Born in Lower Sydenham in 1930, “opposite the gasworks”, Doris Smith has campaigned for most of her life about causes she feels strongly about. She describes the early tenacity and determination that would stand her in good stead for the future. “I was one of twins. I was very small. I was three and a half pounds and my twin brother was three pounds. Unfortunately he only lived a few hours, but I stayed there.” Leaving school at 14, already a member of the Young Communist League, she joined the trade union movement, taking on the positions of trade union representative, president of Bromley Trades Council and treasurer of her trade union branch for over forty years.
When Doris retired she discovered Lewisham Pensioners’ Action Group. She recalls the first meeting she went to about closing the women-only woodwork class she attended. “I objected to it being closed and that was how I got involved with the action group.”
“We played a big role in saving Lewisham Hospital. Our office was used as a depository for leaflets and things. Those of us who couldn’t march on the big marches had our own little march going along, supporting the nurses and doctors from our office on the high street…No, sorry, it’s our hospital, we want to keep it, thank you very much…”
Doris was soon nominated from Lewisham Pensioners Action Group to the committee of Lewisham Pensioners Forum, of which she’s been a member since 1991. Since then, she has been involved in numerous campaigns, including the campaign to save older Londoners’ travel permits and the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, a community response to a proposal to close the hospital. Doris explains “took on board people from all areas and walks of life.”
Doris describes how Lewisham Pensioners’ Forum is not only a voice for older people, but also how their work is for the benefit of future generations. “What we manage to do for older people now will pay off for the ones that are going to be older later. We’re not just looking after ourselves; we’ve fought for future pensioners as well, and obviously we support any wrongdoing anywhere, whatever the age group.”
Doris’s late husband, Doug Smith was also very much involved with the trade union movement. He was president of the Lewisham and Deptford Trades Council that, in 1976, convened the meeting to discuss the launch of “a campaign against racialism and fascism”1 in Lewisham. Representatives included “political parties, immigrant organisations, tenants associations, churches, voluntary organisations, the cooperative movement, community groups and the Lewisham Council for Community Relations”.2 Voluntary Action Lewisham was one of the organisations represented, alongside the then leader of Lewisham Council, Councillor Andy Hawkins and the MP for West Lewisham, Chris Price.3
The meeting elected a steering group that agreed to call the organisation the All Lewisham Campaign Against Racialism and Fascism (ALCARAF). By its launch in January 1977, the word racialism was replaced with racism, and ALCARAF was ready for action. Its aims were to promote equality and justice, campaign against racism in Lewisham and explain Fascism and the threat it posed.4
“I have always been a person that thinks we should always address wrongs and that things can be improved if enough people speak up about it”
In 1977, Doris describes how ALCARAF and the people of Lewisham took a stand against a National Front march through Lewisham. “ALCARAF would have a march, but on a different route, just to let people know there is another way…a big march of people supporting the diversity of Lewisham and the mixture of people that we have living here…The National Front march took place, but quite a number of people went on to accost the march and that’s where the trouble came about, really, That was the Battle, as they called it, of Lewisham.”
1 Campaign Against Racialism and Fascism. Document courtesy of Doris Smith.
4 Note of a meeting of the ALCARAF Standing Committee held on 22nd February 1977 at Goldsmiths Student Union. Document courtesy of Doris Smith