Nigel Todd who died suddenly last week will be sadly missed by his many friends in labour history circles as well as mourned by his close family and friends.
Nigel was a veteran Labour councillor who served the city of Newcastle upon Tyne from 1980 onwards but he was also so much more: an anti-fascism activist, a stalwart supporter of the Co-operative Movement, a well published radical historian, a committed educationalist through decades of work for the Workers Educational Association (WEA) and a long serving member of North East Labour History Society. As Newcastle City Council Leader Nick Forbes said in his warm tribute, “his real passion was for local community politics”. Nigel was an active socialist, giving generously of his time to local people, especially the less well off, and doing all he could to improve their lot, not least by tackling food poverty and working-class debt.
So much of his local activism stemmed from a passionate belief in the power of education to transform lives, and in life-long learning. As a young man he worked as a clerk for the WEA and it was they who enabled him to study at Ruskin College. He repaid that debt through his own work with the WEA, providing countless courses which developed practical as well as intellectual skills, and benefitting so many whose education, like his, had been cut short at a relatively young age. He was at the forefront of equal opportunity campaigns to ensure that women too were able to access further education.
His efforts on so many fronts were focused on challenging inequality and furthering social mobility; whether he was distributing seeds for community gardens, acting as local treasurer for the History Workshop conference or chairing meetings of the Co-operative College, he gave everything he had to the task in hand. These responsibilities left him little time to spare but he still succeeded in writing numerous articles, chapters and three books. The first of these, The Militant Democracy: Joseph Cowen and Victorian Radicalism (1991), was a substantial study of Joseph Cowen MP whose political interests dovetailed with his own; the second study, In Excited Times (1994) charted the opposition to the Blackshirts and British Fascism, and his third, Roses and Revolutionists: The Story of the Clousden Hill Free Communist and Cooperative Colony (2015), reconstructed the remarkable experiment by the Clousden Hill group to develop an anarchist community garden.
We met infrequently but we were always able to pick up the conversation from where we left off. The last time we found ourselves on the same train bound for Manchester and, as we discovered, both heading for meetings at the Co-operative College. We spent the journey exploring the continuing importance of the Co-operative ethos and some work I was doing on the Darlington Women’s Co-operative Society. A few days later I received a xerox of an MA thesis which proved altogether invaluable. Nigel will be remembered for his quiet acts of kindness as much as his singular contribution to Newcastle life and society.