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Matthew Jacobson “On the Streets I Ran” with former Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Hazel Williams

Reflecting on growing up in the Jacobson family home. I recall, it was only a few yards from my front door to the street, but the steps that led to the garden gate formed a poetic pathway, a rhyming runway, leading you and nudging you to the big world outside.

Overtime, the cosmetics of the pathway and runway changed;      

Doorstep, four paving slabs, garden gate.
Doorstep, four uneven paving slabs, garden gate.
Doorstep, four cracked paving slabs, wonky gate.
Doorstep, four broken paving slabs, broken gate.

Accompanied by parents or elders, the junior little legged quicker me ran or jumped across the garden slabs with a quick step, four step, slapdash shaky foxtrot. And with exaggerated eagerness and ferocious naivety I demanded to see the world beyond the wooden gate.

Lifted up and propped up in my parents arms, I scanned the scene and found myself waving at the neighbours who waved back with a huge vibrant smile. Or, leaning on the gate, standing on my tiptoes – with a runny nose, I sang loudly to passers by, usually songs I had made up or songs I had made down. But a jukebox soared from the vocal cords to the streams of society situated on the working-class streets.

I regularly peered over the garden gate to witness the world. I could see streets that never ended, the beauty and menace of the terrace, the unity of community, the truth about youth and Liverpool life being lived.

There it was, just outside the gate – the world. There it was, hope, promise, love and dreams. The future was there waiting for me, arms open for me to snuggle into it. 

As the gate latch lifted, decades of decisions were ahead. First up, I had to decide how to spend my time after passing through the garden gate.

On reflection, this decision was really defined by my age.

To turn left at the gate and walk straight down the avenue was mainly the option of the younger me. Guided by family we walked to the park 180 yards down the road, the football pitch that sat within the park was 230 yards down the road and the fly away football after one of my shots on goal ended up 280 yards down the road.

And then, as time shunted life up several notches. The teenage years met me regularly for an internal fight and hourly struggle. But the pathway and runway belonged to me.

No family escort to the gate required. I could open the gate and let myself out, but I always left the gate ajar behind me as I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave the precious past behind.

I was now part of the world I had peered at from behind the wooden gate. The world was now declared open – subject to opening hours.

I felt like adulthood was here, just outside the gate and just past the white wonky van that sold everything. From crisps, pens and 20 number 10s.  Videos, cassettes and food for your pets. Never underestimate what it meant, a shop on three wheels on a poetic pavement.

I was soon turning right at the gate to walk to secondary school. Along the way to school the city centre bus travelled past in the opposite direction. Uniformed and ill-informed I spotted the bus stop and the bus stop people all waiting for the double decker to take them on a staccato stop by stop salsa journey to town, To work, earn, live, survive and to hopefully enjoy life.

I was always intrigued by what lay in town, I knew there was more to what I had seen previously. So over time, I probed and investigated and quickly concluded; 

Liverpool is glorious.

Its architecture, history, parks, music and sports world. Its northern desire, grit and determination. Its passion and promise. And of course, the heartbeat of the city – its people. True, real people in a true and real city.

I have spent so much time amongst Liverpool’s finest buildings and salubrious streets. I’ve walked the back streets, side streets and wonderful walkways. And my soft spot lies with – all of it, it’s the city I love.

One building, Liverpool Town Hall immediately grabbed my attention. The sheer splendour of the building captivated me forever more.

Matthew Jacobson “On the Streets I Ran” with former Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Hazel Williams
Liverpool Town Hall – Photograph by Michelle Marshall

I recall leaning against a wall on the corner of Sweeting Street and watched a visual treat as Dale Street, Exchange flags and Castle Street guarded the beautiful building with honour and then sweetly serenaded the Town Hall with a passionate procession and delightful courtesy.

Built during 1745 to 1749 the Town Hall building is a civic suite, council chamber and Lord Mayors parlour. It is referred to as “one of the finest surviving 18th century town halls.”  The hall features a high dome, topped by a statue of Minvera, Goddess of Wisdom.

Glorious Georgian delightful decoration meets and greets wise scouse admiration. So much so, even the four lads that shook the pop world, The Beatles, stood on the balcony and waved to their adoring crowd.  

Matthew Jacobson “On the Streets I Ran” with former Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Hazel Williams
Matt Jacobson at Liverpool Town Hall – Photograph by Michelle Marshall

The opportunity to visit the Town Hall had never really materialised until a Sunday afternoon drink turned into a Sunday celebration.

My good friend Mike Williams, a man whose company, wit and words sprinkle colour into the world conquered the conversation cup with a stunning voluptuous vocal volley. With no warning, but with a natural warming beaming glow, he announced “My Mum is going to be the Lady Mayor of Liverpool”.

It was amazing news – beautiful news. I was truly delighted for him and his family, they are now part of the city’s history.

And so, a few months later, there I was, being shown around the Town Hall. A personal tour by Mike for myself and friends. He showed us all the ins and outs of the Town Hall. It was striking. The decor, the chambers and grandest of suites emphasised this magnificent example of late Georgian decoration.

Mike directed and led the tour with a spring in his step and a beaming smile, expressing his pride and love for his Mum, Hazel Williams who held the honour of being Lord Mayor of Liverpool from 2010-2011.

I wanted to find out more, so I interviewed Hazel, about the role of Lord Mayor, the passion for politics and meeting and greeting global stars.

The early years, growing up. Was the world of politics a regular topic within the family home?

Two of the most interesting people who made me sit up and take notice of the world and its politics were JF Kennedy and Martin Luther King, both giants in their own fields. For a young girl like me they spoke about many of the beliefs I held then and continue to do so.

When did your interest in politics commence?

My dad was a dyed in the wool staunch Labour supporter, in the early years of my involvement with local politics, as Liberals we concentrated on personal contact, with huge street canvassing.

This was not necessarily just to ask for a vote but was the groundwork to then return and ask for support. Our street canvassing was initially about checking people were ok, identifying individual and community problems. At election times we would have loads of children chasing us for our leaflets and window posters, such a good healthy time in politics. I only started having serious political discussions with Dad after becoming involved with the Liberal Party.

But, it really began, when a young girl named Jenny from Redhill Surrey knocked my front door canvassing for the Liberals, when I questioned her about what made them different from Labour or Conservatives, she explained the party’s policies on equality and when challenged to give me an example, quoted the work being done by the Liberals on worker representation.

The philosophy being if you on the shop floor were contributing to the success of a business then, there had to be representation at Management level, distinct from Union representation. She had me! That was in the late 60s and the start of my life as a true Lloyd George Liberal.

How did you make your way into the world of politics and what challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

Like most politicians I had to earn my political spurs. I spent many years delivering, folding leaflets, door knocking especially in the mid to late 70s. I remember delivering leaflets with a baby in the top of the pram, a toddler in the bottom of the pram and my oldest child hanging onto the handle of the pram!

As the years passed by, I was eventually selected as a candidate, and elected on behalf of the Tuebrook Ward by the residents as their County Councillor on Merseyside County Council.

The council eventually dissolved by the Thatcher government in the mid-80s. I had to balance a part time job, rear my children, and be a good councillor. Having the honour of people voting for me, the only personal choice anyone can have that cannot be decided or dictated by anyone, had a profound effect on me, and was an honour I never forgot and always worked to repay for such a commitment.

My lovely, late husband Alan was my ever-present stalwart during these times enabling me to carry out my responsibilities. It wasn’t unknown on occasions for me to have to take one of my children to the occasional meeting. No creche in those days. It took some home life juggling but we managed it. I was subsequently elected onto Liverpool City Council some years later after the death of Alan, I retired from active politics 2015.

In the mid-80s the Liberal Party split, with the majority forming a new party the Social Liberal Democrats (later shortened to the Liberal Democrats). I with many, many others in the Liberal Party kept to my Lloyd George liberal roots and remained a steadfast Liberal as did many others countrywide. Myself and others were even subjected to insults and harassment by many so called ex colleagues. I didn’t believe in switching parties then and I still maintain that belief to this present day,  ANY politician changing his/her political beliefs should in my view resign and then go to the electorate with why they have changed their views and put their trust in the electorate, that to me is being honest and upfront with the voters. Unfortunately, as history has shown, this is not the case with many local and national politicians, who simply walk the floor!

I represented the Tuebrook Ward on and off for 30 years in a voluntary or elected capacity. I was politically active during the Labour Party militant years.

I believe those policies at that time did great damage to the city, present day I have softened my views, but not that much. In those times the City was struggling with its identity, the city might have been but the citizens of Liverpool most certainly were not. At that time the economy of the city was an issue.

Tourism and our culture efforts, side by side with our hospitality reputation has seen the city grow and been the lifeblood of Liverpool. In fact, the city has benefited from such supportive partners to get to the brilliant reputation we have today. Political partners, partners across the public and private sector and yes, even some support from Central government and of course Europe. Despite all their positive and supportive involvement, our best marketing tool has and always will remain the people of the city.

You also had a poem published which spoke about the injustice of Hillsborough, could you tell me more about this?

I always say a Liverpudlian is the best friend you could wish for, but the worst enemy. Of course we make mistakes, but we admit to them willingly most of the time! The loyalty factor to each other and our hometown, I would defy any other place to be able to match it.

My poem for Hillsborough which was one of the poems published in the Hillsborough Book of Poems was “The Ghouls of Hillsborough”. It was my response to the vile and sickening press coverage of the tragedy, and in particular The *** I will not write that name. That day the world saw Liverpudlians side by side fighting to save family, friends, and strangers lives.

NOT urinating on people stealing from them as was reported in certain press. That paper and others don’t even earn the right to be used as toilet paper in this city and quite rightly so. Liverpudlians have a view, when you’re right, and proven so, you are right and hands up to you in acknowledgment, but when you’re wrong and proven to be wrong – watch out, because we will seek truth until truth is eventually found.

The poem was a criticism of the press and to this day I believe the press should always seek out facts and disregard any fiction. I have always held this belief well before ‘fake news’ became a global pastime.

As a councillor, you worked within the community. I know equality was at the forefront of your strategy.  I feel Liverpool is accepting, warm and without prejudice. Within your role, did you see, hear and experience this first hand at events around the city?

As a fifteen year old girl watching the race riots in the 60s in America, and seeing white policemen beating up black women on the streets of their cities, I was incensed, distressed and found those scenes unacceptable and so wrong. That experience was the basis of my strongly held lifelong belief that we are all equal individuals irrespective of colour, creed, religious beliefs, cultural backgrounds or sexual orientation.

I have little respect for those who display a bias towards someone simply because they are different in who they are or what they represent. I have a further lack of respect and tolerance for those who state the “right” thing, but when challenged to translate words into actions become strangely quiet, and I’ve met a few of those individuals in my lifetime.

Representing Tuebrook residents and meeting people citywide clearly supported what I already believed that this diverse city has got to be the most welcoming city in the United Kingdom, not just my view but that of the hundreds and hundreds of people and visitors I met as a councillor and Lord Mayor.

This city has been my school of life in knowing and grasping the true meaning of equality and diversity, what better place than Liverpool for people to embrace those qualities. I thank every day I had in both roles for enabling me to be part of that experience.

As Lord Mayor I visited many differing cultural, religious, educational and community events where our welcoming approach to equality was self-evident. To those who believe they are unrepresented in this community of ours, instead of criticising the system get out there and become part of the system and put your voice to good use.

How do you become a Lord Mayor, and could you describe a day in the life of being a Lord Mayor?

To become a Lord Mayor, you are approached by a senior member usually the Leader (now the Mayor) of the council to ask if you would accept this honour. This was usually in recognition of an individual’s contribution and service to his/her residents and the city as a whole. Once agreed it then is presented to the full council for ratification. I was both amazed and delighted when approached, I had never experienced a member of a minority party on the council awarded this prestigious honour.

A day in the life of a Lord Mayor realistically can begin before 9am and not finish until midnight or after. The duties and responsibilities of the First Citizen centre around the important meeting and greeting of all visitors or residents. Visiting dignitaries, citywide events at every level, visits to schools, private sector, health, promotional events local, national International – one example, I had to represent the City with the Mayor in Shanghai for Liverpool Day at the Expo exhibition.

From that important event to one nearer home meeting and greeting visitors to Liverpool Town Hall again locally, nationally and internationally. I used to enjoy stopping to talk to visitors who came from other major British cities, and I would ask, why Liverpool? The answers were always positive such is the attraction of this city. It was great fun after chatting and seeing the surprise on their faces when I identified myself. My view will always be the Lord Mayor in parallel with the city’s elected representatives has a responsibility to promote Liverpool at every opportunity to anyone who will listen.

You were the first Lord Mayor of Liverpool to lead the Gay Pride march. How did this materialise and what are your memories of that day?

I lead the Gay Pride March in 2010 and it was just one of the best experiences in my political and personal life. First Citizen of Liverpool leading the march would send a clear visual message to all that, this is a city which thrives on equality and diversity.

I remember dancing in Castle Street outside the Town Hall with our brilliant samba dance group, the mayoral bling swinging widely round my neck, surprising the customers in the Lisbon one of our well established gay/straight pubs, dashing into the Town Hall to the balcony, because of course leading the march I didn’t get the chance to see ALL the floats and participants. When I lead the first march against government cuts during my period of office with the Mayor and others, I was criticised for being political, this wasn’t me being political. This was the first citizen of Liverpool saying these cuts are going to have devastating consequences on the people of Liverpool and our city….take notice!

In your role as Lord Mayor, you met some amazing global artists and worldwide household names; such as Yoko Ono and Cynthia Lennon. What was it like to meet them?

Yoko Ono, I thought at that time was a quiet and quite withdrawn lady surrounded by so much security -which was a shame. I believed it didn’t give her the opportunity to experience the real city. I’m pleased to say over the subsequent years she has become a great supporter of our arts sector many times and even exhibited her own work in Liverpool.

Another special favourite was when I was lucky enough to meet Julian and Cynthia Lennon, such loving and down to earth individuals. Cynthia and I danced together, ate together and talked for ages together on that day particularly about our lovely sons. I was shocked and delighted when after the event she rang me a number of times for a chat, and I was shocked and mourned her passing, a lovely human being.

I also me Billy Ocean, a giant in the music industry who quite rightly has earnt the reverence due to someone of his status. In reality, a lovely friendly man with a great heart.

Furthermore, as the Lord Mayor you attend the Universities graduation ceremonies. At this event I noted their Vice Chancellor attended, who happened to be Brian May a member of the world-renowned group Queen. As a lifelong fan of the group and Freddie of course, I remember thinking “Hazel all your birthdays have come at once.”

I spent a long lunch talking to Brian about politics, environmental issues, his own stirling contribution to improving life in general, the one thing we didn’t discuss was music. An hour in my life I will never forget. So, as you can imagine this was my favourite meeting of an artist.

How would you describe the people of Liverpool?

I’ve been asked to describe the people of Liverpool, where do I start? Strong, opinionated, loyal, compassionate, loving, the list is endless. I think a conversation relayed to me says it all.

A group of Liverpudlians were holidaying abroad, I think it might have been in America. The individual on hearing their voices said, “Your English aren’t you, and from the United Kingdom.” The reply he received back was “No, we are Scousers and from Liverpool”. That I believe says everything about this fabulous city and its fabulous citizens.

What next for Hazel Williams?

I retired from my day job in 2009 and my political life 2015, spent a number of years supporting my son and daughter in law in looking after my granddaughter.

My youngest daughter, a nurse at Alder Hey Hospital persuaded me to volunteer. My first reaction was that I was too old until told volunteers from 16 to 80 plus provided support at the hospital. I applied, accepted and loving every minute of it! I still retain my contacts with Tuebrook, our residents and political colleagues, and actively support our local charity Tuebrook Hope Centre.

I closely watch the goings on in the city, and still maintain the view that I am extremely proud to have been part of the fabric and history of Liverpool.

From one old girl to another old girl, Liverpool you are simply the best!

And finally, “On the Streets I Ran” – could you name three Liverpool Streets that mean the most to you and why?

1) Dale Street, because this is where I tread the political boards for many years.

2) West Derby Road, L13 the central road running through Tuebrook, where I cut my community and political teeth, which I hope has made me wiser and more appreciative of those who despite hardships always manage to live to fight another day. My hero’s.

3) Gannock Street, L7 The home where my late husband and I brought up my family. Many sweet and bittersweet memories here.

Many thanks to Hazel for her time …

Matthew Jacobson

Explore Liverpool

READ MORE: On The Streets I Ran with local author Matthew Jacobson

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