The 89-year-old grandmother who became Middlesbrough’s first black bus driver after leaving tropical paradise


As part of Black History Month, Teesside Live celebrates Connie Hall, Middlesbrough’s first black bus driver.

She took on the role in the 1970s, much to the surprise of her family and friends.

And although Connie now suffers from dementia, she has reflected on her time living and working in Middlesbrough.

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“I thought I would love to be a bus driver,” said Connie, 89.

“People thought I wouldn’t do it, but I applied, I took the test – oh damn I see myself now! “

Connie grew up in Grenada, the Caribbean, and in the mid-1950s her then-husband suggested moving to England for work.

“I told my husband it was a good idea, but our daughter is only a few weeks old,” Connie said.

“I don’t let my kids go anywhere!”

Connie followed her husband to England a year later with her two children, around 1957, when she was in her mid-twenties

Her husband was working as a car mechanic at the time, and they later had two more children born in England, including their daughter Sharon, who now lives with Connie.

“Middlesbrough was wet and cold, especially at night,” Connie said.

She then found a job through a contact from her husband.

“He was working with a guy called Tony who asked me what I did when the kids were in school,” Connie said.

“He asked me if I could make tea for the people who were waiting to buy cars.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time.”

She later spotted the ad for people to work on buses, and she did so in the 1970s.

Connie Hall was the first black bus driver in Middlesbrough in the 1970s

While many people in Middlesbrough have been kind to the family, they have also experienced a lot of racism.

Connie could see people quickly removing their hands from her as she worked.

But she developed good relationships with her colleagues and even featured in a newspaper article in the mid-1970s.

“They came to my house and asked me a lot of questions,” said Connie, who didn’t give too much thought to being the only black employee.

“I never used to look at him that way.”

But although the family made their home in Middlesbrough, Sharon had a hard time in school and the racism continued.

“My husband used to go to work at night and a bunch of young boys catch him fighting,” Connie said.

“I will never forget that.”

She remembers young white people stepping in to help and shouting, “It’s Mr. Hall, leave him alone!” “

On a happier occasion, team coach Boro broke down near their home and some of the players and manager Jack Charlton came in for refreshments while new transport was arranged.

“I remember this man, he sent me a present,” Connie said.

“I don’t know much about football, because in Granada they play cricket. “

Connie, who turns 90 in November, has four children, 11 grandchildren and many more great-grandchildren.

Although her diagnosis of dementia and worsening memory have posed challenges, she still has a lifetime of stories and experiences.

Some of his strongest memories are growing up in Granada.

“I can’t forget the people in my youth, they were very nice,” said Connie.

Connie Hall was the first black bus driver in Middlesbrough in the 1970s
Connie Hall was the first black bus driver in Middlesbrough in the 1970s

“Everyone was nice to each other, there was no swearing.

“They were helping each other, no one ever said no.

“My neighbor’s children went to the same school as me, so she came to pick us up.

“There were some very nice people back then.

Back in the Caribbean, she would spend hours working in the garden, which she loved and missed terribly.

His family owned farmland and animals, including goats and cattle, and grew their own produce.

“We didn’t buy any food, we just grew it on our own,” Connie said.

“We had mango trees and grew watermelons and lots of bananas.

“The only food I didn’t like was breadfruit.”

When Sharon moved to London, Connie followed and lived in Northolt, where she worked in catering for the police, in the kitchens of Hounslow, Ealing and Chiswick stations.

In recent years, Connie has met celebrities including Mayor of London Sadiq Khan at an Alzheimer Society event and politician Ken Livingstone at Kew Gardens.

A few years ago, Connie was diagnosed as being in the early stages of dementia.

“I’ve been forgetting a lot of things lately,” said Connie.

“Doctors say I have dementia, but no one can tell me what caused it. “

She forgets things like places and names, and her strategy to help remember by writing them down on pieces of paper didn’t work because she forgets the papers.

She often has trouble talking about her dementia.

“It’s a little sad to think about it, maybe I’m a little sad about it,” Connie said.

“You forget this and you forget that.”

Her daughter Sharon said her dementia was “worse” since the lockdown and “wasn’t that bad before” the covid-19 pandemic.

It started to affect her behavior as well as her memory, and she had some bouts of violence and confusion.

Sharon said: “It’s getting fast and furious now which is sad because she’s so physically fit for 89.”

Connie, who now lives in Chiswick, west London, regularly attended local age concern groups, which shut down during the covid-19 crisis.

Connie said, “People over there are laughing and making jokes and things like that.

“When they ask you what you would like to hear, I say ‘Oh Carolina’, my favorite song.

“But I haven’t been there for a long time.”

Connie also used to date Sue, a volunteer the Alzheimer Society had put her in touch with.

The couple have kept in regular contact by phone during the pandemic, which Connie has appreciated, especially since she doesn’t feel confident to leave the house at the moment.

Connie said: “Because of the thing we’re in now, the covid, I don’t feel like going out.”

Sharon is the primary caregiver for her mother and Connie acknowledges her support.

Connie said: “Sharon does it all!

“I need more help.

“The worst was the kettle, I burned the gas kettle.

“It worries me.”

On what Connie thinks of her life now, she reflected on old friends who have sadly passed away.

She said, “Life is OK, that’s all I can say.

“What can I do?

“The three best friends I have are gone.”

Reflecting on her rich experiences and accomplishments, Connie shared one of the most important values ​​in her life.

“I’m never going to say that I hate this person, or things like that,” Connie said.

“I don’t have time to hate anyone.”

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