Surrey County UNISON pay tribute to Sandra Ayliffe

Tribute from Paul Couchman, Branch Secretary of Surrey County UNISON

We found out last week that our friend and comrade, Sandra Ayliffe, has died from the Coronavirus.

This was Sandra (third from left) protesting about 15 years ago, with colleagues and residents, against the closure of The Summers care home where she worked.

Sandra was a UNISON shop steward in a care home in Surrey for many years until her retirement about ten years ago. She was a militant trade unionist and a proud socialist (even though she was unable to be active due to poor health in the last few years). Sandra fought many battles on behalf of her members and was never afraid to challenge management – even when she was once suspended for effectively speaking up against bullying managers. I was proud to represent her through that time and pleased to say all charges were dropped, the case dismissed and the managers removed.

Sandra was a key member of the Surrey County Unison team and had a wicked sense of humour. She was part of our delegation to UNISON conference for a couple of years and I remember she was called to speak on one occasion and was about 100 yards from the rostrum at the time. She virtually ran all the way there (she had difficulty walking, let alone running, due to her asthma) and when she got to the mic she let out a long sigh while she caught her breath. The subtitles on the big screens just said ‘ooooooooooooooooooooh’. From that day on she was known as Mrs Oh by the other delegates that had been there, including current friends and comrades Ginny Eaton & Andy Pattinson (and Ian MacDonald who passed away in 2009).

On another occasion, she was responsible for a classic ‘Little Britain’ moment. We were on an international exchange visit in the Czech Republic, hosted by their public sector trade union. They were taking us around a large older people’s home/community and, due to the size of the place and Sandra’s asthma, she was loaned a wheelchair to help get her around. We were all in one room discussing with staff when Sandra suddenly stood up out of her chair and walked over to look at something on the wall. The look of shock and astonishment on the staff faces was a real picture.

Sandra was awarded a well-deserved lifetime membership of UNISON at a regional ceremony when she retired.

The bosses can rest a little easier now that Mrs Oh is no longer with us. You will be missed Sandra but your legacy will go on x

Our love and our thoughts are with you.

Paul Couchman, Branch Secretary, Surrey County UNISON