A heartbreaking tribute to the ‘Heart of the Community’ hero who helped thousands

Barbara Nettleton has been hailed as a pioneer in her pastoral work to help local people in her community – and following her recent death, residents held a meeting in her honor

Barbara Nettleton at Sunshine House(Andy Stenning/Daily Mirror)

People have begun arriving early at the Ex-Servicemen’s Club to pay their respects to community worker Barbara Nettleton. A fitting celebration for a woman who has helped thousands of people over more than two decades.

“She was the heart of this community,” said Joan Boone Thomas, 59. She should have a statue in Wigan. She gave her life for this community. She has worked her whole life for other people – people who have nothing – to improve their lives, to provide expectations of more. Children had shoes, and families had food on the table because of Barbara.

Joan smiled. “Her hugs were amazing too.” The founder of Sunshine House community center in Scholes, Wigan, died last month at the age of 75 after a short illness. Honored with a star in Wigan’s Believe Square in 2016 – and a second pavement star outside Sunshine House itself – Barbara was a community legend.

Local Labor MP Lisa Nandy said: “Barbara was a no-nonsense, tireless campaigner who never took no for an answer.” “In all the years I’ve known her, she’s never let me leave Sunshine House without a to-do list. She’s always refused to accept that anyone could be written off or that her community deserves anything but the best.

She believed in people, and we believed in her. It’s hard to believe she’s gone.” In a poignant coincidence, this weekend was the fifth anniversary of the launch of the Wigan Pier Mirror Project, hosted by Sunshine House, which retraced the impact of George Orwell’s novel The Road to Wigan Pier while highlighting the suffering in The shadow of Tory austerity.

Barbara with her father as a child(Andy Stenning/Daily Mirror)

At the community meeting, hostility to Orwell’s 1937 book about poverty in the north of England was palpable. People said it gave the city a bad reputation. But then Barbara spoke. She said she would be involved in the project because it would give people in Wigan a voice. Her contribution included sharing a story about helping a pregnant woman living in a hut and explaining her philosophy of community activism.

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