Sue Lister, MBE for Equality, Diversity and the Arts in Yorkshire

Sue was born in Leeds in 1945. Her father joined the R.A.F. and was posted to India where Sue and her mother joined him in 1946. Though the British had to leave at the partition of India in 1947, by 1953 her family was back to help with the administration. After two years they returned to Britain and continued to move home every two years due to various R.A.F. postings. This “taught me to stand up for myself,” Sue says because she had to keep on changing schools. Once in secondary school, Sue acted in every school play and worked at the Chichester Festival Theatre in the holidays. At Leeds University (1964-1967), Sue acted and directed in the theatre group. In 1967-1968 she trained as a Drama and English teacher at Bretton Hall Training College. After a year teaching 700 children a week (“a total nightmare”) at Swanley Comprehensive School, Sue resigned and emigrated to New Zealand where she lived from 1972-1977 and “had a ball.” She was artistic director of the Centrepoint Children`s Theatre for two years and business manager for three modern dance companies touring New Zealand.  

From 1977-1982 Sue was back in England where she worked in mental health and with elderly disabled Londoners. Then she emigrated again, this time to Canada where she lived from 1982 – 1996. During her time there she was a freelance drama specialist in Edmonton and artistic director of Theatre Terrific in Vancouver – a theatre company for disabled people. Sue worked with them for nine years. Theatre Terrific ran drama classes, put on Fringe productions and performed to around 2,000 children a year in schools throughout British Columbia.  

Sue came back to Britain in 1996 with her Canadian life partner, Ann. For a year she was a senior secretary at MENCAP based in Harrogate. From 1997-2002 Sue worked for the University of York as a temp secretary – she worked in various departments which was “enlightening”. From 2002-2010 Sue had a settled position as Wentworth College Administrator, responsible for the welfare of graduate students from all over the world. 

In 2010 Sue retired, though she describes it as “resurgence” because she was now free to “plough all my time and energy into my own interests.” We know how much energy Sue has and here is a list of Sue’s many contributions to York and the UK: 

York Older People`s Assembly: Sue joined in 2002 because “I could see the demographics written on the wall.”  

York 50+ Festival: Sue started this festival in 2005 to celebrate and share older people’s initiatives and coordinated it for twelve years until 2016 when she passed it on to a team of seven – 

York International Women`s Week: Sue is the artistic director of the Real People Theatre and has created a show for YIWW from 2000. Sue coordinated the festival 2006-2014 before passing it on to a team of eight women – 

Real People Theatre: this was launched by Sue and Ann in 1999 and is a women`s company. Shows are on themes of social importance such as dementia, LGBT issues, our relationship to animals, death & dying and ageing without children (AWOC). Audience participation is encouraged (and forthcoming – speaking from personal experience!) – 

York LGBT Forum: Sue has been on the committee since it started in 2006. The charity raises LGBT awareness in schools and care homes, runs bisexual groups and transgender workshops, and focuses on health & wellbeing as well as hate crime and international issues.  Sue is coordinator of Free to Be Me in Care and Free to be Me in the Workplace which have, since 2016, provided training given by four volunteer presenters to care homes and many other workplaces. In 2018 a video was made for online training. 

AWOC York: Sue and her partner, Ann, started this local group in 2016. There are monthly meetings for those who are ageing without the support of nearby children and who want to put this issue on the national and local agenda. It’s part of the loneliness and isolation picture – millions ageing alone without family support. 

City of York Council Equality Advisory Group: Sue has been part of the group since 2006. In 2017 the title changed to Community Voices. They represent the protected characteristics groups across the city. 

Dementia Champion: since 2014 Sue and Ann have given information sessions to, for example, West Yorkshire Police, Halifax Bank, Skipton Building Society, Virgin East Coast Rail, Age UK York, the W.I., Costcutter and the Monks Cross Shopping Centre. 

Dignity in Dying Yorkshire – Sue joined in 2014. 

Sue campaigns on many issues including climate change and renewable energy, human and animal rights, plastic and peace, and has kept a daily diary since she was thirteen so has been able to tell me all this and more. 

Source: Interview with Sue by Rose Berl 

York Press Article 18 September 2017 about Sue’s MBE.

Photo by York Press.