The transcripts are not an exact science, so expect a few spelling or grammatical errors. This transcript is also by no means intended to replace the audio. The podcast has some cracking music on it and the stuff you’d expect from a conversation, such as articulation, accents, pauses, intonation – basically all the stuff that makes us sound like proper human beings. So, if you can listen to the audio, please use the transcript as an accompaniment.
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Transcript: Episode 1 – Denise Yuen Megson
Host – Vic: 00:05
this is the Strong Manchester Women podcast, a series of inspiring conversations with the changemakers activists, leaders and trailblazers who make our city and beyond a better place to live, work and play. Now, Manchester has a history of very strong women, women who are forces to be reckoned with, women who push the envelope, start movements, smash glass ceilings, stand up for their rights and turn the wheels of progress. So join me, your host Vic Elizabeth Turnbull as I speak to these women, women who you may not have heard of before, the underground heroes, who are changing lives and making a lasting impact in our communities.
Host – Vic: 01:09 So, in this episode we speak to
Denise: 01:11 Denise Yuen Megson
Host – Vic: 01:12 and we talk about looking after yourself,
Denise: 01:17 I’ve been with my tai chi master for 13 years now.
Host – Vic: 01:22 Growing up in a different country,
Denise: 01:23 You had to walk a mile to school, and walk a mile back in the scorching sun,
Host – Vic: 01:29 Breaking down barriers,
Denise: 01:31 the roots of my career I suppose is all about how you challenge discrimination
Host – Vic: 01:35 and lots more…
Denise is not a recognised legal name, it’s just a name that I used about 40 odd years ago. I used it because when I first came to the country, not many people could pronounce my Chinese name. I’ve actually got two Chinese names, it s Yuen Yeung. So I decided then I would choose an English name to make it easier. I’m semi-retired. I used to work as a nurse lecturer. Well obviously with time on my hands when I retired I was looking at different things to do and luckily through a lady that I used to know, she asked me whether I wanted to participate in some radio, training. So I thought why not give it a go? That was in 2017 the training was for six weeks and the whole project was a project funded by the health authorities and it was for, at that time, looking at alternative therapies for improving the mental health of the Chinese community.
Host – Vic: 02:55 How’s that grown today then? Are you still doing the radio?
We’re still broadcasting live every Friday. The radio programme is called Radio Sheunglok. We broadcast on community radio, All FM 96.9. Radio actually, it’s not difficult to get in to. And All FM has a really excellent training opportunity. It’s fun and it doesn’t actually take a lot of training to be able to do it. When I first saw the deck it was like, oh, buttons and switches, what do I do?
We’ve now got more funding to do other projects. And the most recent one we are doing is called ‘Crossing the Borders‘, which is a project on migration. It’s capturing the stories of how people and why people came to England and why particularly in Manchester. So some people came because they had family already here and they heard that it was, you know, there were more opportunities or the came and they stayed, some didn’t intend to stay but ended up staying.
It’s a range of different stories. So it’s capturing I suppose people’s journeys. And I suppose encourage other people to understand that there are people living in the city that comes from different walks of life. But probably still have the same sort of aspirations and wishes as everybody has as human beings. All the work behind the research is like we had to draw up our own protocol for the research, design the research, interview people… We also trained others to do interviewing because the interviews are done in Cantonese and I’m no good because my Cantonese is no good. My first language is actually English. And now that we’ve got the interviews in, we’re doing the transcribing. Once we’re finished all the transcript, we’ll be choosing five stories to develop into radio plays.
Host – Vic: 05:11 Wow.
We also photographed, so we’ve collected lots and lots of photographs so that will become a book. So again, that will be a legacy and there’ll be archived in Central Library.
Host – Vic: 05:25 Fantastic resource.
Host – Vic: 05:27
Tell me about the time when you were found that you’d been selected as one of those Strong Manchester Women, how did it feel?
The asked us to choose two words that, that we choose to try to explain what makes us Strong Manchester Women. The two words that I chose was ‘pushing boundaries’ and ‘breaking down barriers’. I’ve had quite a lot of experience where people look at me physically, visually. I don’t know whether it’s just people’s perception. Well they see me as a Chinese woman and they don’t expect me to come out and speak like this. Some say I’ve got ya Yorkshire accent, but I don’t know what accent I’ve got.
Speaker 4: 06:11
You know, I think I have slowly developed the accent because I’ve lived here now for 40 odd years. I’ve lost the Malaysian accent, because Malaysians would speak something like ‘How old are you, la?’ .
When I was in my nursing days and I was a community nurse, I would have to ring people up to make appointments, so they would him hear me and I would introduce myself as Denise Megson. But once I arrive at the door, you can see sometimes people’s faces. And they would be ‘oh, are you Denise? and I’d say ‘Yes I am!’ And the’d be like she not who they visualise. And sometimes that makes me have to work harder I think to challenge that perception and to say that yes, I’m just as good as the next person and just as capable as the next person.
Well, on the other hand, I taught English in China for two years as a foreign language teacher and I got it then from the Chinese students, because when I walked into the classroom for the first time, and again, my name on the timetable is Denise Megson, and they would whisper in Mandarin. “Are you sure she’s from England, she doesn’t look Western?’ So it’s challenging the perceptions.
07:34 in terms of pushing boundaries, my professional life as a learning disabilities nurse, I’ve always worked with groups of people who are stigmatised, who were labelled, who were deemed as not useful in society. Again, we work very hard with our students to challenge that and to do things that shows that people with disabilities have an equal right in society. They’re that just as capable, they might do it differently. My professional background has quite a lot of influence on my values and thinking in my voluntary work.
Host – Vic: 08:16 It sounds like a lot of your work is all around equality.
Probably yes, but I don’t always think of it in that way. I think of it as, because I’m married into a Western family and my husband is a westerner. I feel that I straddled two cultures and rather than having separate entities, I think it’s good that if you’re able to marry together and for example my children, I still teach them some things, not everything, about Chinese culture so that they have an understanding. The only regret I have with my kids is that I didn’t teach them any Chinese, but then I don’t know much Chinese either. Well I actually learnt Mandarin when I was 50, even though my mother tongue is Cantonese. But in Malaysia, straight at the age of five or six I started learning English and the whole family goes to English school. So all the kids and all the cousins, all speaking English. I can do simple Cantonese like ordering food or making my basic needs known. But anything to do with discussing emotions and all that sort of thing, I don’t have to vocabulary.
Host – Vic: 09:39 Does that surprise some people?
Yes and sometimes it’s looked down upon, ‘how come you’re Chinese and you can’t even speak your own mother tongue?’My parents actually chose to send us to English speaking schools. So all throughout my education our Headmistresses were Irish nuns. For me that was a way of life. And yes, I can speak some Cantonese but, I don’t know how to speak a lot of Cantonese!
Host – Vic: 10:09
You say you grew up in Malaysia, what did you want to be when you were little?
Again, it’s difficult to say because I came from quite a poor family and from the age of 11 I was actually taking responsibility in the running of the business. So my responsibility was actually the cooking. We started off with the little stall by the streets, so we sold food by the road.
And I remember when I was age 11 I was half studying, half pounding the chilli’s and garlic’s and the whatever the ingredients for making the curry. When you’re selling by the roadside with no license you do get chased by the police. I remember when police come, everybody will be shouting ‘quick, quick, get your things, run, run! Obviously that wasn’t a very stable way of life or business. My mum was my role model. She’s not with us now, but she was the one who held the family together once she got a little bit more money. I think we were selling on the streets for a couple of years. My auntie actually bought a shop My mom rented it from her. So then we had a stable base. By that time I think I was probably, I was in secondary school so at least 12 or 13.
My life would be in the morning, before we went to school, I would be lighting the fires, getting the stove ready and then mum would come down. So then I would go to school by seven o’clock because the bus comes around seven o’clock and we attended school, I think it was eight o clock to one. The bus didn’t actually take you straight into school. You had to walk a mile, and walk a mile back from school in the scorching sun. When we came back from school and because we did take out, and people didn’t come to collect, I was going round taking the business, the orders, making the food, sending it out, collecting the monies, keeping the accounts. And then in the late afternoon when the stalls would close, I would be preparing for the next day. Everything was done by hand and I’m the chef so I can make wantons, BBQ Pork… so that was my speciality and curries!
So that happened til I left. Because I was good at studying, my mom allowed me to keep on doing A-Levels before I came over to the UK to do nursing. So I didn’t actually have an ambition of what I wanted to do because again, there was some politics under current; if you weren’t a Bumiputra, which was translated from Malay into ‘prince of the land’. There were less opportunities for you to go to university. There was less opportunities if you want to buy houses. Whereas the Bumiputra, they would be sponsored to go to university. Then if they wanted a mortgage, they would have reduced interest rates. So even right from the start I see and have seen discrimination.
Host – Vic: 13:25
I do think it’s fascinating if we take time to reflect on our journeys and how careers, how things that happened when we were little have planted seeds for where we are now. Denise goes on to tell me how she got into nursing.
I came to do nursing because I had two aunties who were already here and were nurses. Forty-odd Years ago, they were trying to get people from other parts of the world to come work in the NHS. But prior to that I did voluntary work and this was a school club. From that I worked and did voluntary work with disabled children. So I had some experience of disability.
When I applied to come to do nursing, there were no places for general nursing. Because I think at that time, nursing then was fine and became quite a popular vocation. Both mental health/learned disabilities was still…not many of the people who live in this country wanted to go into that line of work, so we tended to come in and did those line of work and I did learning disabilities nursing. I didn’t really make a conscious choice of coming and becoming a nurse, but because those were the opportunities that were available, I took it.
Host – Vic: 14:52 I imagine that mental health nursing and stigmas towards people with learning disabilities were much different forty years ago.
Denise: 15:00 Yes, and at that time people used to live in institutions and weren’t allowed to come out and there’s still a lot of the stigma and the segregation.
The roots of my career I suppose is all about how do you challenge discrimination? How do you, you know, do you accept it, to do you live with it? Or is there something you can do about it? I’m not talking about marching out and shouting and give us our rights, that sorts of thing. It’s starting from educating the young people about what is a disability, it might be hidden disabilities and how to communicate with people with disabilities; as it’s still one of the difficult things that people struggle with. Oh, how do I interact with a person with disability? So it’s really about educating people and looking at putting the positives across.
I mean sometimes you do have to challenge. It’s like for example, when I used to work with the kids, we would take them out for a holiday and we didn’t used to go out in big long, what we call dragons or crocodile. Because at one time that’s what used to happen, you would take about 20-30 residents, they were called then out to Blackpool. And basically you’d just walk along Blackpool prom in one long line. And everybody stared at you, because who would go out in one long line?
So we used to, and this was in the early eighties when they were starting to changing the practices and we used to take the children now two or three at a time to go on holiday. But you still got people saying, ‘oh, aren’t you good to be working with these children? Oh, here’s a fiver by yourself a drink.’ So it used to happen. And so you were just like, right What do we do? Do we accept the money and say nothing or do we say, ‘thank-you very much, but the children have their own money and they’ve paid for their own holidays and they love coming out. Or you give them money back, people might get very offended or if you become aggressive yourself. Whereas if you explain…
Host – Vic: 17:10
It’s so easy to hear the common themes that are running through out, this interview with Denise, changing perceptions, breaking down barriers, equality. These are huge things to tackle and I wonder how Denise picks herself back up after the hard times.
I mean, I’m always a person. People keep saying, ‘you’re always smiling. You’re never sad’. And my approach to some of these things is, well, just get over it. Sometimes that’s life. You can’t change everybody. You just have to live with some of the things. But no, I do get stressed and, but, now that I’ve learned how to manage it and when I get stressed I just go and do a bit of Tai Chi. Or I talk about it with some people. Sometimes I’ll just take myself away for a couple of days and cut people out to regenerate.
Host – Vic: 18:07 I love that!
I’m at this time of my life when I am able to say, what I want to do. Because when I had kids and when I was younger, it was very stressful and you were pushed to do things because like I was doing my degree, I was working full time. My daughter was six months old when I started my degree. When I was young, you just did it. But now I’m of the age that I have, much more choices, much more freedom to do things and yes, I, I need sometimes that time when I’m away from other people to just, I don’t know, it’s just to relax, let go and then come back and look at things differently.
Host – Vic: 18:53 Yeah. Almost reflection isn’t it? Time to reflect. And I love that…
Host – Vic: 18:58
How many times have we reacted in the moment, when it would it be so much better in hindsight, to go away, chill, reflect and come back and deal with it. You heard little bit before about Denise and her Tai Chi and how I don’t know about you, but I want to find out a little bit more about this. Denise goes on to tell me about how Tai Chi helps chill her out.
So apart from Tai-chi, which I try to practice once every week at least. So I’ve been with my Tai chi master for Crikey, twelve, thirteen years now. It’s a Chen style, which is very different from the other styles, which are much more free flowing, much more gentle. Whereas the Chen style has a lots of what we call ‘explosive energy’. So you tighten, tense and then ‘boom’. So that is a way of releasing energy and it sort of helps you to get rid of negativity that you have. Sometimes I don’t do the whole caboodle because the whole caboodle can take an hour from the basics right up to doing the form, right up to, if you want to, and he has taught us doing the weapons. So swords. Some people have seen me in parks with a sword! Thinking ‘ what is that woman doing?!’ okay.
So it’s about focusing. So for that hour, I don’t think of anything else. It’s just me and I’m focusing on the breathing, on the fluid detail of the movements. He calls it, my master calls it just a meditation. So we do standing pose, where we stand and we’re imagining in our minds that the energy is flowing between the fingers. So that’s like a form of meditation. Well, I found for me, personally, is I used to everyone to have chest infections without fail. and since I started Tai Chi, I’ve not had many chest infections.
Host – Vic: 21:04 That’s fantastic, it’s actually working as well. That’s great. Yeah, I’m so interested to hear about how people look after themselves. I think it’s so important.
Host – Vic: 21:14 Have you ever been held back or discriminated against because of your gender?
I don’t tend to dwell on it. I’m the main breadwinner in my family. I was the one in the family who always held the money, did all the finances. Right from young, I’m used to doing all those sorts of things. So I don’t consciously have in my mind I can’t do it because I’m a woman. I think that’s something that’s taken from my mom, because she was a woman and yet she was very successful in the business. She had six kids and brought up six kids and she ran the business. And I’m not conscious of ever thinking because I’m a woman, I can’t do this. I’m quite happy with walking into a pub by myself and ordering a drink and eating. So maybe I’m more man than woman in terms of my thinking.
Host – Vic: 22:28 What’s your biggest achievement?
Denise: 22:31 I will would say raising two fairly good kids.
Host – Vic: 22:36 Oh, I love that your kids are your biggest achievement, that’s so lovely . I bet they’d be really happy to hear you say that
Host – Vic: 22:42 As I’m sure that Denise is a role model to her children and countless other the people, I want to know who her role models are.
Mum, obviously my mom, when we were young and she had the business, she used to give us a sum of money every month and we would actually have to organise our spendings to last the whole month. We used to have to pay school fees, pay for the school bus, pay for lunches.
Host – Vic: 23:12 Has that put you in good stead for adult life?
Denise: 23:14 Yes, teach you about budgeting, saving money…
Host – Vic: 23:20 I asked her if she had any advice for people who are looking to follow in her footsteps and she’s as modest as ever with her response.
Well, I don’t think that I’m doing anything great, but the thing is like to, join in to the best of your abilities. That’s always my mom again, it’s like, ‘if you want to do it, do it properly.’ Do something that you interested in and do it to the best of your ability, rather than doing it for status or for gain. Do something you like. Something you enjoy.
Host – Vic: 24:04 Thank you very much, Denise. You’ve been brilliant.
Host – Vic: 24:12
This podcast is inspired by the annual strong Manchester women campaign. The campaign celebrates the achievements and impacts of a bunch of incredible women, doing brilliant things. The 14 women profiled in this series were selected for the 2019 campaign. To find out more about all of the women featured in this podcast and the campaign, visit thepankhursttrust.org. To listen to Denise’s radio show, head to mixcloud.com and search Radio Sheung Lok.
Host – Vic: 24:46
We’d also love to hear what you think about stories that we’ve shared with you. Who are your strong Manchester Women? Anything, connect with us on Twitter using the Hashtag #StrongMCRwomen. Big thanks to Manchester City Council and the Pankhurst Trust for supporting this podcast series, and a big thank you, of course to Denise for her time. The Strong Manchester Women podcast is a MIC media production and is presented, produced and edited by me, Vic Elizabeth Turnbull. For more information, visit MICmedia.co.uk. The podcast has been made possible through The Centenary Cities Legacy Fund.
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