Marilyn Beale, 69, is secretary of the Penhill Forum, which is a non-political body made up of community groups and representatives. She lives in Penhill with husband Tony, a retired sheet metal worker. They have three children and two grandchildren.


MARILYN Beale traces her community-mindedness back to childhood in Rodbourne.

“Nobody ever said, ‘we’re volunteering’ or, ‘we’re doing this community-wise’. It was a way of life back in those days, where neighbour would help neighbour and you were known.

“Looking back, it was that attitude when I was growing up.”

She was one of four siblings born to a housewife and a GWR blacksmith. Her grandfather and her brother, Mervyn, were also at the Works, and the latter wrote a book about his experiences there and during National Service, called Forging Ahead.

“We’re a Great Western family and very proud of that.

“I don’t know whether it was my father or great grandfather – I can never figure it out – who was reputed to have walked from Wales to get a job.”

Marilyn is a retired administrator, having spent her career with organisations ranging from commercial companies to Voluntary Action.

A stint in the 1960s with Relay Exchanges, the parent company of a TV rental firm, saw her gather many of the skills that have served her in more than 30 years of community activity.

“When I was called in as a junior it was to help one other lady because they wanted to centralise the records.

“The office grew from the two of us to 24 when I left in ’65. Because there were only two of us I did every job in that office until another person came along to do it. I had a thoroughly good grounding in practically all aspects of office work.”

Marilyn and her husband moved to Penhill in 1967, about 18 months after their marriage.

“My sister was already here. We had asked to go to Moredon, where we would have been closer to Rodbourne and Tony’s parents.

“When I saw the house I was being allocated, I said, ‘Thank you very much, I’ll have that one!’ “The key we’d been given by the borough to look over it didn’t work – we couldn’t get in the front.

“So we walked around the back, and in walking round the back we could see there was copse and it was all open.

“The minute the door of the house was open and we walked into it, I felt that it was my home. I was lucky because not everybody gets that feeling.”

For many years her time was mostly devoted to the needs of a young family, and the community activities came a little later.

“They began in 1983, mainly because my sister, Ros, lived across the road from the John Moulton Hall.

“She wanted to go out and join in with stuff, and she said to me that she had seen people going into the hall, particularly on one night of the month. She knew some of the people – some of them were my neighbours – and so she made it her business to go and find out what it was, and it transpired that it was a gardening club.

“We were both keen gardeners, but what we lacked in knowledge we made up for in enthusiasm. We were interested enough.

“I could see she badly wanted to go and I said I’d come with her for the first few times, just to break the ice, because I’ll talk to anybody but Ros wasn’t so confident.

“I went in with her and within six months I was secretary of the group. I took my admin skills to it, and with Ros’s help and the people on the committee and the ex-secretary we made quite a go.”

In fact, membership doubled and the club’s bank balance quadrupled.

Discovering not just a flair for but an enjoyment of organising in the community, Marilyn either became involved with or helped to found numerous other groups, beginning by joining with the local community association.

The organisations she’s most strongly associated with are the Seven Fields Conservation Group, which preserved and still oversees about 100 acres of woodland and grassland as a local nature reserve for the public, and the Penhill Community Orchard, which has apple, pear, plum and cherry trees whose fruit is for public use.

Over the years, Marilyn has been involved with an array of other groups including the Northern Development Action Group, the Healthy Eating Group, the 21st Century Forum, and Swindon Strategic Partnership.

She is also secretary and co-founder of Penhill Forum, an organisation trying to co-ordinate the various volunteer efforts around the area.

The forum began in 1994, following what many local people perceived as unfair coverage in the local press.

Marilyn is an advocate not just of her own community but also of communities in general being shaped by their people.

She remains a staunch advocate of volunteering.

“You do get something out of it, and I don’t mean money, etcetera. There is something to be had.

“I’ve gone through periods of thinking, ‘Oh, I wish I’d never started this,’ especially with the Seven Fields group when we were fighting for bits of it and there was no peace.

“But the thing is, if you don’t do something you’ll have what you’re given.

“Going and voting is not the end of it. You can’t let those people make your mind up for you after that.

“You get the school you’re given if you’re not going to be on the PTA or a governor; you’re going to get the community facilities you’re given if you’re not involved in the community.

“You’ve got to get in there.

“There’s something for everybody to do and feel valued.”