Husband and wife John and Audrey Marshall work as a team to pursue justice and peace issues close to their hearts. Initially, this began when they started an inner-city parish youth club and eventually expanded to increase the number of asylum drop in centres in Newcastle.
Audrey and John first met when they were both 16 years old. – Audrey was a Catholic, John converted three years later. Two years after that they married. In these early days the couple’s main interests revolved around jazz and dancing.
Audrey and John both served apprenticeships in engineering and then trained as teachers during the 60’s while their children were growing up.
At around this time John started an inner- city parish youth club which became extremely popular with the local young people, not just with Catholics. “We both worked as volunteers in this for the next 30 years. This involved regular discos, club holidays ( home and abroad) organising a drama section, encouraging rock and folk groups, football and table tennis teams as well as a Young Catholic Worker group,” said John.
After taking early retirement, John engaged in a few new things, like running a fair trade shop. This was unsuccessful financially. He then worked for a few years as general secretary for a catholic workers organisation.
“We had both been trade union and Labour Party members for most of our working life so were both seasoned campaigners on issues like abolishing land mines, organising food collections for striking miners, marching for the right to work, debt cancellation and trade justice,” said John, who went on to become a local councillor.
Audrey acted as the unofficial secretary for about 20 yrs. John became sheriff, and then Lord Mayor of Newcastle. Audrey became the Lady Mayoress.
“We were also both active in Justice and Peace being diocesan co-ordinating council members,” said John, who was diocesan J&P Chair for 14 years. During his tenure, the Hexham and Newcastle diocese twice organised the National Justice and Peace Conference.
As Lord Mayor, John spotted a unique opportunity to pursue a J&P issue close to our hearts. A long time interest in fair trade led first to a high profile campaign for fairtrade city (Newcastle was the first metropolitan city to gain status) and then fairtrade diocese (Hexham and Newcastle was the first Catholic diocese to gain status). “Celebrating these successes together was so rewarding,” said Audrey. “Our current work, together, the Justice and Peace refugee project began when the dispersal of asylum seekers to our area started in 2001.”
As chair of Justice and Peace, John proposed a plan involving the employment of a development worker charged with the task of setting up asylum drop-ins across the diocese. After applying successfully for funding, work began. “The first drop-in was in our parish. We both worked there alongside other volunteers, just one day a week. Eventually, there were six drop-ins across the diocese but gradually the one at St Joseph’s, Newcastle, (our parish) grew in numbers and changed, as more and more destitute asylum seekers came seeking help. We became a five day a week centre employing two support workers and a team of volunteers (currently supporting 104 destitute asylum seekers with £5 a week and a bag of groceries). In addition to this we host a sizeable number of clients with ongoing claims. In this work we are supported magnificently by diocesan parishes, 81 collecting food and numerous others responding to appeals for cash for the destitute fund. Working together at the drop-in centre alongside volunteers, paid workers and clients is as rewarding as ever,” said John.
The organisers have, with the help of funding from various sources, undertaken some substantial building at St Joseph’s Benwell to create a shower, central heating, extra toilet and a kitchen which has provided the ability to cook and prepare food on at least two days a week which can be served in a comfortable and pleasant atmosphere for failed asylum seekers.
“The kitchen is also available to failed asylum seekers on these days for preparing and cooking their own food (which we can supply),” said Audrey. “We have also obtained the use of an extra room which has allowed the teaching of English on two days per week to take place in quiet environment (taught by a retired teacher).”
Throughout married life the Marshalls have invariably found it satisfying to operate as a team sharing work that is most enjoyable and seems right. “It’s having the same friends and colleagues. It’s sharing a vision of Justice and Peace which involves seeing the world through different eyes. For us it’s so much better to do this together. We’re never short of something to talk about. The conversation just goes on and on,” said Audrey.
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