Dale's former MP to channel her energies in a new direction
EX-MP Helen Goodman is catching up on her reading and other pleasures as she enjoys a break after 14 years in parliament. She told Martin Paul about her plans for the future
AFTER more than 14 years representing the dale in parliament, former MP Helen Goodman is looking forward to a holiday followed, perhaps, by work in the voluntary sector. Looking back on her four terms in office, the 61-year-old said she still remembers quite clearly the day she was voted into office on May 5, 2005.
She said: “The count on that occasion was at Locomotion, at Shildon, and we drove back in the early hours of the morning the next day. We drove down and Raby Castle was bathed in pink light as the sun rose. It was a very memorable moment – it seemed very symbolic. A new dawn and all that.”
Tony Blair was prime minister and the newly elected MP had ambitions to improve the lives of children and of creating jobs – both of which got off to a good start with the creation of SureStart centres across the region and the development of at least three new factories around the Spennymoor area.
She said: “And also under the Labour government there was an awful lot of building.
“In that first parliament we built the bypass around West Auckland, we built the further education college at Bishop [Auckland] with European money, there were new schools in various places and there were new GP surgeries popping up all over the place.
“There were new GP surgeries at Gainford and Butterknowle. The whole place was a building site at one point. So that was all really good.”
Another positive, she said, was the establishment of the Decent Homes Standard scheme, which saw social housing significantly improved in areas like Evenwood and Cockfield.
However, things were not all good.
She said: “Up in the dale it was a bit different because in 2005, I think people were still recovering from the aftermath of foot and mouth and dealing with the dreaded rural payments agency. I can remember in 2010 when the Tories won, I thought this is really bad, but at least they will be better on countryside issues, but they weren’t.”
She now worries that leaving the European Union without a good deal will make countryside lives even harder, particularly if imports of cheap meat from New Zealand, Australia and the Americas are allowed.
Over the years, the former parliamentarian has seen the constituency change quite dramatically.
She said: “Say you went to Coundon – in 2010 every house in Collingwood Street had someone living in it. It doesn’t now. There are quite a lot that are empty, but there is a whole development of new housing on the edge of Coundon.
“So, what you have got is people with different ways of life – less traditional, less community-orientated, more commuters.”
She added that government should give local councils more power over planning, which would allow them to buy up properties in the middle of villages that have fallen into disrepair, and the cash to redevelop them.
Regarding the people of the area, she said: “It is a very nice constituency because it’s a sort of microcosm of England really.
“You have got rural people in Teesdale and the sort of urban areas in the eastern part of the constituency.
“You have got some really different kinds of lives in this constituency. People with totally different life experiences and ways of life, and values and outlooks. So that is very stimulating. You don’t get bogged down in one thing, there is always something different.”
As for her own future, Mrs Goodman is looking forward to a new opportunity that has been presented to her by Durham University.
She said: “Because I have done so much work on renewable energy and climate change, they have asked me to be a fellow at the Durham Energy Institute.
“I am going to do the ‘how do we get people to implement these new technologies’ bit. I’m looking forward to that. It was very nice of them to ask me.”
She also hopes to get involved in the voluntary sector, particularly in the areas of renewable energy and the arts.
Mrs Goodman also plans to remain in the constituency that has been her home for the past 14 years. She concluded: “I have found the blessed plot, so why leave? It is so nice here.
“Once you get into a rhythm of life here, and you are waiting for the first curlews of spring, you can’t go away from that.”