Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote “If you want something done, ask a busy person” would certainly apply to Tracy Dighton who, as a relative newcomer to Rye, is already making her presence felt in a very positive way. Since moving to Rye just three years ago, Tracy is already using her experience with grassroots organisations to help set up local groups, such as the Tilling Green Community Centre Community Interest Company (CIC) with Residents’ Association Chair Dan Lake, and is actively involved in setting up the new Campaign for Action in Rye (CFAiR ). Her energy and enthusiasm is infectious as is her “can do” attitude. She says, “In this time of austerity there is an air of gloom and everyone thinks they can’t do anything because there isn’t any money, but I firmly believe that if you give people the chance to put their time and skills into something you can move mountains”.
With Tracy’s passion for politics and community activism, I must admit to some slight surprise when she announced that her degree from Imperial College was in Entomology. She says wistfully, “I still want to find time to study butterflies, develop an insect garden and go on the courses at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve”. On top of a demanding career, which spans community work, policy work, PR and communications, she has just found the time to complete an MSc in Charity Management and Fundraising at CASS Business School.
After university, she began her working life in grass roots community organisations, including a homeless refuge and literacy project. She then went on to work for the Medicines Control Agency, which led to a policy job at the Department of Health. She fast tracked from NHS policy to communications at Oxfordshire Health Authority, and after press training worked on an early programme on evidence based medicine for GPs. During that time she had three children, now aged 20, 16 and 14.
Tracy’s communications career took a political turn when she ran the Green Party’s London Assembly team, including a stint in the Deputy Mayor’s office. She was an elected member of the Green Party National Executive and is very proud of her success in planning and managing the campaign to elect Caroline Lucas as the first Green MP in 2010.
Tracy met her current partner, Matt, during this time, as he was policy co-ordinator on the Executive. In the early days of their relationship, Tracy was working in Ashford and Matt in Brighton so their relationship blossomed half way between those two places in Rye: “I always think of Rye as an endlessly romantic place. It’s impossible to understand Rye from the outside. You can get lost in the cream teas and picturesque feel of it all”.
Her initial community involvement in Rye began with her decision to accept an invitation to get involved in the Neighbourhood Plan, and she became a member of the Community Infrastructure Group. Her vision for Rye stems from previous experience of helping local communities take control: “In Headington, we helped people to take ownership of a community centre which local people could often not afford to use as the cost of hiring rooms was too high…. We set up a tiered pricing policy with commercial organisations paying more and local groups using it at different times and paying small amounts, which mobilised the community. It doesn’t happen overnight – it took about seven or eight years for the community to own its own space”. Tracy is now working with others to set up a CIC for the new Tilling Green Community Centre and is hoping to adopt the same successful model.
Most readers will know about the CDR (Campaign for Democratic Rye) group which was set up by the late Dr Keith Taylor, and managed to secure the election of a number of members on to the Rye Town Council. CFAiR has now been set up in place of the CDR. Unsure of the aims of the new group, I asked Tracy to explain: “Some people felt that the CDR had run out of steam and its members decided that it would cease. A group of us decided to go forward with a non-political grass roots organisation. It feels quite experimental. We have a rolling chair and a spokesperson and we want members to bring issues where we can campaign and take action. We want this to be positive action – so as a very simple example, Christine Ward who lives on Rye Hill and is partially-sighted has been campaigning about the obstacles to walking safely around Rye. She brought the issue to the group and gained support, with the result that people came forward to record the problems and help clip back the hedges. Social media plays a part with people taking images which can then be forwarded to the Town Steward with a request for help. We see it as a voice to any particular problem in the community.” More can be found about CFAiR on their Facebook page.
Tracy would like to see far more community partnerships, for example, how “Rye in Bloom” could be part of a bigger project by linking with Rye Community Garden, Rother environmental group and local businesses. She has a small front garden where she plans to create an insect garden and wants to encourage others to do the same (she recommends https://www.seedball.co.uk).
After the interview, Tracy was rushing off to her paid work. She runs her own PR/communications company for charities called Crowflies Communications.
Reflecting on her few years in Rye she says: “A lot of people in Rye were born here and have stayed. Even if I lived in Rye for the rest of my life I will never think of myself as a Ryer but that’s OK because we can all contribute”. Tracy certainly does and I’m sure she will succeed in her vision of supporting local community action.
Photo: Dee Alsey