Higdon House opens its doors

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis opened the Eastern region’s new office and trade union education office in Bury St Edmunds on Thursday.

He unveiled a plaque officially opening Higdon House, named in honour of the two socialist school teachers sacked from Burston’s village school in 1914 for trying to improve conditions for the children in their care.

Mr Prentis told the assembled activists he was “proud” to be asked to open the new office, describing it as “another symbol of a growing, confident, ambitious union.”

And in the main conference room he unveiled a  mural depicting people’s history from the region, including the Peasants Revolt of 1381 against the first poll tax, which started in Essex but spread across England.

Also featured is Kett’s Rebellion, a Norfolk rising in 1549 when Robert Kett led an army of thousands demanding an end to enclosures, the privatisation of common land. He took over Norwich before the rebellion was brutally crushed by foreign mercenaries.

It was painted by artist Paul Butler, who was part of the team behind the famous mural at Cable Street, celebrating East End workers’ victory over the British Union of Fascists, as well as a mural in the TUC’s old education centre.

He couldn’t be there for the unveiling, but recorded a video message, saying: “It’s been a huge pleasure and a huge privilege to do this mural, I feel like I’ve learned so much about this region.

“I tried to show simultaneously that the Higdons are monumental figures whose influence on the politics of the region has been immense, yet they had such great humility.”

UNISON Eastern regional convenor Becky Tye helped unveil the artwork.

“In naming our new office Higdon House, we honour the memory of Tom and Kitty and recognise the achievements of these local activists in our regional history,” she said.

“We will promote the principles that the Higdons imbued in every meeting, workshop, training session, project meeting and conversation under this roof.”

“UNISON Eastern region will fight for equality and fairness in our workplaces, our communities and society.”

“We will call out injustice, racism and bigotry where we see it.

“We will give a voice to our members so they can stand up and be heard and we will organise to take decision making power back out of the hands of the rich minority.

“Thank you to the Higdons for their inspirational actions and long may we continue their work in organising and fighting for the rights of our members, in all aspects of their lives.”

UNISON Eastern regional secretary Chris Jenkinson said: “Higdon House is not only got a great new building with brilliant facilities, it’s a symbol of our commitment to supporting our members and activists.

“This mural and this space should inspire our activists of the future to remember our history and fight for our futures.

“I’m confident that yet to walk through that year could be a future regional convenor or even general secretary just waiting to be inspired by the wonderful mural here and all the great work we do in the region.”