This is a personal note on the Chair of the Highgate Library Action Group, Sue Chinn, by Michael O’Callaghan, A HLAG committee member.
In Sue Chinn we have a remarkably effective and dedicated community activist, who has been protecting amenities and boosting public services around Highgate for nearly fifty years.
Highgate is peppered with the results of her activities, with examples such as Parkland Walk, Jackson’s Lane and of course, Highgate Library.
Sue started small. In 1969 she joined the Miltons Neighbourhood Improvement Campaign and became Chair a few years later. Then, as a part of the ARC 73 protest movement she resisted the rebuilding and expansion of Archway Road.
Gradually Sue built up her network of stakeholders and opinion formers who came to trust her, even when an apparently opposing sides. Her influence spread via MPs and the local authority. She learned not only campaigning as an individual but also how to form structures and involve others.
In 1975 she joined the committee to keep housing off Parkland Walk, which operated with remarkable success.
Sue was part of the original committee planning Jacksons Lane
In 1995 Sue joined the Highgate Library Action Group and notably in 1998 fought council plans to cut the number of libraries in Haringey down to just three big ones. She also became Chair of HLAG round about that time. However, she is not the longest serving member of the HLAG committee – that honour goes to Sarah Wrighton who has been on the committee since 1988 – nearly 30 years – and is Sue’s trusted partner in running the committee.
As Sue’s experience as a social activist grew, so did her ability to form more complex organisations. Sue in 1995 created Libraries for Life for Londoners (LLL) and this has separate Camden and Islington groups. Sue was co-Chair of this until 2015.
Sue has also worked with groups at a national level. As a member of the national “The Library Campaign” Sue marched on Parliament to support libraries.
In 1999 Sue, with Mary Hoffman, formed Friends of Reading and Education (FORE )in Haringey. This was a new type of organisation that existed to drive and foster other organisations, enabling Sue’s influence, and the influence of like-minded activists to be projected ever wider.
It supports all library Friends groups (plus pensioners, librarians etc.) fighting major council cuts in library provision.
Through HLAG Sue continues to support Highgate Library, contributing her keen understanding of public policy issues, her ethical approach and trademark gentle and effective persuasion.
In my opinion she is the library’s most dedicated friend and supporter, and has been for many years. I find the depth and breadth of her overall influence as an activist quite remarkable. I do wonder if there are any other cases of individuals who as volunteers have been so effective at persuasion and organization.
I particularly wanted to write this down because Sue’s modesty means that her story is little known.