Chris Herries 1947 - 2020

We were all shocked to hear of the sudden death of Chris Herries at her home in Norwich during August. She was the Chair of the Co-operative Party and a life member of Christians on the Left – even though she believed that we should have continued as the Christian Socialist Movement.

Chris was always so full of life and enthusiasm we all thought she would go on forever. Even on her very last day she was busy posting on social media.

Community service was very much part of her upbringing in rural Norfolk. Her father was highly active in the scouting movement and a great friend of Tubby Clayton, the founder of Toc H. One of Chris’s earliest memories was visiting Tubby in London and playing with his corgi which had been given to him by the Queen Mother.

 

After training as a teacher in Walsall, Chris and her husband moved to Cornwall to run a small holding and continue her teaching career.

 

Chris was a member of the Christian Socialist Movement executive committee during the 1980s representing the South West.  It was a time of great change for CSM: Donald Soper had vacated the Chair after more than twenty years and we were still trying to find a new direction as the original executive were gradually retiring or passing away.

 

There were a handful of young people and it was clear from the moment she arrived at her first meeting that Chris would be making an important contribution, which she did, very forcibly, but with considerable tact.

 

But for Chris her Christian Socialism wasn’t something that she hankered for in the after-life, nor was she prepared to await the return of a Labour government. She firmly believed in grassroots activism and co-operation.

 

She fought North Cornwall in the 1987 General Election, doubling Labour’s vote and showing that Labour could make progress in rural areas. She put her ideas on paper and “Green wellies and red socks” still remains a classic argument for Labour to be active in the countryside.  

 

Meanwhile she was working in a local primary school. She was horrified to see the headmaster repeatedly beat small children, some with special needs, and began to campaign against corporal punishment. Eventually many of the parents withdrew their children from the school and Chris set up an alternative parent co-operative “free school”. Despite subsequently being vindicated, and many applications for teaching posts, Chris never worked in education again.

 

Her growing interest in the co-operative movement led her to become part of the cumbersome structure of area committees and regional boards that ran the retail co-operative sector, eventually landing on the main board of what is now the Co-op Group. She was a powerful and respected advocate of equality and fair-trade.

 

Working closely with her beloved partner, the late John Blizzard, Chris established regular education weekends for the Co-operative Party in the South West. She became the first woman Chair of the co-op movement’s umbrella body, Co-operatives UK.

 

In 2013 Chris decided to retire and returned to Norfolk. The retirement did not last long. Within a year she was a Norwich city councillor and Chair of the planning committee. She was nominated as a member of the city’s historic churches trust and worked hard to ensure that redundant Medieval churches were protected but put to good use for the community.

 

During the 2015 General Election she was chair of the Norwich South CLP and played a key role in the campaign to take the seat for Labour.

 

I was especially grateful to Chris for the support she gave my aunt who was living near her home in Tiverton. It was a difficult time for our family and Chris stepped in with regular visits, even helping with the washing. My aunt eventually moved to Ramsgate and Chris took charge of the logistics and managed the removal and settling in.

 

Chris believed that practical action was the best way to express both her Christian and socialist beliefs. Her contribution to the co-operative movement has been immense, but so too has her impact on the lives of those of us who were privileged to know her.

 

David Hallam – CotL Member

 

Chris Herries leading a canvassing team with Beth Jones (far left) Clive Lewis the candidate (second from left) and Stuart McLaren, during the 2015 General Election in Norwich.Chris Herries leading a canvassing team with Beth Jones (far left) Clive Lewis the candidate (second from left) and Stuart McLaren, during the 2015 General Election in Norwich.

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