Shuna Body Oral History Transcript


Shuna Body Oral History Transcript


Shuna Body


Transcript of an Oral History Recording with interviewee Shuna Body


Michael Romyn


Kent's Sporting Memories


6 April, 2020


Shuna Body; Michael Romyn


Kent's Sporting Memories


Shuna Body Oral History Recording


Microsoft Word Document




Typed Summary


Shuna Body


Kent’s Sporting Memories Oral History Transcript
Interviewee: Shuna Body
Interviewer: Michael Romyn
Date: 6 March, 2020
Location: CARM Offices, Appledore Kent

Michael Romyn: Can you say your name, date of birth, and where you were born?

Shuna Body: Shuna Body, 18/01/67, and I was born in Lewisham.

MR: And did you grow up in Lewisham?

SB: No, I grew up in Hayes, which is Bromley, on the outskirts of Bromley. So born in Lewisham Hospital but I spent my whole childhood in Hayes, Bromley.

MR: And your parents, where are they from?

SB: Erm, near the Bromley area, so Coney Hall, which isn't a million miles away, and Blackheath, so.

MR: What did they do for a living?

SB: My Mum originally worked for News Week, which is the American news publication - her claim to fame is that she was just about the first person to find out about Kennedy being assassinated, erm, by ticker tape! And my Dad worked for a company called Expandite, which - they made sealants for roads and bridges and that sort of thing.

MR: Was your Mum a reporter?

SB: She, originally she wrote articles, I don't think she was a reporter, she tended to write articles. Had the world laid out to her, so she had the opportunity to go to America as a journalist and stuff, but stayed at home. Erm, so she only did that for a short while and then worked in the Bank of England, and then had children and then sort of worked around - working at schools, receptionists and that sort of thing.

MR: Are they both from the Bromley area your parents?

SB: Yeah, my Mum was Blackheath and my Dad was sort of Coney Hall, so yeah, Bromley-ish.

MR: Do you know how they met?

SB: Erm, through the young Conservatives, which was the social club at the time I gather, so.

MR: And did they remain active with the Conservatives?

SB: No. No. I think the young Conservatives was a bit like Young Farmers now - it was a massive social club and my Mum took on the journalistic things, so she did things like the newsletters. And it was very exciting because she - they had people like Dudley Moore and all the Goons who were associated through the Cambridge Footlights, for some reason the Cambridge Footlights got linked with Bromley Conservatives, I'm not sure quite how, probably a local connection and err, so yeah, she had some good fun really.

MR: What's the story about her being the first to hear about the Kennedy assassination?

SB: She was in the - because this is obviously before mobile phones or anything and she was in the London office and she said some sort of, I don't know, not siren, but noise went up when there was a major announcement, and they looked up and there was this big ticker tape message come right across the office saying 'Kennedy Assassinated', and she said it was interesting because the whole office went silent and was shocked and then within thirty seconds it was 'right, we need to get this story out', because in those days they were the people that got the story out first, because the general public over here wouldn't have heard about it so, erm, so yeah, she said it was a really strange day because they were numb for about a minute and then worked on getting the story out and then went home and sort of numb again really.

MR: It must have been a really weird experience...

SB: Yeah, she said it was a moment she'll never forget.

MR: What do you remember about your early years in Bromley, growing up there?

SB: I've got a twin brother so erm, yeah, it wasn't a bad place to be brought up. We went to a small primary school and then the secondary school just up the road, so yeah, it was an okay place to live really. My parents were very much, as I think most parents in those days, is that you made your own entertainment so, it was very much going to the park or cycling or kicking a football around or whatever really.

MR: Were you free to roam around?

SB: Certainly in Hayes we could roam around. As we got older Bromley changed drastically so Bromley changed from quite a nice town to quite a rough town, not rough town but they, they would have, not gangs as we know it now but erm, it attracted the wrong types really, so I, I wouldn't go to, as a young teenager I wouldn't go to Bromley on my own socialising, and to be honest when I was an older teenager, there was nothing in Bromley that you'd want to go and socialize with anyway so we tended to just sort of roam locally with friends around Hayes really.

MR: How far is Hayes from Bromley?

SB: About two or three miles, yeah, three miles probably.

MR: Did you go to Bromley to go the leisure centre or the cinema or anything like that?

SB: Erm, we went shopping in Bromley and then later on they had a coffee importers that was famous at the time, just the most amazing smell. I don't think anyone ever used it but - so we used to, yeah, if we needed clothes for school we'd go to Bromley for shopping, erm, and the cinema we'd go to, cinema's perhaps the only social thing we ever did in Bromley really.

MR: Can you pinpoint when it started to change or is it too gradual to say?

SB: I guess when I was, I mean, I left, working backwards, I left Hayes when I was about seventeen so I guess when I was about fifteen or sixteen, erm, the turning point for Bromley was when McDonalds arrived, erm, and they suddenly had an awful lot of assaults late at night, erm, and I can remember the local policeman saying, whether it was factually true or not, I don't know, but I can remember the local policeman saying that there was a near murder every Saturday night when McDonalds opened, but how factually true that was, I don't know, but they certainly - it's the first time I saw places with bouncers on the door and that sort of thing whereas I'd never seen that before really. And I guess the other interesting thing about growing up was that the Northern Ireland threat was still very much there, erm, so I remember at school when all the dustbins were removed because they were seen as a security hazard. And interestingly enough you never ever saw litter on the streets, even though there was, we had no bins at school, we had no bins on the streets, but there was never any litter. That's the answer! People took it home. So yeah, and I guess from that point of view, everyone was quite, not relaxed but everyone was very accepting, you know, I can, I can remember at different times being, so we regularly at school, we regularly had bomb scares, and everyone was very matter of fact about it, and even though most times we thought 'oh it actually could be', erm, everyone just got used to having bomb scares. And I find as a result, when I'm on the tube or I go to London now I think I'm far more observant to unattended bags and things like that than I perhaps would be because it was drilled into us really - if you saw an unattended bag you had to report it, so yeah.

MR: Was this in the early eighties?

SB: Yeah.

MR: As a seventeen, eighteen-year-old did you have an opinion on the politics that was going on around Northern Ireland, or just more aware of the threat?

SB: Yeah, just more aware of the threat, I don’t think I really - I found the politics bizarre but it's probably because I didn't really understand it, erm, so no, yeah, politically we didn't really sort of look into it much, it was just dealing with the threat really.

MR: And were you aware of your parents' concerns about what was happening?

SB: Well my mum had Irish roots so she, she was very aware and she, she - for instance when she was a teenager, erm, she was brought up in the Church of England, and when she was a teenager she made the mistake of telling her parents that her boyfriend was a Roman Catholic, and they made her get rid of him straight away. And she said she can remember as a teenager being really confused as to, you know, 'he's a really nice guy, what's it got to do with him?' sort of thing. And then in much later years, erm, she said looking back actually for what her father went through with Bloody Sunday and all the rest of it, she can understand that reaction - although she didn't really agree with it - she can understand why they were, so.

MR: So your grandparents on your mother's side lived in Northern Ireland?

SB: Yeah, for a short time. They moved over here, I think my grandmother lived over here, my grandfather I think was brought up in Belfast but moved over quite early on.

MR: Were your parents sporty at all?

SB: No, not at all. Not at all! They didn't even watch sport, I mean, yeah. They had no interest in sport whatsoever really.

MR: Were you and your twin brother interested in sport at all?

SB: I mean at school, at school I enjoyed hockey, I liked being in goal for hockey, wasn't very good but I enjoyed it. My brother wasn't sporty at all though he did actually do fencing for a short time, erm, but he would never - I liked football, I was really miffed that girls didn't play football, whereas my brother wasn't interested in football or cricket, so. But he was much more into music and playing the violin, that kept him busy.

MR: How did you get interested in football?

SB: I don't know, I just liked it, erm, I could never understand why it was a boys' game really and so at school I'd always try and muscle in on the boys playing football. I just liked kicking a football around. But I didn't follow it at all, I didn't have a team. I mean I said I had a team - I can't even remember what team I said I had but I didn't, I could never watch them play or, even on the television, but, erm, I just liked kicking the football around really.

MR: There weren't any women's football teams near you?

SB: No, no. There was Millwall Ladies, erm, who were a force to be reckoned with but that was the only, and they were like, not professional, but they, they didn't have a sort of teenage youth club really and - and Crystal Palace, sorry Millwall, would have been too far for us to travel to for that anyway.

MR: So you simply didn't have an option?

SB: No, no. There was no option.

MR: Can you explain how you got into fencing?

SB: Yeah, erm, basically every other year our school did a big production and pretty much schooling ceased every other year because everything was about the production! But they did it brilliantly, erm, it's fantastic quality, and I used to love being prompt. Don't really know why but I used to love being prompt and doing a bit of stuff backstage, but obviously being prompt when you've got people who are really rehearsed and know what they're doing gets a bit boring so I was always mucking about with the smoke machine or something. And one particular time I found - they were doing Romeo and Juliet - and I found Romeo's sword and decided to poke a few people backstage and the teacher who's called Mr Matthews said, you know, 'Put that down. If you really want to know how to use it I'll show you properly but put it down for now', and I was like 'Oh, yeah, go on, show me how to use it', like you would! And then afterwards he said, 'Well if you meant that I’ll show you', and, so then, some friend of mine were intrigued, and out of that grew a fencing club really, which was really unusual because, you know, I went to a comprehensive school, and comprehensives certainly didn't do fencing. So it was quite funny, when we started doing competitions 'cause it was always boys' public schools, and they even objected to me being on the team, erm, yeah. St Dunstan's at first one of them refused to fence me because I was female, and then when he was made to I sort of let rip really with my sword. Don't think it helped - I don't think he wanted to fence with a female again! But I proved my point.

MR: What was the name of the school you went to?

SB: Haye's Comprehensive.

MR: So the team originated with your interest?

SB: Yeah, just from poking that person with a sword and [the teacher] saying 'I'll show you if you've got any other friends that want to come along', so we didn't, I guess at school we only really had traditional sports like we had - I can't think what we did have, we had football and hockey and I can't actually think of any other sports that we had, so I guess it was something different and erm, and it, and because it started like that it wasn't a case of only men or only women, so everyone, it was a mixture of people. In fact lots of people turned up, so.

MR: It was quite popular then?

SB: It was so popular because he only had, I don't know, half a dozen swords and - so he was quite clever, he got us all doing footwork for about six weeks and he got rid of the people who didn't want to do it, and then we started fencing, so. And fencing - footwork for able-bodied is key to fencing so it wasn't a bad start really.

MR: How many did he whittle you down to?

SB: I think, I think - first time I think there was about thirty of us and I think he whittled us down to probably about, it was quite a healthy number, probably about twelve, fifteen.

MR: Did you know of any other comprehensives doing it?

SB: No not at all, no, no.

MR: So just lucky that you had that particular teacher.

SB: Yeah it was just pure, pure luck and, you know, I think what a great teacher really because he could have just shouted at me or given me a detention or, like most teachers would have done but erm, but yeah.

MR: do you know what his fencing background was?

SB: No I don't actually, possibly university but that's a guess really.

MR: Was it an afternoon thing, or lunchtimes?

SB: I think it was lunchtimes, I think it started off lunchtimes but I think it went to after school because of just the time of getting our kit and getting changed and stuff it - it was alright when we were just doing footwork and stuff but, yeah it was afterschool.

MR: What was there in terms of kit?

SB: Well there's three swords, so you have the saber, the épée, and the foil. The sabre is the old cavalry weapon so erm, therefore everything above the waist is target because you're on a horseback, originally. Erm, the épée was the dueling weapon so in able bodied fencing every where’s target, and then the foil was a practice weapon for dueling, so it's just the trunk of the body, the back and the trunk of the boy, no arms, no legs, no head. So I forget what you asked now.

MR: The equipment...

SB: Yes, so the equipment you have breaches, and you have what's called an under plastron which is there so that if a sword breaks and goes through your fencing jacket, there's another layer of defense, it's like half a jacket, so it's on the most likely side you'll be hit so if you're right handed, you'll be fencing with your right arm, so you have like half a jacket underneath which is called an under plastron. Then on top of that you have the fencing jacket, and then if you're doing - which all competitions are now - electric scoring, then you have another sort of silvery looking jacket over the top of your jacket over the top of your under plastron! It gets a bit hot!

MR: And headwear?

SB: Headwear, sorry yeah. You have a mask, yeah.

MR: Would the school provide this for you?

SB: Erm, yes they did actually, I mean I don't know how or why they had equipment, and looking back it was pretty ropey but, erm, health and safety wasn't really thought of then.

MR: And then you'd go around public schools?

SB: Yeah, we went around public schools, erm, and then I joined Bromley fencing club which was a senior fencing club, and there, by then I'd bought my own kit - they did have kit to lend people but a sort of general rule was that if you wanted to carry on fencing you'd want your own kit anyway, so, so yeah, I did that as well.

MR: Were you successful when you took part?

SB: Yeah, but I sort of kick myself really because, you know, when I was eighteen I had natural ability but I didn't actually know that I had natural ability, so I didn't actually put that much effort in, but sort of got to, well, got to silver medal of the county championships, which I was really miffed about because the girl I'd beaten all year round beat me in the final. And I met her a few years ago, I was 'I'll never forget you', so. But yeah I did it, so for instance now when I think about what's involved in the sport and coaching, I never had a game plan, I never before a match thought in my head how I might go about it, I just reacted to what came at me really, yeah, so. And it was only when I had a break from fencing and went back that I realised that in some ways it was a shame that I stopped when I did really, but.

MR: The coaches weren't at Bromley?

SB: The coaches were there, yeah. We had a, in fact we had a professor of coaching who was something else. He certainly would be struck off these days for, because, you know, if you got it wrong he'd smack you over the head with the sword and stuff.

MR: Old school...

SB: Really old school! In fact there was a bit of a joke going round that when I was in the fencing competition and I made a mistake I would duck, my head would duck and that's, and that stemmed from my fencing lessons where I'd got it wrong I would duck!

MR: So they didn't encourage you to carry on?

SB: Well then, then I moved, I went to college, moved away and there was no fencing club so it was, it was me moving that, that, erm, you know I went to college up in Cumbria and, I don't know, life was exciting as a student and there wasn't a fencing club there, and didn't really occur to me to do really, so.

MR: You were competing in county tournaments?

SB: Yeah, the under eighteens before I moved on, yeah, under eighteen county competitions.

MR: And that final when you were runner-up - is that a vivid memory?

SB: Oh yeah. Nicola Hull. Yeah. Never forgive her! Yes, the one girls’ public school that did fencing in the area was called Stratford House and she came from Stratford House, and to be fair we were very even fencers, we were pretty much matched really. So even though I had beaten her throughout the whole year it'd only be by one or two points, but, course the one medal that I wanted she pipped me too it. And when I last saw her a few years ago I said it, she said 'Oh you've got a good memory', I said I'd never forget it!

MR: Were these men's and women's sections or all together?

SB: Yeah, men's and women's were separate yeah.

MR: So there was interest from women - there were enough participants?

SB: Yeah, yeah. And we had team events, I don't think at that stage we had mixed team events, I think it was still single sex, so. Yeah, and they were mainly girls’ public schools really, the girls came from, yeah.

MR: You went to college after school?

SB: Yeah. Well no, sorry, I left school and then I went, at seventeen I went to, to Cornwall and I did a year's experience on the farm because I wanted to go to agricultural college, so I went down to Cornwall first of all for a year, and you, in Cornwall, farming and Young Farmers took over my life really, and then I went onto agricultural college. I think - I'm trying to get my timings right - I think I might of - I went to Hadlow for the year first of all and I think from time to time I did go back to Bromley because Bromley Fencing Club met on a Sunday, so I think from time to time during my year at Hadlow I did go back and fence at Bromley. And then I went up to Cumbria College, after Hadlow, for two years and that's when fencing ceased really.

MR: Had you always wanted to get into farming?

SB: I originally wanted to be a vet but didn't have the brain cells so I ended up in farming, so, yeah.

MR: And then after your two years in Cumbria?

SB: Erm, where did I go next? Err, I always have to work backwards, I think, yeah I came to, I moved about quite a lot really so I worked in Kingsnorth in Kent for a couple of years , I worked in Hampshire for a year or so, and dossed about, and then until I got married when I was twenty-five and I ended up coming back here, so.

MR: What sort of farming were you doing?

SB: Sheep, yeah. Sheep were always my interest really.

MR: Have you remained on the same farm since you moved down here?

SB: Yeah, because I married a farmer so his farm's going nowhere so, as in geographically! So yeah. I, sorry, I did do dairy for quite a few years as well, but that was mainly - it's quite interesting really 'cause, up north, when I was up north it was very easy for a girl to get a job as a shepherd or a shepherdess, whatever you like to call it, it was almost the norm really. Whereas when I came back down here looking for a job in sheep it was very much family farms and they wouldn't even entertain a female. So I did work in the dairy industry in Benenden for five or six years, or six or seven years I think.

MR: I spoke to someone from a sheep farming family who said something similar - have those attitudes changed?

SB: I think they probably have, I mean round here there's still a lot of family farms so to be fair they're not employing a lot of staff anyway, erm, whereas I guess in Cumbria there were a lot of flocks, and quite a few estates that employed people, so it was partly the attitude and partly because there was more opportunity in Cumbria because there's certainly more sheep than cows, well there was when I was up there anyway.

MR: How did you meet your husband?

SB: Originally at Hadlow, at agricultural college, so we were best friends at agricultural college and then sort of stayed friends and ended up marrying each other, like you do!

MR: Did you work on the farm when you moved down here?

SB: No I, when I moved back down here I struggled to find a job at first so I worked for Oakover Nurseries, tree nursery, which I absolutely hated every single day I did, erm, but it was just a means to an end really.

MR: Why did you hate it?

SB: We had like, sort of seedling, sort of sapling trees and basically most days I'd count to twenty-five grading them. And counting to twenty-five all day and everyday just does your head in really. And it was always cold - I didn't mind that if I was actually enjoying doing the job, but. So did that for a couple of years, and then I worked in the farming cooperative, at Kent Wool Growers which sadly has ceased to be but, in Ashford, selling stuff to farmers there, that was quite entertaining.

MR: How many of you were in the coop?

SB: Quite a few, we had - because there was a, there was quite a big agricultural section, and there was a gun section and then there was a sort of horsey section, and I was in the agricultural section, so, I think it was where the farmers came in for their sheep wormers and dips and, err, fence posts and gates and that sort of thing and quite an interesting time because it was during foot and mouth so. And it was really very interesting because people ended up coming in just to have a chat, they'd come and but, like, one screw or something pathetic. And in the end we had a sign saying if you just want to have a cup of coffee, have a cup of coffee, 'cause - so yeah, that was an interesting time really.

MR: So it became a kind of hub for people?

SB: Yeah, people would come and find out what was going on, and 'have you heard anything?', and we - it's a bit morbid really but we had a chart on the wall and anytime we heard of a farm in [inaudible] it went on the walls, so everyone came and looked at the wall.

MR: Was it fun to work as part of a coop?

SB: Yeah it was fun, I enjoyed it really. And it had good banter, yeah. One of those jobs that you wouldn't do forever 'cause I was there for two years and on my last day I was doing exactly what I was doing on my first day, but erm, but it was good fun just for the banter really.

MR: What happened to it?

SB: I mean I left but unfortunately it went into liquidation a couple of years ago so it's no longer there, so.

MR: How did you get back into fencing, and particularly the coaching side of it?

SB: Erm, so then I decided to, I fancied doing fencing again and one evening I went along to Tenterden Swords, I saw they had a club there, so I went along there, erm, and the same guy also had a club in Maidstone so I used to go to Tenterden and Maidstone, always Tenterden but sometimes Maidstone. And it's funny, I, I realised then I'd completely lost my competitive edge, and, and I was a bit despondent really, and I spoke to the coach about it and he said why don't you go into coaching? So, yeah, he encouraged me to do some coaching qualifications and became a coach really, so.

MR: And you were coaching at Tenterden Swords?

SB: Yeah, very much as his assistant, he was the main coach, but yeah I used to - I think it ran from seven to nine but from, I don't know, seven to eight we had youngsters so I used to do youngsters and then with the adults if anyone was new I, I would start them off and then pass them on to him.

MR: What sort of period was this?

SB: I guess it must have been between - it was after we got married because my husband took up rugby and I took up fencing so, I guess it was mid to late twenties, I was, yeah.

MR: What happened to your competitive edge?

SB: I don't know it just - somebody stole it! Whereas before I had to win, it was just, yeah, it's strange really.

MR: Did you enjoy coaching?

SB: Yeah, yeah, no I enjoyed coaching.

MR: How did you start working with disabled athletes?

SB: I went to a coaching conference that was up in Derbyshire and they had a demonstration that was wheelchair fencing, which I found really interesting, and at the end of it they said, 'look, we're desperate for coaches, that's why we've come - we meet regularly at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, come along and have a look'. So I chatted to them afterwards and they had one, they had one coach who was a bit hit and miss at the time, and I said I'd come in and have a look and so, had a look and never left really. And just such a great bunch of people really, it's the people that did it for me really, so.

MR: When you first got involved there was only one other coach?

SB: Yeah.

MR: And he wasn't consistent?

SB: He was a nice guy but he, he would he would talk more than he would fence so, erm, yeah, so he would, if we were doing a group session they were almost nodding off really by the time he'd finished talking. So I said 'Well shall I take one or two of them off and start', so, yeah. So he was very knowledgeable but, erm, he was probably past his prime. I mean fantastic that he kept it altogether really so, I'm not knocking him at all because if it hadn't been for him it just wouldn't have continued really so, but yeah.

MR: But then you took over?

SB: Yeah, so then I started coaching alongside him and then over the period of years we had other coaches come, and then once we got our lottery funding we could have, you know, proper, what I call proper coaches, we could have like, internationally, sort of qualified coaches whereas I was only ever really county standard as a coach really. So then I stepped back a bit and really did what I was doing before, any newcomers or - the main coach would lead the session and then I'd go round and sort of correct people and help people. So I did that for years and years and ended up going out as team manager or assistant team manager or, and then, yeah, and then went more into management so, I got, I think I must have missed a meeting where I was voted in as chair - I still don't, I still have no memory as to how that happened but I did that for, I did that for eight years, and went more into the management side really.

MR: Do you remember what year you first went to Stoke Mandeville and got started?

SB: I reckon it would've been, about - I think my first competition was something like ninety-four and that was really early on, so I would say ninety-four, ninety-five, yeah.

MR: Was there interest among the athletes there?

SB: Yeah, they were a good bunch of people, erm, yeah, and they, I think things are a lot more serious now but with them it is very much a social club, and also the first time that a lot of them had actually, sort of engaged with other disabled people, so, you know, they'd spend hours talking about bowels and bladders and catheters and things, which I used to tease them no end about, but actually they were just learning from each other really, so.

MR: So for a lot of them it was about meeting people going through similar things?

SB: Yeah.

MR: The sport, the fencing, was secondary?

SB: Yeah, at first. And then over time that, that changed. Winning the lottery changed that - the lottery funding made it much more professional. And also by then there was a lot more support for disabled people as in getting the right chair and the support that perhaps wasn't there before really.

MR: So when you first started was there not much in the way of infrastructure and government support?

SB: Not a lot. You still had people who would, who would come along to us and they, they would be like a tiny person in this massive wheelchair which, you know, somebody at the local hospital found a spare wheelchair and gave it to them, and didn't get that it's like wearing a pair of shoes, you know, a wheelchair's meant to fit you! So it was, yeah, very basic stuff like that really. And just knowing how to, how to sort of move and turn and all sorts in the wheelchair and go up steps, down steps, now there's lots of - not lots - but now there's, there are organisations that run wheelchair skills courses and that sort of thing, whereas before it wasn't really.

MR: It sounds as if introducing fencing into those circumstances would be quite difficult...

SB: Yeah, it was really. It was, erm, the whole remit, really.

MR: How does disabled fencing work in terms of competition?

SB: They're static, so they're in a fixed frame, so they're basically sort of at right angles to each other, so if you have two right handers you'd have one right hander like that and the other one would be like that, and if there’s a left hander, they'd, if it was a left hander they'd be facing, no, they'd be facing you, so their left hand would be nearest to my sword arm really. And there's a set distance there's a set way of setting the distance to do with arm length and actually being able to reach each other. It's always debatable, you get lots of like [makes bickering noise] going on, so, yeah, they're in the fixed frame. And other than that, with the exception of épée, the rules are the same. The only difference with épée is that the legs aren't a target because, erm, as you and I would say, it's probably too dangerous, as they would say well, it's not fair because one person might only have one leg. Erm, it's purely on safety, you, you know, most of them haven't got feeling, or a lot of them don't have feeling in their legs so, to actually have them as part of the target would be a bit wrong really!

MR: How did it evolve? Were there competitions when you first started?

SB: Yeah, yeah. Guttman, I can't remember - I can't believe I've forgotten his first name but there was a guy called Guttmann who started off the Paralympic movement, and fencing was one of the first - not the first- I think archery was the first Paralympic sport, but. And he very much set Stoke Mandeville up for using sport as rehabilitation for spinal injuries, and that's really how the Paralympic movement was started really, so. So yeah there were competitions - t that time it was mainly Europe, whereas now competitions are worldwide really. And it's mainly Europe because traditionally places like Hungary, you know, fencing is like football to us, sort of, so a lot of the European countries - it's a massive sport anyway, so it, so it was very natural for it to have a disabled section to it really.

MR: What were the first Paralympics you were involved in?

SB: Sydney. Yeah. Yeah, which was amazing. Amazing because it - because the Australians first and foremost was sport and secondly was disability, and that's the first time that, that they'd been treated like that really so. And a lot of the local Australians had moved out of town during the Olympics and rented their houses and flats out, and had come back for the Paralympics, so the interest in sport was just amazing. And they, they'd never experienced people, especially fencing being quite a minority sport - our guys had never experienced people queueing to get into a fencing event and, you know, normally you drag people in. So that was a really good experience.

MR: Were you acting in a coaching capacity?

SB: No I was a bit of a, erm, dogs body role really but good fun, but yeah I just assisted with getting them around and getting to the venues, getting anything they needed, make sure they were being fed and general stuff really.

MR: How did the team get on?

SB: Not good. In those days they weren't good, so erm, so yeah. They weren't expected to do well and they didn't do well!

MR: And in subsequent Paralympics? Have performances improved?

SB: We now have two world champions, so yeah, just a tad really. So Rio was our first medal in twenty-three years at a Paralympics, we got silver. So even though there's a picture of me with my head in my hands despairing that he'd only got silver, whilst the rest of the stand was celebrating! Because he made stupid mistakes, you know - it's really annoying when you watch somebody and you know they could have won, wiped the floor with this guy. But the next day I realised what a moment [inaudible]. But yeah, that was the first Paralympic medal in twenty-three years, so.

MR: In fencing?

SB: In fencing, yeah, in fencing, so.

MR: Rio - what year was that?

SB: That was 2016 so the last one.

MR: Did you go to all the Paralympics in between Sydney and Rio?

SB: No, I did Sydney, London and Rio. Athens we only had one fencer, which was a bit sad, so one coach flew out with him and they had quite a sad time [inaudible].

MR: Why only one?

SB: Because only one qualified. And Beijing I think we only had one as well, so yeah, I didn't go to those two, for those.

MR: Tell me about the London Olympics?

SB: It was amazing really because we always had the - because it was a home games, I got much more involved with - I wasn't coaching for London, but I was very much involved with the British Paralympic Association in hosting the games, erm, so that, although it was full on and I look back now and I think I don't know how I got through it, it was amazing because we always had an ethos that if London couldn't change the attitude of Paralympic sport then it would never change. And it's one of those things we always hoped for but didn't quite believe really so when, when, when London sort of achieved what it did and more, and when, I think it was at the closing ceremony Sebastien Coe stood up and said the world has now changed, you know, the roar from the stadium, because everyone realised that actually people were actually starting to take Paralympic sport as proper sport rather than just, 'Oh it's nice that disabled people are doing sport'. And just the reception, just, everyone was so, London was just so happy and so excited and you got on the tube and if you had a GB kit on, even if you explained to them that you weren't an athlete they still wanted your autograph and, you know, we got on the tube with the Germans once and half the tube, the Germans sang the German national anthem and then we sang ours, and then the whole tube were joining in and it was just, just an amazing atmosphere. And the weather was perfect, which was most unusual. And I, I was, I had the added bonus, because I was Chairman of the national governing body, I was treated like any chairman of any other governing body, so like the chairman of the Football Association, so I had my own driver! So we went everywhere, 'Yeah, that's go over there!'.

MR: So you made use of it then?

SB: So yeah, we made - I mean it was a really good thing to do actually because basically it was an amazing system, basically I just phoned up this number, and within ten minutes a sort of fully marked up 2012 car would arrive and take me anywhere really, so, so most of the time we did only use it for getting from A to B quickly which was really useful, but there was one person who hadn't been to London so we went on a, after we had finished competing we went for a drive around London! Saw all the sites and came back again!

MR: And you were part of the torch ceremony as well?

SB: Erm, Wheelchair Fencing nominated me as a candidate as it were, and I was lucky enough to be chosen, so. I got my spot which was in Rye, so, and I run through Rye really.

MR: You had to do a leg of a run?

SB: Yeah. And - do you know Rye? So basically it was back to front so the, the Rye traffic, erm, goes down the hill, comes round the corner, goes down the hill, but we had to run up the hill! Most people walked but I thought you've got to run it, so, and I managed to singe the policeman who was running next to me, we had a policeman on each side, and I saw my godson and waved with the torch and smacked him in the head with the torch! But again, that was a great atmosphere, everyone, everyone was just happy really.

MR: Have you come up against exclusionary and ignorant attitudes while working with disabled athletes?

SB: I think it was ignorance. And I think one of the best things I did for 2012 - I had a very dear friend who, we used to beg to differ because he used to say, 'Well, you know, I get what you're doing with disabled people and it's really great but it's not sport - you can't tell me that they train as hard as, you know, the able bodied athletes', and wouldn't have it, and he said 'and the quality isn’t there', erm, and to be fair in previous Paralympics it probably hadn't been. So I, luckily I had access to quite a few free tickets so I, I gave him a load of free tickets in sports that I knew he'd be interested and he phoned me up and said my mind has been blown! And he said thank you so much for making me go, and I take back all I've ever said, so. And it was really good to see people actually realise that, I think people still thought it was a bit of a nicety, I think they, I think they were shocked to see people going out, all out to win and being in buckets of tears if they didn't and, erm, yeah, so, it was good.

MR: Is that a legacy of 2012 - that people's attitudes have changed?

SB: Oh totally. I mean prior to 2012 none of my friends ever asked me about wheelchair fencing. They knew I did it, they knew I spent most of my life doing it, but even when it was a Paralympic year they never asked, no one was ever interested. But now all the time people, you know, 'How are you guys doing?', and 'What's the latest?', and that felt quite odd really. Nicely odd, because there just hadn't been an interest really.

MR: You said it took up most of your life - how did it do this?

SB: Yeah, travelling to Stoke Mandeville, going abroad on World Cups and things, when I was doing the Chairman bit there was - we changed a lot of, as an organisation, so in that time we professionalized as well because it, it was a bit like a social club, and while we were keen not to lose that our governance was, well there wasn't any governance really, so, so it was quite hard work because we, we pretty much started from almost nothing really, and - because my big thing was that if we got our governance right then we might get funded, and if we got funded we might get medals and because that had never happened it, people weren't convinced by that argument really so it was a painful argument but in the end I got there.

MR: That medal must have felt like a huge victory for you then?

SB: Yeah, yeah, no it was massive really, yeah.

MR: Changing the governance, professionalizing the sport - that was your goal as chair?

SB: Yeah, to get it, you know, I can remember at one board meeting, saying to the board, 'If I was an investor I wouldn't invest in this because there's no structures, there's no policies, there's no procedures', so it was, it was getting all that in order. I felt that our guys were working hard to try and improve their game and actually as a board we should do likewise really, was how I saw it really, we should work as hard as they are to get there, so.

MR: What was the name of the organisation?

SB: British Disabled Fencing Association, so BDFA.

MR: What you were doing with the BDFA - the professionalization - was this happening across disabled sports?

SB: Yeah, I think to be fair the bigger sports were there, well they were, were there before us, so I think the bigger sports like basketball and those sort of sports had already got to that stage. And I guess in seeing them, how they transformed and what it meant to them - to me that was, that was possible really.

MR: Has it changed a lot at Stoke Mandeville from when you first went there to now?

SB: Erm, yes and no really. In some ways - well when I first went to Stoke Mandeville pretty much all the disabled sports trained there, and then they had a rebuild when they had to close the stadium down for a certain period of time. And they put in a management company who were, obviously their main target was to make money, and outpriced most sports. So most sports never went back. We went back out of historic, nostalgia I think really, but that said we didn't go back full time, we went to other places. So it's changed in as much as sport has changed so, you know, a lot of the bigger sports have their own centres and, or they're attached to a university, you know, places like Loughborough and Bath are huge on Paralympic sport. So, it changed in that respect. I'm now on the board of what's called 'Wheelpower', is the organisation and they're, they've always been there out of Stoke Mandeville and they're very much getting sort of engagement, erm, people into spinal units so that when somebody has an accident they know they can do sport and so they won't necessarily be introduced to fencing, normally it's team sports cause that helps with the rehabilitation. But equally they'll let them know that actually if you've got this skill set, what you did, I don't know, basketball beforehand, these are the contacts. So they're doing that and they're about to have another rebuild as well, so, I think they're looking at more supporting disabled sport because people in the established centres now, and that's not going to change, but if we can offer training to coaches or teachers or whoever about disability and teaching disability sport, then that goes a long way really. We're still getting, tragically, we're still getting disabled people who will turn up at a sports centre and say 'I want to do fencing', and through ignorance the coach saying you can't because you're in a wheelchair and that happens in lots of sports so that's certainly an area we need to get into really.

MR: Is Wheelpower relatively new?

SB: No, we've been going for years, yeah yeah, so, and they sort of run all the stadium facilities, I mean they, they sublet the, because they've got a sports stadium which is like the local leisure centre as well, so that sublet that to Circle I think it is, but they are still very much in the running of it all.

MR: Why did you stand down as chair of the fencing body?

SB: Well I stood down as Chair when I was team manager because a) I couldn't do both and b) I didn't think one person should do both because I think you need to be accountable to someone. So I stood down as chair, and I'd done eight years and I think was, there was only so much I could really. And then I did team leader for Rio, which is team manager, team leader for Rio and to be honest I was the only team leader, just about, that was there as a volunteer - everyone else it was their paid job. And there's sort of a reason for that because it was pretty much full on really. So I went to Rio, loved it, nearly killed me, but I loved it and I'm certainly really glad I did it, but I knew that it wasn't sustainable as a volunteer and now they have a part-time paid post, and they have paid coaches and paid physios and all sorts. It's just the world changed really.

MR: Were you tempted to apply for those paid positions?

SB: Not really because we, we attached ourselves to Bath University so I didn't really fancy driving down to Bath several times a week really!

MR: In terms of the types of disabilities - did this change over the years?

SB: I guess it has changed over the years. Certainly after Iran and Iraq we had quite a few service personnel come through. The sad thing about service personnel, well the good thing about service personnel is that they are competitive, they're fit, you know, and they want to win, and they don't mind hard work. But most of them had, erm, mental baggage, and even if it wasn't obvious at first it would come out in sort of the first six months really so, erm, again I think the military have got much better at recognizing that and dealing with that but in hindsight we should never have been taking disabled servicemen pretty much straight off the battlefield into fencing. But they wanted to do it because they wanted, you know, and it's just one of those chicken and egg things really, so. And then I guess, thankfully, because of the lack of war we, we don't have so many of those. And then it's, it's some and some really, it's some are accidents, some have always been in a wheelchair really.

MR: Men and women?

SB: More men than women at the moment, in fact it's always been more men than women really, but, as far as Britain was concerned anyway, so.

MR: Is that something Wheel Chair is working on - involving more women?

SB: Yeah, and erm, and Wheelpower, because they're not, because they're focus isn't Paralympics, they're focus is getting disabled people active, erm, they're very much about trying to get - I mean they do some fantastic junior camps so they sort of, school age disabled people rock up for a week and can do every single sport they want to for the week, and then obviously if they want to carry on they can carry on. Some children just come every year to have the week doing sport really. So yeah, that's, that's their remit really, but they all look at different programmes to get more women in or older people in or whatever really, and they - unfortunately it never came about but they - Wheelpower weren't organising it but they were supporting it - they tried to have a, a women's games in fencing but it sort of fell apart really. I don't really know why because I think there probably would have been enough support, but I think they were doing a women's newcomers games and I think if they just done a women's games it would, I think it would have been fine but they wanted to get new women at a competition and there weren't really enough new women to warrant a competition really.

MR: You were awarded an MBE in 2014...

SB: Well that was really funny because I nearly threw away the letter because I, I didn't even know how the system worked so I didn't know to expect anything really. So I got the letter and on the outside it had, I think it had the - was it the Home Office or, it had some government - that's right I think it was the Home Office, government stamp on the outside and I thought that's a bit strange. And I'll never forget it came on the Saturday and I looked at it and I was really annoyed because a colleague at work who'd been a bit troublesome had applied for a job at the home office, so I thought it was a reference - she'd asked, she put me down as a reference - and I was really miffed that she hadn't spoken to me. So I didn't open it at first and I just thought, 'Ah, it can wait', and then on the Sunday I thought 'Oh, I might as well open this', and it was like 'Ooh', it was a bit odd. So yeah, it nearly went in the bin!

MR: What did it feel like when you read it?

SB: Oh I think I read it about ten times really. Yeah, and erm, and because I think it's only the last line that says services to wheelchair fencing - because I sort of saw what it was about and then scan read it I couldn't work out why I'd been awarded it! It was like 'Slow down, read it'!

MR: How and when were you awarded it?

SB: Yeah, it's a funny old process really because you get the letter and then you're told, I think you get the letter something like, I don't know, a couple of months before it's announced so you're told you can't tell anyone about it. And then, and then the week before they contact you and say, 'Well we're letting the press know on Thursday night, so expect to hear from them'. So I was at work and the press rocked up, and so I had to quickly take my boss aside and, 'I need to have a word with you', and he thought it was really funny, and I said 'But I'm meant to be keeping schtum about it', and he was brilliant, he said, 'Right, I'll take you round the back, no one will see', so that was quite funny. And then it was announced, it's the Queen's birthday so it's announced on the Saturday and, yeah, and then it was, my phone didn't stop for a few days!

MR: Friends and family?

SB: Yeah, friends. I mean I had some lovely official letters from sports people as well, but I think the things you remember are the people that phoned up and, my friend who nearly went into the back of the car in front of her because she heard it on the radio. She was shocked she nearly - she said, 'You nearly caused an accident'!

MR: Did you have to do a lot of press around it?

SB: Did a fair amount, not masses. I was all very, it was all very, sort of all on one day really because the press had a certain window so, yeah, so it all sort of happened on one day, which I think was on the Thursday, and then it came out on the press on the Saturday, so.

MR: What was the ceremony like?

SB: So yeah, and then I guess the ceremony - so it's June birthday honours and then it was November was my date, so erm, so that was lovely 'cause I had Prince William, and it was one of his first investitures so he was actually more nervous than I was - he was shaking like a leaf, he was bobbling, he was swaying. But yeah, I went - you can take three guests, I took my husband, my brother flew over from the states, and my mum, so that was really nice. Really nice for my mum as well, she was just, just blown away really. And the Palace staff were just, they made everyone feel really, really special so, they were just lovely really and, yeah. And then afterwards, probably about twenty or thirty of us friends went and had a meal in London, so yeah.

MR: Did Prince William say anything to you?

SB: Well it was really funny actually because he said to me, 'Have you won any medals recently?', and we'd literally, it was 2014 - it's amazing how quickly things have changed but we had literally won our first medals, first serious medals at a world cup, so I can remember thinking, 'Oh thank goodness he's asked me that question now', 'cause I'd literally only been home like a couple of days and, 'Well funny enough last week we won gold'! So, yeah.

MR: So there were plenty of competitions aside from the Paralympics?

SB: Yeah there's lots of world cups because you have to qualify, you have to get so many points in order to win, so there's world cups which, is probably now, there' probably ten or twelve world cups a year, and then you have world championships every two years, and then obviously Paralympics every four years.

MR: What were you doing for a living during this period?

SB: Erm, in that period I was working for Kent County Council. So yeah.

MR: And how did you juggle the two?

SB: I was very tired! Sometimes one of my colleagues would say, 'Did you have a later night last night?'. Because especially with Rio for instance, because we're a tiny sport, the biggest sports will have a team manager and they'll have a logistics person, and they'll have a transport person, whereas with a small sport, even though we only had three fencers, erm, I was everything, so, and there was always something that I had to get back on, always some information that I had to feedback on, so yeah it was pretty full on really.

MR: Were your colleagues at KCC supportive?

SB: Yeah, yeah they were. And luckily because it was obviously after London people were interested so that helped a lot really.

MR: What were you doing at KCC?

SB: At that time I was Community Engagement Officer, so very much supporting county councils with their grants to communities really, so, and supporting them if we had big consultations, our team would very much be there to try and make sure that everyone got a voice and you didn't have the little old lady at the back who was really worried about a road going through her house, but actually she, we found a way of making sure she got a voice as well as the person shouting really.

MR: Do you still work at KCC?

SB: No, I got made redundant eighteen months ago, and now work for the fire service as a project coordinator, so I coordinate projects between the fire service, the police and KCC, so working with the same old people as I did before!

MR: And you're a reverend as well...

SB: I was ordained in 2001, but attached to very small churches so it's manageable. So Fairfield and Brookland, so, erm, it's not as if I'm, I don't do Sunday services every Sunday, so it's mainly the first two Sundays I'm working, busy Sundays, and then other bits and bobs in between really.

MR: Do you alternate churches on the Sunday?

SB: Yeah, first Sunday of the month is Fairfield, second Sunday of the month is Brookland, and then every other week on a Wednesday evening we have a very tiny communion service here at Brookland, so.

MR: Has faith always been important to you?

SB: Not really, I mean I went to Sunday School, I loved Sunday School, and a bit like fencing really, that all stopped when I left home. And then just before I got married, when I was twenty-five, my parents split up, which was a huge shock to me, I didn't see it coming at all, and I was devastated, and that sort of brought me back to faith really, it was the one place where I thought no one was questioning me really, 'cause, my brother took the easy option, so he just supported my mum because she was the injured party, whereas I tried to support both of them and it didn't work really. It was hard work anyway. So yeah, so I found that, sort of my faith life was the one part of my life where I didn't have to justify myself or answer any questions, I could just be me really, so.

MR: Why the decision to get ordained?

SB: Erm, I guess I had this nagging feeling that I should be doing something, and I went and spoke to the local vicar, our local curate at the time, and she was very wise because she had felt that I was being pulled to ministry but didn't want to put those words in my head, so she said 'I can get some leaflets for you', and then I said, which is really bizarre, 'I said actually I've got the leaflet', and what had happened, years previously I'd gone to a Kent County Show, and wanted a free cup of coffee so gone into the churches stand and then felt really guilty and thought I'd better take a leaflet before I go. And I happened to pick up a leaflet on ministry, but the interesting thing about it was only at that point when she said 'I can get some leaflets' that I realised that every now and then I'd so and check that I knew where that leaflet was. But I'd never opened it, but every now and then I'd, 'oh yeah, that's right, that leaflets still there.' So I told her and 'well I suggest you go home and look at it!', so erm, yeah, and it all made sense really, so.

MR: How did you get involved with CARM?

SB: Well I knew about CARM through the church so, the main figure at the time was Lindsey Hammond, who was very instrumental when CARM first started, and his office was those offices, so, and at that time they had the good neighbor system running out of here, which wasn't, I don't think it was to do with CARM. And CARM I think at that stage was probably just meeting points. So I always knew about CARM and we always promoted meeting points in church and, so I was aware of it. And then I became more aware of it, and then, I think I got wind of the fact that they were looking at their constitution and thinking of taking their Christian bit out, and the Christian bit is historic, it's not saying you have to be a Christian to be in CARM, it was just saying how its roots - how it started, and that was from the Christian church. And I was absolutely appalled that they were deleting their history, and so I decided to become a trustee to make sure they didn't. I don't think they ever knew this actually. So I came on the trustee body and sort of gave the example that if companies like Cadbury can start of as a faith-based organisation and still have that in their history, so could CARM. So it stayed in! And then I thought I better stay really. And then I ended up being Chairman, which, a bit like fencing really, was a bit of a shock really because Karen, the chairman, had been quite ill, so David, the vice chairman, had been chairing really off and on for quite a long time, and he said Karen's gonna stand down so erm, he said 'I don't really want to be chair, I've held the flag for long enough - will you be chair?' Oh okay, I'll be chair, and then he said 'Oh and by the way, [inaudible] is stepping down as well.' 'Thanks for telling me that way round!' But yeah, I ended up by default really.

MR: How long have you been chair?

SB: Erm, about eighteen months I think, yeah.

MR: How long have you been with CARM as a trustee?

SB: I would say three or four years probably, yeah four years probably.

MR: Is there anything else you're involved with?

SB: I don't think so [laughs]! Yeah, I think that's it.

MR: Between the fencing, CARM, the church, your giving quite a lot of yourself - where does that come from?

SB: I just love people really and I love seeing, I love seeing people sort of, I don't know, flourish and get on really and, yeah, so it's, yeah, just liking people really.

MR: Do you ever feel overextended?

SB: Occasionally. I mean I certainly have done in the past, I think I've got quite good balance at the moment but I think in the past I could never say no, so, if anyone asked me to do anything I'd say yes before they finished the sentence really whereas now, now sometimes I really do have to sit on my hands. Sometimes I find myself like 'Yeah, I can - no, no, think about, think about it', so.

MR: Does it ever frustrate you seeing people not make an effort and giving of themselves?

SB: It frustrates me if people moan about, if people moan about society and lack of things going on and then they don't actually do anything about it, that sort of annoys me because I think, there's some people in life who think everything has to be handed to them on a plate, or done for them by the government even though they don't like the government, and yeah, so, yeah it annoys me more if they're, if they do nothing and moan about it really.

MR: Looking back on your fencing career, what stands out to you the most?

SB: To be honest friendship has to be right up there really, I've got some incredibly close friends as a result of fencing. Certainly being involved with London was up there, being there for the first medal is up there. The opening ceremony for London was just the most amazing experience. Just the - because the host team comes in last, and so we sat there like clapping on Ghana and clapping on Germany and it' s like 'God, we're only on Gs', and then we devised a little plan, sort of, somebody would shout out a country and then we'd go mad for that country and then we'd go back to boring clapping, and then somebody would shout out 'Yugoslavia!' and it's like 'Yeah!', so that was quite fun because it seemed, it went on for hours, and you had to do something really. And then there was this pause, erm, and where I, where I was you could just about see the end of the tunnel, and I can remember everyone was craning to look down the tunnel, and then the moment we saw a speck of white, because we knew their uniform was white, just the whole place erupted really. I thought the stadium was going to collapse. Just never heard a noise like it, so. And then all the fireworks went off as well.