Trish Vasey - the first lady of Carlisle

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Trish Vasey is well suited to representing her city. Relishing community and overcoming adversity are attributes shared by Carlisle and its new mayor.

The woman behind the badge has battled illness, floods and self-doubt. She never expected to be mayor.

“It’s mind-blowing,” says Trish, 72. “It’s humbling. I don’t want people to think that I think I’m special, being the mayor. I’m just me. Next year they’ll forget my name. But they’ll remember that the mayor visited.”

Two months ago Trish became Carlisle’s 431st holder of this office. Having lived there most of her life, she thought she knew the city. It turns out there was much more to discover.

I’m not full of self-belief, probably because of my upbringing and poor background

“You realise there’s so much going on. I’ve gone to the most amazing events. The voluntary work and the dedication – that’s this city’s crowning glory.

“This city is so giving, it’s unbelievable. There’s a lot of unsung heroes.”

She mentions some of the official engagements she has attended, including a Mencap garden party and the 30th birthday celebrations of Prism Arts, which works with disabled people.

“Each one we go to we’re just overwhelmed.”

‘We’ is Trish and her mayoress Elaine Donnelly. Trish’s husband Rodney, while immensely proud of his wife, is no lover of the limelight and would have been uncomfortable as a consort.

Elaine is her sister-in-law and best friend. Trish admits that they have had to fight back tears on some engagements when seeing bravery or self-sacrifice.

Although she does not see it this way, Trish has displayed courage herself in her brief tenure as mayor.

A month into her term she began having pains around her stomach. These became intense during a mayoral service at St Cuthbert’s Church.

She recalls: “I just didn’t feel well. When I got home I said to Rodney ‘Have you got any Gaviscon?’ I thought it was indigestion.

“At 11 o’clock I’d gone to bed. I don’t know how I got down the stairs to phone CueDoc. I ended up in the infirmary for two weeks.”

An MRI scan found a stone in her pancreas. This was removed and Trish has just been given the all clear.

She had to miss two weeks of mayoral engagements. Most have been rearranged but Trish was upset to miss Armed Forces Day.

“I’m very passionate about the armed forces. I’ve got a nephew in the forces. We should never forget what this country’s been through.”

One engagement she did make was a meeting with Carlisle musician Andy McKay, who is driving around the country to raise £10,000 for Pancreatic Cancer Action after losing his wife to the disease.

“I thought it was amazing to meet him so soon after I’d been ill,” says Trish.

Her chosen charities for the year are the Royal British Legion, Mind and the Samaritans.

“Mental health issues can hit anyone at any time. The amount of young people committing suicide is terrible.”

Trish describes herself as a people person. There’s an easy informality: people are frequently addressed as “sweetie”.

 Trish Vasey

Trish Vasey

Carlisle born and bred, she grew up in Caldewgate. In the 1950s the family moved to the new Harraby estate. “That was amazing. We had a bathroom and an inside toilet.” She pauses and asks “You’re not going to write this as a Catherine Cookson story, are you? The country was just coming out of the Second World War. Because nobody had anything, everybody was contented and there was a sense of community.

“Sometimes today people are so busy I think we can sometimes lose a bit of that.”

After leaving school at 15 one of Trish’s first jobs was at the Linton Tweeds factory.

In her early twenties she moved to London for three years. “I had family down there. I wouldn’t have had the confidence otherwise. I stayed with my mam’s sister, aunty Bunty. She was a treasure.

“It was just an exciting new time. My cousin said I should go for a job in a fashion shop. I hadn’t felt confident enough to work in a shop in Carlisle. I didn’t feel I was of the right calibre, to tell the truth.

“I’m not full of self-belief, probably because of my upbringing and poor background. I did believe in myself but I didn’t know how to project it.”

Trish enjoyed London but always planned to return to Carlisle. She came home in the early 1970s when her mother was diagnosed with cancer.

She applied for a job as a beauty consultant in Binns, now House of Fraser, at the heart of the city centre. “I got an interview. I spruced myself up. I remember walking in and seeing all these glamorous ladies in cosmetics. I just froze. I remember thinking ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do this.’”

But she could. Trish got the job and stayed for most of the next 40 years.

“Our customers became friends. We grew old together. They weren’t like customers. They were ‘our ladies’.

“There were so many characters. So many memories. Binns was the hub of the city. There was haberdashery, we had a record shop in the basement, we had a paint and wallpaper department. Everybody came through. That sense of community was there.”

One Christmas Eve soon after she started at Binns, Trish met her future husband.

“Rodney came in to buy some perfume for his mother. I persuaded him to take the big bottle! ‘It’s your mother – it’s Christmas!’

“He left the store. This other chap that was with him came back in. He said ‘You know that lad you just served? He wants to know if he can see you tonight in the Twisted Wheel.’

“I said to my manager, Mary Elliott, ‘Where are we going tonight?’ She said ‘The Wheel!’

“We went there. Rodney tapped me on the shoulder. We got married the next September.”

They have two children – Clark, 36, and Kate, 34 – and three grandchildren.

Trish left Binns for a few years in the early 1980s to run the Currock Cross confectionery shop with Rodney.

There were happy times and one incident which has stayed with Trish for the wrong reasons.

“Two lads came in and took off with the cash from the till,” she says. “I chased them down the back alley. I was screaming at them. I thought ‘How dare you!’ They dropped the money. And they never came back in.”

This woman who has lacked self-belief found some when it was needed most. But the attempted robbery was understandably unsettling.

She and Rodney eventually sold up and Trish returned to Binns.

In 2007 she became a Conservative councillor for Belah, which led to her role as mayor.

Her love of Carlisle is apparent in the photographs and drawings in the living room of the family home off Warwick Road. These include West Walls, the Town Hall, the castle, the cathedral.

Trish was visiting London when Storm Desmond struck the city, flooding her house with five feet of water. She came back to devastation.

“It’s what I call the dark days. That emptiness. The helplessness. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. It was such a mess. And the Christmas tree hadn’t moved. The fairy was still on the top. There was not a bauble off it. My granddaughter Emilia said ‘That’s because the fairy was looking after you, grandma.’”

She and Rodney returned home last November, after facing numerous insurance company wrangles – just like so many others in the city she represents.

Trish mentions her pride at attending last week’s University of Cumbria graduations at the cathedral. She hopes Carlisle will continue to grow without losing its identity.

“It’s a wonderful part of the world to live,” she says.

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