Reigning 'queen' of Nunsthorpe
A Nunsthorpe community stalwart who feared she didn't have the brains to enter politics is now one of the longest serving councillors in North East Lincolnshire. In the latest in his series profiling our ward councillors, Local Government Reporter Simon Faulkner speaks to Labour's Norma Lincoln.
"OH NO. I don't think I've got the brains for it." That was Norma Lincoln's first reaction when she was asked if she would stand for election as a councillor.
The suggestion was put to her a number of times before her late brother Ken Wardle finally persuaded her to put her name forward.
"Ken introduced me to the Labour party well over 30 years ago and we used to go to the branch meetings.
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"At one meeting Ken said to me: 'I think you ought to become a councillor'.
"I said: 'Oh no. I was once asked that before but I thought I haven't got the brains so I left it alone'."
That previous occasion was when Norma was opening up the local community centre on the Nunsthorpe estate for Labour councillor Muriel Barker's ward surgery.
"A lady came into the centre and asked me to take any messages for Muriel because she wasn't able to attend.
"The lady gave me a ring later and she asked if I had ever thought about being a councillor."
The answer was the same, but spurred on by Ken's words of encouragement, Norma put her misgivings to one side, and in 1994 she was elected to represent the Cromwell ward on Grimsby Borough Council.
"Ken was the one who persuaded me. He said he would help me in any way that he could. I miss him so much."
The support of her Labour colleagues also proved invaluable.
"There was a great troupe of people supporting me and it really was a good campaign. We all worked like mad.
"I was a little bit nervous and I didn't know if I had done the right thing.
"Once I got onto the council I was a little bit afraid. I was the new person and I thought everyone would be against me. But Labour councillor Frank Rice was a wonderful help to me.
"When he introduced me to someone he used to say 'she will be mayor one day'. I said never!"
It was a prophecy that would come true not just once, but twice, when Norma served as mayor of North East Lincolnshire in both 2001/02 and 2010/11.
Born in Oxford Street, Grimsby, Norma was one of three siblings.
Her father was a fishworker on Riby Street and her mother an auxiliary nurse at Nunsthorpe Maternity Home.
Norma attended Welholme School, and when the family moved to Milton Road, she continued her education at Nunsthorpe School.
She has some fond memories of growing up on the estate.
"It was absolutely wonderful. We had a gang – not like you have gangs these days. It was a comical gang. I loved Nunsthorpe. I still love Nunsthorpe. I'm often told by people that I don't live on the Nunsthorpe because I live on Laceby Road but I am a Nunny person."
She says it is the people who make the Nunsthorpe such a special place.
"I have never met anybody who, if you haven't got a loaf of bread on your table, wouldn't make sure you did have."
While still at school, Norma got a Saturday job at the Burgons shops on Flottergate and Kent Street – a job she continued full time after leaving school.
She later moved to the Whitings store in Nunsthorpe – where she got to know many of the people she still considers friends.
By now a single mum, Norma and her daughter Karen moved briefly to the Willows Estate, before moving to their current home on Laceby Road, where they have lived for 30 years.
It was here, through the medium of CB radio, that Norma met her husband of 27 years, Malcolm.
"We had a CB radio and all of a sudden these voices came on. They were taking peas from fields out in the country to Birds Eye. I started to talk to this person called Malcolm and he asked if I would like to come and have a run in the lorry. Telephone numbers were exchanged and that's how it started."
Norma served for a year on Grimsby Borough Council before the new unitary authority North East Lincolnshire Council was created.
She has represented the South ward ever since.
It did not take long for Norma to learn that being a councillor was not always a bed of roses.
She recalls sitting on the social services committee which made the unpopular decision to close an old people's home on Abbey Road.
"There was no money, just like today. It was a wonderful property and we were all very sorry that it had to happen. It was certainly a difficult decision to make and one lady I knew very well stopped speaking to me because of it."
On a more positive note, she counts helping to save the local community centre on Sutcliffe Avenue as one of her proudest achievements.
"I got a telephone call saying 'Norma, please come down here. We want you to fight for us.'
"We had meeting after meeting and the council told us the only way that we could keep it open is if they leased it out."
The Nunsthorpe and Bradley Park Community Association took over the lease and the centre, which hosts a busy schedule of events to this day, was saved.
Another highlight was Norma's two stints as mayor – during which she was mistaken by wide-eyed schoolchildren for the Queen and a pirate.
"At one school on the Grange one of the teachers was getting married and the children were having a mock wedding.
"I could see this boy turning round and the head teacher came towards me saying he wanted to ask who the pirate was sitting at the back!
"On another occasion at the Minster this little boy asked if I was the Queen. I said 'no, but not far off'."
Having served for almost 20 years – she was one of the few Labour councillors not to lose her seat in the party's calamitous 2003 election defeat – Norma has yet to decide if she will stand again in 2015.
"I'm going to see how it goes and how my health goes. I have spoken to various people and said I think somebody else ought to have a go, but they have said 'no, Norma, don't go'.
"On one side of my brain I would feel like I was letting the people down but I can't go on forever.
"I don't really want to stop.
"I do love the people. The kids that came to the centre who have now grown up still acknowledge me now. That is a nice feeling."