2022’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘Break the bias.’ The tag-line reads “Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.” Central Liverpool Credit Union has been doing that since its inception. Founded by Eileens Halligan, both senior and junior, it has challenged bias just by existing.
The third edition of Toxteth Park News runs a tribute to Eileen Halligan snr., following her death in 2003. It makes reference to Eileen’s own description of herself as just a housewife – as if that isn’t a skill set all of its own. It tells of Eileen’s fundamental values of faith and care for her fellow (wo)man. It shines a light on the reason she fought so hard to get the Credit Union off the ground, what it doesn’t tell you is how she did that in the first instance. As one of her daughters, (Anne Halligan) let me tell you the untold story and how it Breaks the Bias.
Getting things done
My Mum had a very effective knack of getting things done, sometimes just with the raise of an eyebrow. She had been trying to raise a clarion call for Credit Unions for many years. However she wanted somebody else to do it because she was ‘just a housewife.’ Serendipitously perhaps, when my sister Eileen Halligan jnr., had an accident and was bedridden, our Mum used that time to persuade Eileen jnr. to start the Park Road Community Credit Union. Bear in mind this was in the days before the internet. The municipal library was the font of all knowledge. Whilst being practically horizontal 100% of the time, jnr. appeased snr. by writing letters and garnering interest. By the time the initial community meetings were taking place snr. had convinced jnr. to do most of the talking too.
Although our Mum did not believe she could carry out those tasks, she completely believed my sister could. Whilst each of us has our own points of strength and weakness, capabilities and inabilities, Mum did not think she had any of the talents to make the inroads Eileen, her daughter, could. Mum’s personal bias towards herself was that she could not effect change. She could coax somebody else to do it though. In many ways that was her greatest skill.
Mum was a pioneer. And to have her as a parent meant that our expectations of people were (possibly too) high. She was an invisible talent scout. In fact, most people can only recognise that she had moulded them after the fact. I see around me, every day, people, but mostly women, who have been touched by Mum’s wand. I don’t know if she knew what she was doing. Nevertheless, it was incredibly effective.
One of the ways she spread her influence was in the relationships she had with her children’s partners. All of my in-laws have at least one of Mum’s characteristics and all certainly have her sense of fairness and justice. They each live as though she was pulling their strings somehow. I take this as a testament to the values she instilled in her children and how we look for them in others.
Farewell to Kathy Halligan
This was brought home to us as a family recently. We lost our Sister-in-Law in December after a long illness. Kathy Halligan was our brother Joe’s wife. Joe was always our Mum’s baby. Therefore, it would make sense that he would be more influenced by her than the rest of us, but he couldn’t have known when he met Kathy how that influence would show itself.
Kathy was initially a volunteer and eventually a branch manager for Enterprise Credit Union. I could stop there and you would believe I had made my case for Mum and her influence. However, Kathy’s role as manager came after Mum died. How she managed was unknown to us until her death.
Enterprise Credit Union wrote a tribute to Kathy on their Facebook page. In a world where social media is king, that alone would be a testament, but all of the comments express regret over Kathy’s passing. Many say how she helped them, how kind and caring she was. One of the words which stands out to me is how many people called Kathy a lady. That’s not an obvious compliment these days, but for my parents and my Mum especially, women were rarely worthy of that description. For Mum it was possibly the highest accolade you could give a woman. Most of the comments are from other women. So Kathy is Breaking the Bias.
“Awwww Kathy was a lovely lady always there to help anyone! Rest in peace lovely lady xx”
“Such a beautiful soul! Wonderfully kind, caring and friendly. Deepest sympathies to her family and friends xx”
“Heart breaking… Kathy you was amazing, one of the most kindest helpful souls I’ve ever had the pleasure to encounter definitely one in a million you will be missed so much. Rest easy beautiful soul “
“Absolutely heartbreaking, Kathy was an absolute legend, nothing but kind. Thinking of Joe, the family and everyone who loved her. I did too. R.I.P Kathy xxx”
“Condolences to Kathy’s family she will be sorely missed such a friendly helpfull lady R I P Kathy xxxx”
I don’t replicate others’ personal information without permission so I’ve omitted the names of the responders.
Never ‘just a housewife’
I could fill pages with the beautiful sentiments left by people about Kathy, but I think I have illustrated my point. Kathy also didn’t feel as though she was a very capable woman, she was ‘just a housewife’ too and only started volunteering as her children grew older.
In fairness to her and my other in-laws etc. if you wanted to spend time with any of the Halligan children, you had to get involved with Credit Unions because that’s almost always where we could be found. Kathy initially got involved so she could spend time with Joe. She would never have claimed to have any particular skill set but she knew what it was like to struggle and she always wanted to help others out. I argue those are the core skills anybody within the Credit Union movement should have, for me, a Credit Union is only ever as good as its staff and volunteers and how they make the members feel.
Central Liverpool Credit Union; a springboard for amazing women
I am fortunate to be surrounded by people who live by those words and who are also pioneers in their own world. Our Credit Union has been a springboard for many amazing women. Women who have not only defied society’s expectations of them, but also their own personal expectations. Women who make other people feel valued and worthwhile. Women who show other women that supporting each other is how we effect change. Women who quietly get on with the job of making the world better. Women who are Breaking the Bias every minute of every day. You know them too, hell, you are probably one of them. Wonder women one and all, or actually every woman who ever gets up and does something for anyone else. You are my tribe. Who do you know who is Breaking the Bias?
I leave you with a quote by a woman I have a particular affection for. I only know her from history but to me she seems wise – Eleanor Roosevelt.
“We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it as not as dreadful as it appears, discovering that we have the strength to stare it down.”