years was enough. I'm really proud of what I achieved in bringing the WEA to the area."

She moved to Braithwell and went on to teach courses for the Princes Trust, helping people go into business. Two years ago, her work with the trust led to a visit to Buckingham Palace to a party hosted by the Prince of Wales. Other guests including Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood, and actress Joan Collins.

Sue still does some work for the trust, but now also does voluntary work with the the Darts community arts group at The Point arts centre on South Parade. She heard about its work on a volunteers' website and got in touch.

She said: "I liked the whole ethos, supporting people who might benefit from music, drama and art. Sometimes it is just about supporting people who need their confidence building up. I've helped teach makaton sign language for babies, and helped with drama for adults who are short of confidence. I've also helped with arts classes for patients with dementia and their spouses.

"It's great to be able to help people."