O&A’s Tribute to Eileen Land (1939 – 2018)

Eileen Land, a member of Union Chapel Fallowfield, was a founder member, in 1991, of Opportunties and Activities (O&A) and continued, throughout the rest of her life, to be its most ardent, and yet most modest, advocate. This Tribute is mainly a compilation of smaller or more personal tributes sent to me by people connected in various ways with O&A. I hope it brings her to life and, in so doing, conveys our gratitude – and that of hundreds of students, tutors and friends of O&A – for coming across and knowing such a person.

One of our long-standing tutors noted down a few considered thoughts:

Eileen would always see the positive side of things.

She was caring and always ready to listen to people (a ‘people person’; relationships were what mattered).

She always believed in O&A and that’s why she carried on when the other two O&A founders had other commitments and were unable to do so.

She loved the times when we, some tutors and volunteers, would meet at Union Chapel and gather around the table, at the end of August, to put the new brochures into envelopes – potentially brain-numbing work that could last the whole day! There was a really good atmosphere and the opportunity to catch up after a long summer.

I can only say that I admired her enormously for her determination and courage – and for much more than that!

Another tutor, seeking a venue to teach a Chinese form of exercise to people, originally in Moss Side, Hulme, Whalley Range and Old Trafford, who were isolated or excluded in different ways or had specific health conditions, wrote:

We needed the venue to be affordable, accessible and the right environment. I was given a numbers of different centres where I could hire rooms, but rooms, available at the times you want, are difficult to come by, often the hire fee would make the prices out of reach for my students and in some cases the environment just wasn’t quite right. However, Eileen immediately got what I was trying to do and was willing to give me a chance. From the first day I walked into the Chapel I felt very at home there. It wasn’t always easy to fit my workshops into the busy schedule of activities at Union Chapel, but there was always so much good will from Eileen, and later from Michael, to accommodate us and we always felt very supported – above and beyond the simple allocation of rooms. Often I would receive a call or an email to see how the session had gone and genuine enthusiasm for what I was trying to do. Eileen’s kindness and support somehow infused the very building itself.

An O&A Trustee and recent Minister at Union Chapel said, at the ‘Celebration for the Life of Eileen Land’ last year:

(Apart from being invaluable in discovering possible tutors for O&A), Eileen had the knack of identifying individuals who might help with running the organisation, and a way of twisting your arm without your ever being aware of it! Whilst this got people lending a hand initially, what kept them was the passion, vision and care overflowing from her heart. It is no coincidence that many of those nabbed by Eileen have been serving O&A tirelessly for decades.

Another Trustee and one-time O&A student, speaking from her point of view as a committee member, wrote:

Eileen always kept us on our toes, in reminding us – sometimes quite sharply – of our origins and aims those 27 or so years ago. She embodied the ethos and spirit of O&A and was a continual gadfly to our consciences when important – and also everyday – decisions had to be made.

The knowledge she stored up in her head! And, if she felt some things might slip her mind, there were always those infamous lists of hers, gently suggesting, at the ’Any Other Business’ moment of the meeting, one or two things to be done or ideas to be explored! Yes, amazing knowledge, but also wisdom, acquired over the years, which she shared, often unwittingly and always unobtrusively.

Eileen continued to inspire us right to the end; at the May monthly meeting last year, she made – with obvious physical difficulty – a typical Eileen suggestion, optimistic, hopeful and caring. The Office is not the same without her, so welcoming and human; it’s up to us to carry on her work and spirit. Some challenge! We mustn’t disappoint her.

You will gather that, for me, she had great soul – and ‘she brought this immeasurable spirit to everything she did’.

Lastly, and perhaps most vividly expressing Eileen’s personality, her idiosyncrasies, practicality and ‘immeasurable spirit’, another of our earliest tutors has penned the following portrait (If she were to have used her personal medium, she would have ‘painted’ it!):

O&A seemed a very new organisation when I first met Eileen and Rev. Bray, the Minister at Union Chapel and one of the othertwo co-founders of the organisation. I was working zero hours, art lecturing in 1993. I remember the date as I gave them a postcard of one of my paintings at the time. It was a very relaxed interview. I was quite astonished that I was given a key to the building. They didn’t ask for references and knew nothing much about me, save the postcard I gave them. This trust, which I had never seen before in a work setting – or have seen since – was so very typical of Eileen. She also saw that Mr Bray loved that painting and she and some members of the congregation bought it for his birthday. I suspect she realised I needed the money at the time!

Eileen was always very supportive of my paintings. I remember I was moving studios and hadn’t space for all my old work. Eileen, aided by Ted, put together a homemade roof rack---- it was a bit scary and Heath Robinson, but we got them in and one of the paintings is inside the Chapel to this day.

Eileen was the first person I recall who recycled everything. Old dressing gowns were used for washing up, for instance. She was keen to re-use old envelopes and the back of birthday and Christmas cards for notices and notes. Some of these notices were quite eccentric. I will never forget this one; I had to stop and think------

“Please find vacuum in unisex toilets.”!

I am sure many will remember these memorandums.

What a huge hole she will make in South Manchester’s Adult Education!

‘And so say all of us’!

Judith Rack, on behalf of everyone at O&A

P.S. My thanks to Ian Geere, Fiona Moate, Rae Story and Odile Thivillier

February 2019