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Council Leader pays emotional tribute to Theresa Potter

Posted on 30 Jul 2020

There are some people in life who leave a lasting impact on you and Ayrshire has just lost one of those people.

An activist, campaigner and community worker, Theresa Potter was a remarkable woman of strong working-class stock, her life dedicated to fighting injustice and helping others. She was never shy nor slow in speaking truth to power.

I am deeply shocked and saddened at Theresa’s sudden passing and my thoughts are with her husband Dougie, son Craig, the grandkids and the wider network of family and friends.

There are people who knew Theresa better than me, people like my dad who knew Theresa from campaigns such as the fight against the poll tax. But I will be forever grateful that our paths did cross, and for the way in which they did.

 Theresa spent over 20 years working with residents in Pennyburn, where I have spent most of my life, empowering them to buy, own and manage the Playz. The success of that project, and the community-led change that it brought about, would not have been possible without true community leaders like Theresa Potter and Ann Robertson MBE, leaders whose hard work and dedication to lift people up, to build confidence and capacity in marginalised communities, is nothing short of inspirational.

It was as a 26-year-old, newly elected councillor, that I started to get to know Theresa properly. Straight-talking doesn’t come close to describing Theresa and I am sure there have been many politicians over the years who have tried to hide when in her presence. But for me, what a learning curve. Yes, I got, as I would describe, ‘my ear chewed off’ once a month at my advice surgery in the Playz but I listened, I learnt, and it helped build my own personality and the way I try to carry out my role today.

You couldn’t meet Theresa and not be blown away by her commitment in fighting for fairness. I remember organising an evidence session at the Playz for a health inequalities report a number of years ago. The research was being led by a public health academic and a political friend, and it was Theresa’s input that ended up shaping the whole direction of their work – in fact Theresa ended up being asked to help launch the report at an event hosted by UNISON Scotland and was later described as a ‘tour de force’ by those in attendance.

 In recent years, Theresa worked for North Ayrshire Council, firstly with the Family Learning Team in Education and latterly with the Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP). When our paths crossed in the Council I often joked that now I was Council Leader it was important that we hired her so she wasn’t able to be quite so straight-talking as she had been when I was simply an opposition councillor.  Not that such an approach could ever work with Theresa right enough!

One of the last public engagements that I did with Theresa present was the ‘Fair Say’ session at Kilwinning Academy where Council staff were able to ask questions directly of myself and the Chief Executive and it is fair to say that Theresa had one or two (hundred) questions for us!

 Her time at the Council was short but her impact massive. Her work with Kilwinning Academy and the cluster schools, particularly with parents, was outstanding and the Academy have been one of the many mourners who have paid tribute to her impact.

 But the importance of people like Theresa is never more evident than when we face a crisis and since March Theresa showed us all what a life commitment to helping others looks like. Theresa was fundamental to the quick establishment and rollout of North Ayrshire’s Community Hubs as Covid-19 hit and has been a constant presence at the hub in the Garnock Valley ever since. I know that news of her passing has been a great shock to those who have been working with her over the last few months. I am sure it will be Theresa’s dedication to helping people that will provide a source of energy for them to continue doing what Theresa helped establish.

Theresa has been taken from her family, friends and colleagues far too early, her legacy remains in the many lives she touched. A true community champion, a strong working-class woman, an inspirational leader, a wife, a mother, a gran, a friend, a legend. Thank you, Theresa.