Former TSSA Organising Director Steve Coe, blogs about his experience leading the union’s 125th anniversary project.
It all began for me back in February 2020, just days before a lockdown was ordered by the government in response to the Covid pandemic, I met with TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes to discuss my impending retirement from the post of Organising Director.
I live in Sheffield, the city where TSSA was founded in 1897, and I had been involved in organising the union’s centenary celebrations in 1997. Given that, and the desire on my part to work part-time for a year before leaving TSSA’s staff, the General Secretary asked me to lead the organisation of celebrations to mark the union’s 125th anniversary to be held in Sheffield in 2022.
Early in 2021, a TSSA Executive Committee Working Group was established, comprising Mick Carney (President), Nicola Jukes, Melissa Heywood and John Haynes. John left the Executive Committee later that year, and was replaced by Gemma Southgate on both the Executive Committee and the Working Group.
The uncertainties of Covid meant that we were not absolutely confident it would actually take place, they certainly hampered the organisation of the events, and in the end Covid certainly discouraged or prevented many from attending.
Notwithstanding the Covid pandemic, in April 2021 the TSSA Executive Committee approved proposals from the Working Group for the celebration of the union’s 125th anniversary the following year. It was agreed to hold the 2022 Annual Conference in Sheffield to commence on Saturday 7 May, convene again on Sunday 8 May, and then adjourn until Tuesday 10 May to conclude its business.
Also agreed was the proposal to take the opportunity to hold a number of events on Monday 9 May to mark the union’s 125th anniversary. A daytime event was to be one of speeches, entertainments and exhibitions, which would allow past and present members to meet socially. A celebratory dinner was to be held in the evening, to which a number of VIP guests would be invited.
In the end, around 50 VIP guests were invited to the TSSA125 events, and this proved to be an enormous piece of work to arrange!
The Executive Committee also agreed that a film should be made to mark the events, a souvenir commemorative brochure and a badge should be produced to mark the day, that promotional goods should be procured, and the possibility should be investigated of unveiling a commemorative plaque on the site of the Wilberforce Café, where the union’s founding meeting was held.
It was also decided that a special TSSA125 logo should be used in connection with the celebrations, and that the 2022 TSSA diary should mark the anniversary year. The diary was sent to all members, along with a special TSSA125 badge.
The original decision was to hold the Annual Conference and the TSSA125 celebrations in the Crowne Plaza Royal Victoria Hotel in Sheffield – an historic Grade 2-listed hotel built adjacent to Sheffield Victoria railway station by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway in 1862.
This decision was changed subsequently after I visited the hotel accompanied by Pauline McArdle and Cath Murphy, members of TSSA’s Disability Working Group, who expressed concerns about accessibility. So the events were switched to the modern Mercure St Paul’s Hotel located in the city centre and next to the Town Hall.
The Mercure Hotel also stands adjacent to the Sheffield Winter Garden, and we immediately sought to hold a drinks reception in that space. It was not to be as a booking had already been made, so the reception was switched to the Town Hall, an appropriate alternative as the ornate building was opened in 1897 just weeks after our union was founded!
On 16 April 2021, I stood down from my post as Organising Director, handing over my responsibilities to my colleague Nadine Rae. I continued working full-time until June and then worked part-time thereafter – this allowed me to devote my attentions to the very many tasks that needed to be undertaken to ensure a successful TSSA125 celebration day of events.
I should like to thank Malcolm Wallace who was very helpful to me in ensuring that our history wall came together (most of its content was gleaned from Malcolm’s book on the history of TSSA – “Single or Return”, which was published for the TSSA’s centenary celebrations.)
And a massive thankyou to my Head Office colleague Natalie Gray. She was key to much of the design work, turning the ideas of myself and the EC Working Party into reality. It was Natalie that designed both TSSA125 badges. And she produced the commemorative brochure and helped out with other key elements of the events.
I had been in employment with TSSA since March 2000 and after over 22 years, the successful planning and delivery of the TSSA125 celebrations were a great way for me to end my working days with the union!