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The Interview
Amanda and Debbie Elwen

Local writer and storyteller, George Murphy interviews local characters and personalities. To start the series, here’s two for the price of one!

Amanda and Debbie have lived in Hebden Bridge 12 years with their two children Billie Rose (13) and Alfie (11). They have worked in the Ending Violence Against Women and Girls sector for 25 years and are the founders of the first EVAWG Hub in the UK. Debbie was recently identified as one of the most influential women in the UK for her work and Amanda sits on the board for Women’s Aid National. During Lockdown they have both continued to work, ensuring that victims of domestic and sexual abuse continue to have access to the best possible services. In this time, they have opened 4 new safe houses and 3 new services, and all this whilst home educating two children. Amanda is also the coach for Hebden Bridge junior football club for under 12 boys.

What has made you laugh loudest?

Debbie: There’s a lot of laughter in this house … for example, Billie bought some eye brow razors yesterday and Amanda found them. Three hours later she had shaved every hair on her body. I have moved the dog and the razor from her because I know where it will end.

Amanda: I’m fortunate enough to be able to see the funny side of most things, my colleagues make me laugh every day. I have a very serious job and I think in order to survive it the camaraderie is essential. For example, I am being awarded an Honorary Doctorate this year and my colleagues have made me a sign for my desk that says Dr Knob Head!

What’s your favourite film?

Amanda: Anything Debbie doesn’t watch! Action films …
Debbie: Anything Amanda hasn’t picked …

Who is your hero or heroine?

Both: The women we work with every day, The courage and strength that has to come within is immeasurable.  We don’t hear their journeys enough……

How has lockdown been for you?

Debbie: Sunny, constant, scary and so much work….
Amanda: Exhausting, unrelenting and not fair, especially those that were furloughed and enjoying the sun.

ElwensYou were featured in Channel 4’s 50 Shades of Gay. What was it like having your family on TV?

Both: Those who have small children know how impulsive and honest they can be. There were a few scary moments but we don’t regret it at all. We just wanted to share our story and to let people make their own judgements. Far too often LGBT+ parents get criticised.  We just wanted to make the point that being a parent has nothing to do with gender and sexuality and everything to do with love and nurturing.

Debbie: what’s it like inside No.10?

Amanda: if she tells you she will have to kill you …

Debbie:  It’s like a Tardis, you enter through what looks like a terraced house and you enter a different world of wealth and entitlement. On the stairs there are pictures of all the prime ministers. When we get a new one, some poor member of staff has to move them all down one. Lots of police, and coming from a working class background, getting through security is always a relief. There was nothing to pinch, not even a bar of soap, everything was pinned down!

Amanda: have you missed singing in your band?

Massively so, I miss my buddies, Emma, Cassie and Kathy. If I hadn’t been working 24/7 then I could have used this time to write a number one hit! Northern Powerhouse will be making a come back soon.

Can you tell us a moment that changed your life?

Amanda: There have been many moments that have changed … influenced my life course. I was kicked out of home early on for being gay, long story. I was living in a squat at 17 and I had given up on life. I met a clairvoyant in the pub and he told me I would work with kids. In the job centre the next day I spotted an advert for a play worker with Cumbria council. I wouldn’t normally have looked at it … I got an interview and I met a woman called Jane Smith. She gave me the job and over the next 12 months she made me believe in myself again. I ended up at university and my life course was changed.

Debbie: By the age of 20 I had two children … At 26 I had a failed marriage, no qualifications, no opportunities and I had started doing some part time youth work. As a single parent I could only claim benefits if I was working 16 hours, but the youth service would only offer 15 hours to unqualified staff. I had to go to university. And that’s where I met Amanda….On a Women’s study module – we decided right there and then to change the world!

Amanda: And we are still trying … it’s not quite like it is in Gilead, but for some women it is not far off.

What is your favourite place?

Debbie: Anywhere hot with a beach, Greece is high up there …

Amanda: Anywhere not hot with a beach. Aviemore!!

Corrie or Emmerdale?

Debbie: Corrie – Its northern and it has terraced streets and a corner shop…..

Amanda: Emmerdale – I’m a farmer’s kid – reminds me of home.

To whom would you most like to say “Thank you?”

Amanda: My Grandad, he was my everything……playful, loving, naughty, strong and handsome.

Debbie: My Gran. She was small but determined. She did things she shouldn’t have done and didn’t suffer fools gladly.

To whom would you most like to say “Sorry?”

Amanda: Debbie is gonna struggle with this…..HA HA

Debbie: I don’t think there is anyone I want to say sorry to.

Amanda: Told Ya! Mine would be to a friend at school. My parents thought she was a bad influence, so they stopped us being friends. The teachers backed me as I was from the right side of town with a good family, she wasn’t. I’m sorry that I wasn’t strong enough to fight for our friendship … We will be here all night if we wait for Debbie to say sorry, she is Taurus and stubborn to the core!!

How do you rate living in Hebden Bridge (floods included)?

Debbie: Love it, it’s our forever place.

Amanda: I fancy a move … Only joking … i feel like I can be myself here and that’s so important.

What question would you like me to have asked - and what would your answers be?

If you had to choose between kissing (snogging for 1 minute)  Boris Johnson, Pritti Patell or Matt Hancock, who would it be?

Debbie: Oh Amanda, you can’t ask that………
Amanda: I can.
Debbie: I wouldn’t want to get trapped in a lift with any of them, never mind have physical contact.
Amanda: Mine would be Boris.
Debbie: You would rather kiss him than the other two?
Amanda: Yeah.
Debbie: I’ d rather be stuck in a lift with them.
Amanda: You can’t have Boris now, cos he is mine. Go on …
Debbie: Pritti Patel, cos it would really freak her out …
Amanda: Oh I dunno, my gaydar suggests different … LOL

More HebWeb interviews from George Murphy

If you would like to send a message about this interview or suggest ideas for further interviews, please email George Murphy