Our ‘Ryers Unwrapped series visits a busy lady
Daliea Redman greets me warmly at her home, accompanied by the fattest, fluffiest and friendliest cat I have ever seen. “He’s called Storm, and he’s a Ragdoll” which, I learn,is the name of the breed. He spends the rest of our meeting lying on his back asleep.
You may already know Daliea for her work on various committees in Rye, for her continuing work with the elderly and the young and her educative work in the field of dementia. I knew little about her so I began by asking her about her unusual name. “It’s Russian. My mother was Russian and my dad English, and they met on a troopship when everyone was coming back from the war” she explains.
What makes this 68 year old dynamo tick, I wonder? She begins by telling me about her early life. “After my parents divorced I moved with my dad to London from Bexhill. My father had a butcher’s shop and I went to a convent school in north London which was . . . interesting. I left school with zilch [qualifications] as I was severely dyslexic and in those days nobody recognised it. My mother was a beautician and hairdresser so that’s what I did; I undertook an apprenticeship.”
She came to Rye as her father owned a boat here and it is where she married in 1966. “We began our married life on a boat long before there was running water and electricity available. Walking a 12″ wide gangplank when you’re eight months pregnant is a truly wonderful experience” she says, ironically. She had two daughters. “In order to earn some money when the children were babies, I became a life model for the Tuesday Painters at the old FE Centre” she says laughing “Somewhere there is a beautiful picture of me nursing my baby with the little one at my feet.”
It is during the girls’ childhood that she began her long association with the Rye Brownies, as her eldest daughter had joined the troop. Daliea explains how she became involved: “I didn’t think they were learning as much as I used to, so I offered to help and eventually I became Brown Owl. In fact, I enrolled the current leader of the Rye Brownies, as well as her mother, sister and two aunties.”
Daliea eventually left her abusive first husband “I put up with the beatings until my kids left school as I thought that was the right thing to do, as they could then fend for themselves. I went on a course to learn how to cut the latest hairstyles and I started a traveling hairdressing business. I had a bicycle with a box on the front and back plus a knapsack, full of equipment.” Among her clients were residents of care homes. “As time went on, I became more interested in the care side, so I trained to be Senior Care Officer and got a job at the then brand new Magdala House” in Ferry Road. Among other duties she became a sort of entertainments officer. “We played bingo and did reminiscence therapy; I think being a hairdresser makes you a good listener. And I would cook occasionally for 45 in a very tiny kitchen” she adds ruefully. She also married for the second time. Over the years she has worked in care homes, not only in Rye, but in Icklesham, Robertsbridge and Hawkhurst When I ask Daliea why she has undertaken such extremely demanding roles for so long she replies “For a job I’ve worked with elderly people for 34 years and for a hobby I did Brownies for 32. The two kept me in perfect balance. You have to be a bit crackers to do Brownies and you certainly need a sense of humour dealing with the elderly”.
Her eldest daughter, Maria, had cancer and, as Daliea tells me: “She carried on running her own Brownie pack whilst having chemotherapy. She received the Laurel Award, the highest award given by the Guide Association for courage in adversity” In 1995, Maria, who was married with small children, died at the age of 28. Devastated, Daliea tried her utmost to cope with her grief.
“The Guide Association paid back all one had given – they were so supportive. They were just there being normal, but if you wanted to scream and shout you could.” Eventually, Daliea decided to become a bereavement counsellor.
To further help her manage her grief she decided on another course of action. “Do you know the Discovery Award? It’s like the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award but for the over 50’s. The categories are the same – bronze, silver and gold. It was the saving of me and an important turning point in my life and helped me get over Maria’s death.” Starting aged 50, she successfully completed the bronze and silver awards, then she tells me about going for gold. Often people undertake physical challenges like climbing Kilimanjaro, or building an eco-house. “By the time I got to the gold award I wanted to do something that meant a lot to me so I learned to read properly.” Most of us cannot imagine what it is like to live with severe dyslexia, to be unable to read without considerable difficulty, so her new-found ability brought about a huge sea-change in Daliea’s life. By chance she was offered the opportunity to become a Health Trainer for Hastings and Rother NHS at the age of 60. “I went to college and took 2 A levels, and I can now write reports and read them out in front of other committee members. I couldn’t have done that 18 years ago. Tell your readers there is always hope”
It is, it seems to me, that her most important commitment now is to educating people about dementia. She explains passionately “I am a Dementia Champion, trained by the Alzheimer’s Society. We’re raising awareness and reducing the stigma of dementia, to make the public have greater awareness of what dementia is and we are trying to make journalists never use the phrase ‘dementia sufferer”; the correct term is ‘living with dementia’. The society is trying to make the whole of England dementia-friendly by 2020. We also encourage people to live well with dementia, particularly to socialise, to take part in the community, to stimulate them and not make them become isolated and I saw the need to take it into rural areas. We also want people to become Dementia Friends, which I am, by coming along to the talks.” She then explained how she created the Rye and District Dementia Action Alliance (RDDAA). “I contacted Rother Voluntary Action Group which helped set up community groups. We needed five businesses to sign up to the National Dementia Alliance, so we could register as a local branch. I was very lucky to be given a donation by St Mary’s Church about two years ago and I have done exceedingly well to get this far. I have a Rye Town Councillor, Cheryl Creaser, now as a Dementia Champion too” All expenses e.g. room hire, petrol and so forth have to be met from fund-raising events and donations. Look out for autumn talks in the Fixtures or Rye News.
We do get into rather a muddle with time-lines and committees as Daliea would suddenly mention yet another committee she joined in the past. For now, she continues to be on the committee of the Rye Fund, the Rother Senior Forum (a lobby group) and the Tilling Green Residents Association. She also helps out with Battle Brownies where she is known as Nana Owl. Does she have any spare time? “Well, I do Tai Chi. The health benefits are numerous especially for older people. It’s good for arthritis sufferers and for the eyesight.” She sees her grandchildren and she travels when she can; so far she has been to Australia, Norway and Switzerland.
I’ve learned a lot today from someone with an indomitable spirit and a great sense of humour who, despite some very difficult circumstances,is a fine example of that Churchillian maxim “Never, never, never give in”. I leave her as she heads off to prepare for a tea dance in aid of ARRCC, with her final words ringing in my ears “I don’t like being bored, that’s for sure!”
Discovery Award: http://www.discoveryaward.org.uk/
Alzheimer’s Society https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/
Photos: Stephen Ashley-King and courtesy Daliea Redman