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November 1, 2017

Commemorating Glasgow’s Women

Of all the statues in Glasgow which commemorate the great and the good (and the not so good) from the city’s past, only three are of women – and one of those three is Queen Victoria. Later this month, a fourth statue will be unveiled in Govan in memory of the political and community activist, Mary Barbour. Last year, the Mary Barbour Award was established to honour Glasgow’s rich tradition of women community activists. This year’s worthy winner has been changing lives in Possilpark for over fifty years.


Elspeth Gracey, CHEX Team

Sadie Gordon – 2017 Winner of Mary Barbour Award

I first met Sadie Gordon in 1990 when she was a ‘lay’ community worker at Possil/Parkhouse Community Health Project. The organisation was famous for its pioneering work on Breakfast Clubs in which Sadie was an active volunteer. I knew then that Sadie was grounded in her community and her knowledge of it and the passion to work for it was her major motivator in life. Meeting her again recently I discovered more of where that passion came from and how she has channelled her energy into bringing people together for positive change in her beloved Possilpark.

As well as her mother, Sadie speaks of many women in her life who have inspired her. Mrs Rattery who raised funds for the Spanish Civil War and who was a founder member of the Citizen’s Theatre asked Sadie to form a residents association through which they got their community hall, and her friend and former colleague the late Ellen Hurlcombe who also worked in the community-led health organisation in Possilpark, went on to become a city Councillor.

Sadie speaks also of her father’s trade unionism and how he challenged illegal money lenders. He used money he received in compensation for an accident at work to offer fellow employees interest free loans. This example of taking action to promote justice and fairness for all is fundamental to the work Sadie still does in Possilpark.

Sadie’s first experience of organising collective action dates back to her school days aged 14. She and her classmates were angered and distressed by the bullying behaviour of a teacher towards a fellow pupil. “She was picked upon, she wasn’t very academic and this particular teacher didn’t like her,” said Sadie. “So, I said to my classmates let’s all stand up the next time she picks on her and tell her it’s not fair.” Although they were all taken to the head teacher to be belted for ‘disobedience’ their classmate was never picked upon again: the first success in effecting change for the better.

Sadie is an unassuming person, not one to blow her own trumpet and certainly not one to court publicity for her role in the community work that she has tirelessly undertaken for more than 50 years. Typical of her was the day I met her. We were in the local community centre that she had been involved in securing. Sadie told me she had been at the Mary Barbour award ceremony on the previous Friday evening in Glasgow City Halls.

However it was only after I had spent more than an hour in her company that she let it slip that she was the recipient of the award! The award is given in memory of Mary Barbour who organised the Glasgow rent strikes during the First World War when landlords raised rents and evicted those unable to pay. Mary Barbour organised local people to resist both rent rises and evictions. Sadie tells me about her mother’s experience in the Second World War “It was in 1947 that my mum and the women from Garscube Road followed Mary Barbour’s example and had a rent strike”. Subsequently the family

If asked Sadie can rhyme off over a dozen local organisations that she is still part of. She is a founder member of many of them. The range of interests she has are wide and varied and often of long standing.

There’s the summer camp, when we take youngsters who would otherwise not get a holiday away. This is my 40th year of doing that. We try to show them a healthier way of living.”

Never one to dwell in the past her most recent venture with other local activists is to bring together a new organisation called Possilpark People’s Trust. She sees this as the structure which will enable local residents to secure community control of local assets and services through the newly available Community Empowerment Act and is keen to see the people of her community benefit from the opportunities contained within the Act. Sadie dreams of a facility in which many local organisations might come together under one roof and benefit from the synergy of being together in a ‘community hub’.

Often, she has been the chairperson of organisations she is involved with “Well sometimes people don’t want to take that on. So I just say yes, I find it hard to say no if asked.”

While reluctantly willing to accept awards given in her name alone Sadie speaks more fondly of awards that recognise the “team effort and team spirit” that characterises much of what she has done across the years.

Throughout her working life whether working in office, factory, the NHS or her local community led health organisation, Sadie has continued to have an active role in her community. Her final decision to retire came when she realised that work was getting in the way of her community activities.

Decades of local action working with her neighbours has allowed Sadie to see the generations following her coming through – some with better life chances than would have been the case without her activity.

However Sadie is realistic that the life circumstances that affect so many of her community cannot be overcome for all.


In my opinion many of the folk that would be in Sadie’s army are there because of her work and the work of people like her who have put in endless hours working with others, showing the way, doing what is needed when its needed, saying yes when others would have said no, bringing people together, helping them to realise the power of collective action. And although Sadie is not fond of awards she is undoubtedly a very appropriate recipient of the Mary Barbour award. Congratulations Sadie!