God in the life of… Alison Bennett

FROM a childhood that led to a teaching career and caring for children of her own, Alison Bennett tells Jo Duckles her journey to becoming the President of the Mothers’ Union, Oxford. 

Alison Bennett is pictured at a family wedding.

Alison Bennett is pictured at a family wedding.

When her mum was hospitalised with rheumatoid arthritis shortly after her birth, only child Alison was placed into a children’s home as her father had to continue working as an administration officer at Wormwood Scrubs, and later, Wandsworth prisons. “He would visit both me and my mum every day. In those days children weren’t allowed to visit their parents in hospital,” she says. “But there was a kind staff nurse and once a fortnight she allowed my father to take me to the hospital. I was taken to the linen cupboard and my mother was wheeled to the cupboard to see me.”

Alison has no recollection of this, but believes it was important for her mum to have contact with her new daughter. “I wasn’t baptised until she came out of hospital when I was 13 to 14 months old.” As a child, attending church or Sunday school was always part of Alison’s life. “I remember my mother’s confirmation at the new Guildford Cathedral. I was confirmed there 10 years later.” Alison was seven or eight when her mum joined the MU.

“She joined the young wives, but realised the women involved were all grandmothers. She did a lot of things with them and continued when we moved house. When she was old enough to drive, Alison was given a car so that she could provide transport for her disabled mum, and she would take her to and from MU meetings. “Of course once my father left (when I was 20) I had to do more for her, “ says Alison. Although she was around the MU when she was young, Alison didn’t become a member until after the birth of her second son. It was then that she learned more about the global scope of the organisation’s work.

Originally wanting to become a doctor, Alison didn’t get the grades to do medicine, but read psychology at university, aiming to become an educational psychologist. After graduation she became a teacher, and when she met her husband, Richard, she continued teaching for the rest of her career.

“Richard was also a teacher and at first we lived in the school where he taught and worshipped in the school chapel.” When they bought their own home, the couple had to both work hard to pay the mortgage.
“After our first son was born I went back to work very early,” she says. She joined the MU after attending a monthly soup and rolls event organised by a member in her village when she was at home after her second son was born. “I took part in the Knit and Rip meetings – knitting squares for quilts and ripping old sheets for bandages for Mother Theresa’s ministry in Calcutta.  Once she no longer had to work 12 hour days, Alison became involved in social policy with Mothers’ Union, something she continued to do when she moved to Oxfordshire.

“I later became a member of the Action and Outreach central committee based at Mary Sumner House in London,” says Alison. “That meant working out how to have the greatest impact with our resources all over the world”. The first meeting she went to was spent looking at how little money we had (because of the global financial crisis) and making tough decisions on funding cuts and freezes.
“It was really difficult but amazing things came out of that. It was the first time they had someone from overseas on the committee – a lady from Tanzania called Joyce Kibaja, who often visits family in Reading,” says Alison.

Since then, more dioceses overseas are beginning to make a contribution towards Mothers’ Union work, which includes teaching people literacy and financial education.
Currently the MU Oxford Diocese is looking at how to engage churches more in its work. “We are looking at how the Church is structured and how we can help it engage with us and with our campaigns,” says Alison.

Recently Katy Kerr from MU Oxford spoke in a parliamentary meeting on the importance of marriage preparation in flourishing relationships. The full story can be read here.  The Door has also reported on the MU’s Bye Buy Childhood campaign, which aims to empower families to challenge the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood. “We encourage members to get involved in our campaigns, but we also help them to know how to speak out independently about things they think are wrong,” says Alison.

For more see www.muoxford.org.uk. The Church and Community Mobilisation Process pilot project which Oxford Mothers’ Union are helping to fund in the Reading Archdeaconry gets underway later in the year.

Alison and Richard live in Caulcott (near Kirtlington) in Oxfordshire. They have two sons, Matt, who lives in New Zealand with his wife and two children, and Tim, who lives near Hampton Court with his wife.