Oral History Interview - Charlene

image w2017-128_charlene_supporting_image_copyright_access_all_areas_permission_to_use


Video File


Oral History Interview - Charlene

Production date



Digital file (.wmv)


Video recording of an oral history interview with Charlene who was born in South London in 1990. Charlene is an actor with Access All Areas, a theatre group that works with artists with learning disabilities. In this interview Charlene discusses growing up in a diverse household and personal challenges and issues important to the LGBTQI+ and disabled communities.



Q. My name is Rebecca Odell and it is the 10th of May 2017 and I am here interviewing Charlene for Hackney Museum. Could you start my telling me your full name, when you were born and where you were born? [0:02]
C. Yes, my name is Charlene. I was born in Guys Saint (?) Hospital in 1990.

Q. Where abouts is Guys Saint Hospital? [0:38]
C. In South London.

Q. Could you also tell me about how you’re connected to Hackney? [0:46]
C. Basically, I am with a charity company called Access All Areas and our exhibition is in Hackney Museum. Started a project called Madhouse, My House and we have been looking about long stay hospitals for people with learning disabilities and how they were treated back then.

Q. Could you tell me a little bit about the long stay hospitals? [1:25]
C. Yeah, long stay hospitals were like people with families that really couldn’t look after their child that had learning disabilities or disabilities so it is like where they transferred them to that hospital but it wasn’t a very nice hospital.

Q. What were the problems with the hospitals? [2:04]
C. The hospitals were not very good staff in there. They didn’t really treat the patients very well, they just like think that they are not with that they can’t understand so they kind of shout at them and the patients that wasn’t really, that the patients that tried to tell the nurses or staff there, the staff just thought they were doing to get attention so they just gave them a pill to just shut them which was not very nice.

C. How did you feel learning about these long stay hospitals? [3:16]
C. When we first knew about it we watched a documentary film which was called The Silence, or something about the silence. The documentary nearly brought me to tears and it was very heart breaking to see the patients in that state. But then as we were told that we are going to develop it so that people know about this more, so that people know. Back then we did not know about this in schools or college or other museums didn’t know so that this project Madhouse we knew that we were going to make people learn about it. It was heart breaking but then learning it was interesting at the same time.

Q. And why do you think it’s important for people to learn about these hospitals? [4:46]
C. They need to know because people with learning disabilities and disabilities go to special needs schools and they haven’t been told about this history which I think that they need to know about it. So it is like they can learn from it and also take from it how we developed from then until now.

Q. That project was with Access All Areas, can you tell me how you discovered Access All Areas and how you became involved with them? [5:40]
C. How I started being a part of Access All Areas I went with a worker support, not a support worker, but a lady that helped me find some work to do. She found me this company called Access All Areas so I did an application for a part time, three term course that they were doing. So sent the application form, did an audition and then I found out that I got in and did the course and that. Did my show, Re-exit show at the University of Speech and Drama in Swiss Cottage and now it is like I am working with them and also done jobs. Without them I don’t think I’d be getting anywhere without them.

Q. For people that don’t know about Access All Areas, can you explain a little bit about what the organisation does? [7:29]
C. What Access All Areas does is they give an opportunity for people with learning disabilities to open their mouth, what they’re feeling, what they’d like to tell people the outside the world. We’re not just sitting at home, we are creative in our own way and giving us the voice to say and also to obviously get paid work with Access All Areas and even doing our own shows and also just being together meeting different people. Meeting other actors with learning disabilities and people that aren’t come in.

Q. You mentioned paid work, what sort of work have you got through Access All Areas? [8:44]
C. Well I’ve done work on TV, I was in Casualty and I was in Doctors and also I’ve had work on doing the presentation for Access All Areas.

Q. What other projects have you done since you did Madhouse with them? [9:12]
C. Well I am working with them now doing facilitation, training other people about the history and stuff like that.

Q. And how does the work you now do, since joining Access All Areas, differ from the work you did before? [9:40]
C. I think now it is like I’ve got more freedom in myself to put on workshops and to lead rather than before I was not really sure what to do, but with that I have got more confidence.

Q. Going back a moment, you grew up in South London, whereabouts? [10:31]
C. South London, in Southwark.

Q. Can you tell me a little bit about your childhood? [10:54]
C. Yeah, my childhood was quite fine, it was a little bit up and down, my childhood was. Home was all cheery. We had next door neighbours that we knew. But since growing up, when I was about 6 or 7, the family was going down a bit, it was so, so.

Q. You mentioned ups, what were some of these, the good memories? [12:16]
C. The good memories, it was just like …

C. …having a load of parties. It was like leave the door open and people next door would come and have a drink, it was like loud music. It was all happy and laughter and stuff.

Q. You mentioned Access All Areas and their role in helping people with disabilities get work and be more visible in the media. Growing up how aware were you of people with disabilities? How visible were they to you? [0:23]
C. They were very invisible because it was like, which I have a very strong point about, normal actors playing people with learning disabilities or autism, which I don’t think that is right at all. If they want someone for that part they need to find people with other charities that have people that are looking for work, people with learning disabilities, disabilities and autism. We’re just like normal actors, we’ve got the same body parts but it is just that we are a little bit slower. They just need to do more research and find the charities for what role they’re looking for.

Q. Is that something you think has improved over time or not? [2:11]
C. It kind of is but it’s just going slowly, it needs to go way up. It needs to be more visible it’s still invisible I think.

Q. Growing up how aware were you of people in same sex relationships? [2:40]
C. Well, basically I found by my Mum because as we were going away with my mum, godmother and sister, but at the time my sister was very small, only 2. I was about 6 or 7 we went to a holiday with my godmother which her parents has a little cottage in Norfolk so we spent a holiday there. When we came back my mum gathered my nan, my aunt and myself and my mum said that she was gay. Obviously my nan wasn’t very happy with it. But at the time I was still young so I didn’t know what it was all about, I wasn’t that sure at that point.

Q. Growing up with a parent as a lesbian and growing up do you think that made it easier because you had someone to look through who had gone through something similar or was it more difficult because you’d already seen the reaction e.g. of your grandmother? [5:00]
C. Not at the time but when I went to secondary school and it was a special needs school, at the time I was a teenager. All my friends at the time didn’t really like that sort of thing, saying ‘that’s not right,’ and stuff like that. But at the time …

Q. Sorry for that, you were telling me about your school… So when your mum first came out you weren’t that sure what that meant? [0:06]
C. Yeah, I was confused, like what does that mean? You know? So starting secondary school and then when you’re a teenager you become aware of that kind of thing. As I was growing up I didn’t like the fact that my Mum was a lesbian so at the time I had to have counselling about it. But then had a best friend, that we use to talk a lot and always around school break time we use to just hang around and talk about stuff, but it was kind of tough but then I kind of had a little crush on her and I didn’t know what that feeling was about. I thought, yeah.

Q. And so the other kids at your secondary school, did they have quite negative views? [2:10]
C. Yeah, they didn’t like that all they cared about was hooking up, who they could get their legs over and being all tough. Saying ‘oh I’ve slept with this one and I’ve slept with that one.’

Q. If you don’t mind me asking, why did you not like your mum being a lesbian when you were younger? [2:42]
C. At the time, I was about 8, we had a really close friend that we knew. For the first time we met her brother and her brother’s girlfriend. He was really cool they also had a little baby boy, he was cute as well. And it was kind of hard because, my mum really liked that girl, the friend of the family. So it was very hard. When I saw my mum with the mum’s girl I didn’t like it one bit and was really upset. My mum knew I was upset but my mum told me I had to keep it a secret, I couldn’t tell nobody because if I told the friend that we knew it would all kick off. So that is why I didn’t like the fact about that and that is why I hate [inaudible] because my mom made me keep secrets. I didn’t like the girl either.

Q. So your Mum was in a relationship with someone who was already in a relationship and that’s why it upset you so much? [5:32]
C. Yeah

Q. Did your Mum have any partners that you did like? [5:43]
C. Yes, she did have one, I can’t remember her name because she was Italian, so I couldn’t remember her name, but she was very nice. I think it was one Christmas she bought me a formula 1 race track, she used to play with me with that and I really liked her, but she didn’t stay with my mum at that point. Quite sad that she had to go.

Q. Did you eventually become happier with your Mum being a lesbian? [6:42]
C. Yeah, growing up and counselling helped me with that. It kind of adjusted when I went to study at Lewisham College I met someone that I really liked.

Q. And what was the name of the person that you met? [7:30]
C. That was Terry Huggett.

Q. And how did you meet Terry? [7:37]
C. At Lewisham College because we were both doing the same course work, performance arts there.

Q. How would you identify your sexuality, if your comfortable saying that? [8:10]
C. I would have to say bisexual.

Q. You mentioned a girl who you might have potentially had feelings for when you were young, was that the first time you were aware you might be? [8:21]
C. Yeah, I didn’t know what that feeling was until I grew up and went to college that I kind of found out what that feeling was.

Q. Was there a particular moment when you realised what those feelings were or did it happen very gradually? [8:51]
C. I think gradually.

Q. Having seen your Mum come out, did that impact on how you came out when you started realising you were bisexual? [9:08]
C. When I was going out with my partner, I had to tell my mum, I was still scared of how she would react but I thought she’d be ok with it because she was a lesbian herself. But when I told her I was bisexual it turned it opposite because she didn’t like the fact that I was bisexual because she thought that because she was lesbian she thought it was her fault that turned me bisexual which it didn’t, it was from my feelings nothing to do with my mum whatsoever.

Q. Do you think her views have changed since? [11:00]
C. Yeah, yeah, now that I’ve been with my partner now for 8 years, she has kind of accepted it. Even though she still has her doubts, still, but she said to me as long as you are happy I am happy.

Q. Outside of your family was there anyone you came out to? [11:42]
C. I came out to my nan which my nan is the solid rock of the family which I love to pieces because she always tell me facts about the birds and the bees. My nan was so happy for me and my partner, and always asks when the big day is going to happen.

C. It will come but not just yet, there is money involved and all that. So yes, she’s happy. She doesn’t want me and my partner to split up or anything she is into loving ourselves and that.

Q. Overall, people have been very supportive? [0:24]
C. Yeah, the hardest thing is, I haven’t told my youngest sister, that is the only person that doesn’t know which is very difficult because my mom is doing the don’t tell yet, don’t tell my sister yet. So when my mom told me and my partner we couldn’t tell my sister that we are together it kind of put a very hard rock in the middle of me and my partner. We want to move forward into our lives but with this is it kind of put gaps, we want to get married but not telling my sister is difficult. And now that my sister has found a boyfriend now it has gotten even harder for me and my partner now, because seeing them being all lovey dovey it is not very nice because we can’t do that in front of them. It is ok, but no ok.

Q. And how does it impact your relationship with your sister? [2:18]
C. We have been closer now, we use to have fights every single day but now it’s kind of like, I’ve said to my sister, we chat, we do snat chats together, talk about stuff. It is hard, I do want to tell my sister but then I don’t because I don’t know how she will react, will she accept who I am. I don’t know. Will she accept but then don’t accept.

Q. And has your sister met your partner? [3:30]
C. Well yeah, because my partner comes to the house to come to see my mum and nan. My sister only sees us as friends because I haven’t told my sister that I am with my partner.

Q. So prior to your partner, you weren’t dating? [4:20]
C. No, I didn’t know that feeling but in secondary school I did have boyfriends but being with a boyfriend …
[phone rings]

Q. So you were just telling me that, was it in school that you had some boyfriends? [0:03]
C. Yeah, secondary school, at the time I didn’t know what those feelings were, I did have boyfriends then but didn’t have the feelings that I had for my best friend at the time. Through school I didn’t have boyfriends I was staying single, that’s when I found my partner at college.
Q. Do you feel that you’ve had any restrictions in your life due to being bisexual? [0:56]
C. Yeah, being on the street you get people that are very negative of that especially on media and TV. It’s kind of frustrating when you’re out on the street you can’t cuddle your partner because people are looking at you. You got people like male and female kissing but people that are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered people can’t have that too, why is that, that’s the question, why.

Q. On the other side of that what sort of assistance (meaning support) do you think there is out there for people who are attracted to members of the same sex? [2:42]
C. Would you mind clarifying that word?

Q. What kind of support is there, because we talked about some of the negativity that is out there, has there been anything out there to support you through that weather it is people of organisations? [3:12]
C. I would say clubs also some of our friends that we know, LGBT communities, places to go. There are places to go but there needs to be more, because I don’t think there is enough.

Q. What would you like to see? [4:18]
C. I would like to see more clubs so people can communicate more with the LGBT community. We’re not diseases or anything, we’re human beings! We just like girls and boys, we’re still human!

Q. What do you like to do for entertainment? [5:12]
C. I am a bit of a party woman, I like to go out with a banging have drinks, meet new people, being cheerful and having a laugh because if you don’t you’re boring.

Q. Where do you like to go to have a good time? [5:49]
C. With friends, going to the pub or to somewhere new but still has that LGBTQ feeling to it.

Q. You mentioned having quite a few friends who would identify as LGBTQI, do you think there’s a community of those people? [6:20]
C. Yeah, I think there is, but I think there needs to be more of it because I feel like there is less and not more. People think it’s a negative thing but it’s not

Q. And for entertainment do you ever go into Hackney at all? [7:20]
C. I would like to explore Hackney a lot more. Doing the project with Access All Areas was my first time being in Hackney. I’d like to learn more of Hackney and spend a whole day in Hackney to find out what the goods part are to find tips and information.

Q. And what milestones do you think that you have seen in your lifetime for people that identify as being attracted to members of the same sex, what changes in society? [8:08]
C. It would have to be the gay rights in marriage that was a huge victory and also accepting people that are LGBT and transgendered. But it has not been accepted in other countries yet, so it has to go on.

Q. And do you remember when the law was changed for marriage equality? [9:15]
C. Yeah, that was a relief, ‘Thank God! Bloody should have done it sooner!’

Q. What does it mean to you personally to have marriage equality in the UK? [9:38]
C. It means a lot because now me and my partner don’t have to worry, we can get married like a male and female can without going through all the negatives. It is a big relief off everyone’s shoulders.

Q. When you see young people who identify as being attracted to members of the same sex do you think that they behave differently to when you were younger? [10:27]
C. Yeah. Now a days they can come out but still hide because they don’t want to be abused or threatened. We need to help the young people not to let that stop them from being themselves. They can be themselves but not go over the top but just be cautious.

Q. And why would you say be cautious? [11:46]
C. There are still people that are negative, still people that think relationships should be between a male and female, not the same sex.

Q. What are the main changes in the future that you would like to see in society? [12:15]

C. I think it would have to be respect. There is not enough respect. Being an learning disability person and also an LGBT community we need respect because if we had that respect we could move forward just to get along. You don’t have to be scared, if you want to know about that person just say hello to them and greet them nice, you don’t just slag them off or be abusive, it is not right. How would you feel if someone abused you, you wouldn’t like it.

Q. In your lifetime, in term of LGBTQI+ relationships, how do you think things have changed? [1:00]
C. I think it’s getting more out there, now there is more events going. There is more drag kings and queens developing and they are touring. There is like a show program about drag queens, it is coming along, it’s starting to progress so it’s getting there but slowly. You can definitely see it, it’s coming.

Q. In relation to disability and learning disabilities have attitudes changed? [2:20]
C. In my opinion, not really because there’s still not a lot of respect for us with learning disabilities especially from teenagers and some adults but mostly teenagers, sees us as were not right in the head. We can act all big, I am tough and all that. I’d say don’t act tough to want to know that person just ask, excuse me, how are you, if they are in your way, excuse me, sorry, can you move out of the way. To me it is just respect.

Q. As someone who identifies as having a disability, is Hackney somewhere you feel safe? [4:12]
C. Yeah, I think so. You know like I said I would like to explore it more. Hackney is a safe place a nice community.

Q. And a similar question for the LGBTQI+ community in Hackney? [4:49]
C. Yeah, I think it is definitely safe for LGBTQ groups. ‘I can defiantly see [Hackney] as a safe place for LGBT groups, for sure… I can definitely see a big rainbow around Hackney”

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to add? [5:22]
C. Yeah, I’d just like to say, be who you are, don’t be afraid, if you’ve got something to say, say it, bring out your true colours, bring out the rainbow, be the good you that you are.


Object number


On display?


Back to top