From a small village in Oxfordshire to a small village in north London:
An Interview with Liz Morris
by Lizzie Wells
Liz has just come in from a run and she is starving. She runs four times a week: twice on the Heath and twice in Waterlow Park. Running is an important part of her family life. Her husband, Dan, has set himself the challenge to run 10 km in every country in the world by the 2016 Tokyo Olympics. That’s 205 countries; he has so far done 66. Their 10-year-old daughter, Sienna, will shortly represent Haringey in cross country for the London Youth Games
Liz was brought up in a small Oxfordshire village by her rather glamorous parents (an airline pilot father and a beautiful young Norwegian mother) with her younger sister. At 16 a family move meant that she could join the Wantage Sixth Form Centre, which she absolutely loved. From here she headed off to Cardiff University where she read English Literature.
One of the attractions of Cardiff was that it was not a Campus University. She had so far been moving slowly up the population ladder: village, small town, small city but she was not yet ready to face the full-on metropolitan delights of London, a place regarded ‘almost with fear’ in her childhood. Her next step might be seen as grandly evasive but it turned out to be canny as well as brave. Liz went to live in Paris for three years although she spoke hardly any French.
This was the start of another trajectory: from having no particular skills to becoming an experienced business woman with fluent French and the tools with which to build her future. Six months of au-pairing plus language school got her a job as a bi-lingual secretary. Then followed a marketing job which required her to use only French. This professional life was rapidly enhanced with a French boyfriend and a studio flat in Montmatre overlooking Sacre Coeur. She spent her weekends discovering Paris and immersing herself in French art and culture - with some tasty French cuisine thrown in! Liz seemed all set to do whatever she chose. But there was a problem. Although a capable and accomplished young woman, she did not have a formal French education which meant her professional progress would be limited so she decided to return ‘home’. At last she was ready for London.
It proved to be exactly the right moment. The early nineties saw the ‘naissance’ of the computer games industry to which Liz was bringing all her acquired experience. The company was sold to Warner Bros Interactive and she spent the next 2twoyears as a Product Manager responsible for the games developed by a number of UK developers. Warner Bros Interactive then sold its computer games division and Liz moved to Warner Bros. Consumer Products which licensed Warner’s movies, cartoons and TV shows. She joined as the Senior Marketing Manager, a role which involved much travelling all over Europe as well as to the States. By this time she was dating Dan and living in a mansion flat on Highgate High Street. She remembers it as time when she worked long hours but enjoyed a vibrant social life.
By the time Liz and Dan had their first child (Freya is now 13) they were living in Camden and Liz had taken voluntary redundancy following a company restructure. Liz was becoming aware of the need for more open space: ‘somewhere a bit greener’. They found a house just off Highgate High Street with a wonderful garden and a view out over uninterrupted greenery. It reminds her of her childhood, growing up with a shop on the doorstep and plenty of green space. The big difference is that her daughters can walk to Channing School and they see plenty of local friends. Liz says they are ‘here for life’.
One thing remained to be sorted out. ‘ I’d always assumed that I’d go back to work but I could not find part time marketing jobs that paid enough to cover the childcare costs’. Then she discovered The Highgate Society. ‘I was given such a warm welcome and they were looking for volunteers for their various committees. A neighbour twisted my arm.’ She served on the Society’s Council for three years and held the post of Vice Chair for four.
Within the Highgate Society she found the perfect outlet for those talents which she had cultivated during her professional career. ‘Professionalism’ is a word she uses with enthusiasm to convey her admiration for the Society members with whom she worked over the ten years or so. ‘They were professionals who carried their professionalism into their voluntary work – I have learnt so much from them.’
The marks left on the Society by Liz herself will never be erased. She discovered that she had a talent for campaigning and worked on numerous campaigns for the Society. Her first initiative was to establish a High Street campaign encouraging residents to support local shops. She then fought the closure of the Post Office on Highgate High Street and closure of the Whittington A&E Department. And then a series of campaigns for Athlone House and The Highgate Bowl.
In the May 2014 local election she became one of the three Lib Dem councillors for the Highgate Ward. Her first reaction to the bigger world of Borough administration was just how much a Council does and how extensive are its responsibilities. Her primary concern is to take care of her Ward followed by her involvement with the two committees on which she sits: the Children and Young People's Scrutiny Panel and the Corporate Parenting Advisory Committee. She is also Lib Dem spokesperson for children and education. She finds the work fascinating and stimulating but is worried by the deep cuts which are due next April which can only have a deleterious effect on the residents but particularly the most vulnerable.
Although Liz is no longer active in the Highgate Society, she is still able to play a role by liaising between the Highgate Society and Haringey Council, particularly on planning issues. She had seen the workings of Haringey Council from the outside. Now she can see how the system really works.
‘Time’ says Liz firmly ‘has to be very carefully apportioned.’ Fortunately the council is very quiet in August which allows for proper holidays. Another encouraging sign is that Sienna has expressed the wish to become both a Councillor and a Zoologist. Her first role model is already in place and components of the second career currently consist of a cat, two guinea-pigs, a hamster - and ‘a dog in the pipeline!’