At first, Barbara Clare did not want to come to Newton Aycliffe. A committed Christian, she told God: “I’ll go anywhere for you Lord … except Newton Aycliffe”. It seemed, however, that God had other plans – she came to live in Aycliffe in 1977 and, despite attempts to go and live elsewhere, always ended up back here.
Barbara was born in Bradford, living as a child in Ushaw Street. Desperately ill at the age of ten, she nevertheless managed to go to Bolling Grammar School and (despite leaving with just one ‘O’ level) worked as an auxiliary nurse and a PA in a Building Society. She became a Christian, married an accountant, adopted two daughters, and seemed destined for a middle-class life as a mother who helped with youth groups and bible groups in a city church … until 1976 when her husband, who had decided to train to be a vicar, threw it all up and went off with a student, leaving her and her daughters in a student flat in Cranmer Hall, Durham (which, of course, she had to quit).
Thus it was – via a Council house in Bearpark and an exchange to Silverdale – she came to live in Aycliffe.
“When I came to Newton Aycliffe in 1977,” she said later, “I was a deserted wife with two small children. In Newton Aycliffe I was given a house, friends, a job and a place in the community.”
To the end of her life, she campaigned that those days of opportunity might not be taken away from others by governments which did not seem to understand the principles of the Welfare State.
She worked as a finance clerk at Perstorp, and as PA to the director of a construction company. Marrying a local teacher, with family finances stretched, she also, however, to make ends meet, worked as a school cleaner and collected milk money door-to-door. For a time, once a week, she helped out as a volunteer reading coach at Stephenson Way School and then at Greenfield Comprehensive as a Learning Support Assistant.
Barbara was elected as Town Councillor for Woodham in 1995 and then, in 2003-2007, to Sedgefield Borough Council. There, she was appointed Vice Chair of the important Scrutiny 3 Committee, which monitored Council spending, and was proud to represent the Borough on an exchange visit to Rheinhausen in Germany. In the community, she was secretary to the Local Implementation Group for Mental Health, and to the Woodham Community Association, and she also at that time served as a director of the Sedgefield Citizens Advice Bureau. Proud Labour, she was also Assistant Secretary of the Council’s Labour Group.
In 2009, Barbara suffered a quick succession of serious heart attacks, during which she died and had to be resuscitated, and needed an emergency double by-pass. From that time on, she lived with severe heart failure, which in turn damaged her kidneys and liver. Coming round from an induced coma in intensive care, she would remember seeing people as white shapes with tiny yellow alien faces … and determining not to sleep until she had recovered. She resolved to live, and to make the most of her remaining time for her community.
She served as GATC Deputy Mayor and then, in 2013-14, as Mayor of Great Aycliffe. At the start of her year she set herself three objectives: (1) to acknowledge the marvellous people of Great Aycliffe and all that they do, (2) to raise the profile of Great Aycliffe in County Durham, and (3) to build links between the community and the companies on the Business Park. With the help of the Newton News, she was able to accomplish all three, hosting ‘at homes’ for Aycliffe volunteers, and was particularly delighted with the number of local firms she was able to visit and support, including Formica, Palram and Hitachi. Her chosen charity was the Cardiothoracic Unit at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, to which she owed her life, and she presented the cheque to the surgeon who had saved her (who was not a little concerned about the amount of work she had done during her year as Mayor!)
Barbara was re-elected for Woodham Village in 2017 and again in 2021. After campaigning for a higher profile for women on Great Aycliffe Town Council, she became Vice-Chair of Planning. She served as Secretary to Sedgefield Constituency Labour Party, providing a calming influence during a lively time in the Party’s history.
Lately, as a medically vulnerable person, she found herself self-isolating for much of the pandemic, but – helped by Bewick Crescent Surgery and the local NHS heart and diabetes teams – actually felt healthier, taking short walks and enjoying breaks at her holiday home in Whitby. Unable to attend church, she found her spiritual needs met by a weekly phone call from Rev Daniel Hudson, which she greatly valued. Last Tuesday, however, she contracted a short-but-sharp infection, which led to anaemia and – too weak to cope with any medical procedure – her husband by her side – she passed away calmly at Darlington Memorial Hospital at 11pm on Monday 17 January, 2022. (Many thanks to the staff on Wards 34 and 42 for making her so comfortable.)
Barbara leaves behind three children and nine grandchildren, and an adoring husband whose comment was that the light has left his life.
Hundreds of lovely posts on Facebook evidence the respect and love of many local people for the lady who was sure God was determined she should live and die in Aycliffe.