In Haunt

By Scott L’Honore Naber: a recent volunteer for Haunt Manchester, who has interviewed Sylvia Lancaster, mother of the late Sophie Lancaster and founder of The Sophie Lancaster Foundation.

Scott has been a keen follower of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies over the years, and expressed his keenness to contribute to the Haunt Manchester website - especially given his interest in history, subcultures and community. He also is a long-time supporter of The Sophie Lancaster Foundation. After he sent an email through the Foundation website, he soon found himself speaking to Sylvia Lancaster, the mother of late Sophie Lancaster. This interview is the result of that conversation.

Sophie LancasterSophie Lancaster (pictured, left) was tragically murdered on 11 August 2007 in Stubbylee Park, in Bacup, Lancashire.

She was repeatedly kicked by 5 teenagers aged between the ages 15 and 17, while trying to protect Robert Maltby, her boyfriend. Robert Maltby survived the attack, after recovering from a week-long coma. Sophie never regained consciousness and died 13 days later.

Sophie Lancaster was 20 years old when she died at Hope Hospital, Salford. Lancashire Police launched a full investigation and no motive could be ascertained, other than the fact that Sophie Lancaster and Robert Maltby dressed differently to their attackers.

Sophie Lancaster was a sensitive, intelligent and politically aware woman. According to previous interviews with Sylvia Lancaster and Robert Maltby, she was feisty, stubborn and a person of strong conviction. She loved to read, listen to music and watch live bands. According to Kerrang magazine, some of her favourite artists were Marilyn Manson, My Chemical Romance, Korn and Slipknot.

A former pupil at Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School and Haslingden High School, Sophie was taking a gap year in 2007, and was planning to enrol in an English degree at Accrington and Rossendale College.

The Sophie Lancaster Foundation was started by Sylvia Lancaster in 2009, and originated from the campaign she had previously set up named S.O.P.H.I.E (Stamp Out Prejudice Hatred Intolerance Everywhere), following Sophie’s tragic death. The British gothic community, as well as bands, celebrities and people from all walks of life were very supportive of S.O.P.H.I.E’s message of acceptance and tolerance. A stage at Bloodstock Festival is still named after Sophie Lancaster to this day.

Sophie

After sentencing the 5 attackers, the presiding judge’s closing remarks described the attack as ‘feral thuggery’ which raised questions about the ‘sort of society which exists in this country’.

Robert Maltby asked pertinent questions in a 2017 interview: ‘Why can’t we ask what it is about them that made them want to murder someone? Not what it is about someone that made them be murdered’.

The fact that Sophie was a goth isn’t really relevant. The fact, that she and Robert were attacked at all, is.

The interview with Sylvia Lancaster is below (October, 2019).

Hello Sylvia. First of all, how are you?

“I’m great, thank you. Thanks for getting in touch.”

You seem very busy. What have you been up to recently?

“We have been very busy. We’ve been meeting school groups at the Holocaust Centre and Museum, near Ollerton in Nottinghamshire. That has been on-going for the last two weeks. We met and spoke to large school groups, from different schools. Most groups are about 45 pupils. We had one that was 75 pupils strong.

“We have also had stands to speak to metalheads, goths and alternative people at music festivals such as Download, Bloodstock and the Whitby Goth Festival. We’ve also been to the Black Rose Festival in York. We used to have a small stall, but now also have a large gazebo. From there we’re a contact point where people can come and have a chat about their experiences. We also sell merchandise.

Sylvia“For us, these are quite emotional experiences. People come up to us and explained that they have been picked on in the past and that they have been attacked. There have been cases of verbal abuse and assault. Those people often want to share their experiences to other people within the dark alternative community.

“So we are there for those people.” (Sylvia Lancaster is pictured, left)

The Sophie Lancaster Foundation started officially in 2009. Has the focus of the Foundation changed at all since then?

“Well no. The Foundation was born almost immediately after Sophie was killed. I used to work for Connexions, a youth service for young people. Connexions was a governmental guidance and support service for young people aged thirteen to twenty-five with learning difficulties and disabilities. We would help young people with career advice, drug issues, domestic violence. After the coalition government got in to power in 2009, budget cuts were introduced and the service was disbanded. Supposedly, our budget was redistributed to Children’s Services. Some of the children we dealt with were goth and alternative, and were picked on in school. So dealing with these abusive issues was already on my mind, well before Sophie was murdered. When she passed away, I knew I had to do something. The Foundation was already taking shape weeks after Sophie’s death. It only became official in 2009.

“You have to understand that I have been unwell and haven’t done any work for the last 12 months. My team have been holding the fort since I was admitted to hospital last year. In October last year, I contracted gangrene in my leg and was admitted to Royal Blackburn hospital. After a few days of being admitted, the doctors decided to amputate my leg. So I have been adjusting to that over the last year. I am getting back to work in the next few weeks and the Foundation will be expanding.

“I have relied on Adam, my son; as well as Dina and Allison who have been working for me. That’s the team. But I think, we are expanding to four more people in the near future as well as changing our leaflets. The Foundation has been very reactive over the last ten years. People come forward and suggested ideas and asked for our help with events. We gave in to those ideas as they were great opportunities for exposure.

“However, I think in the future we will be planning our own campaign more carefully and taking more time to train our staff. So we will be taking on more volunteers and training them so that they are better prepared.”

    

I am so sorry to hear about your leg and I wish you a speedy recovery. However, it looks like you have big plans for the future. What challenges are you currently facing?

“Well, nothing has changed since 2007. In fact, there has been a massive spike in hate crimes in recent years.  Attacks on homosexuals, knife crime, there are more people with mental health issues. All these things are on the rise. I am going by official government figures. Brexit is causing a bit of concern as people have been now been given leave to voice their negative opinions. If and when Brexit is completed, we need to see what issues this will cause, as I believe it will impact people living in alternative communities.

“I want the Foundation to expand it’s social media presence. I want to expand our website, and our     presence on Facebook and Twitter, and develop more educational material. We’ve also bought a car, so we should be able to get around more easily in future.”

What is your advice to those wanting to join in alternative subcultures?

“Do what you like, mate. I tell kids not to dye their hair while in school. However, some schools are laxer than others. You sometimes see alternative kids in class and they look great with their dyed hair and fabulous clothes. In their own time, people should be allowed to dress how they like. Why not decorate yourself? Be whoever you want to be.”

What was Sophie like? Where did she get her style from?

“Sophie was very intelligent and independent. She always had a book in her hand. She was a very little person and very different. She was always reading.

“Because of the way she was, she was always a bit isolated and doing her own thing. One summer, when she was very young, she came back after visiting a friend for a few days. She wore dark make up, had dyed her hair black, and was wearing a dog collar. I thought she looked lovely, fabulous. Since then she started to blossom and develop. It was lovely to see that.”

Sophie

You received an OBE in 2014. What was that like?

“Oh, wonderful. It was very different. I went down to London with a few friends and we had a great time. Buckingham Palace is like no other place. The place was very professional and run like clock-work. It has to be. It was all a bit overwhelming. Prince Charles was very kind and very funny. We had a great time.”

Is there anything else you would like to add?

“Well, last year I received an Honorary Doctorate for Education from the University of Bolton, and this year I received one from the University of Surrey. I thought ‘Oh my God’ and that it’s great to get recognition for all the hard work the team have put in. I have the certificates on the sideboard. I am thankful that we are appreciated.”

Thank you very much for your time and for answering my questions.

Again, I wish you a speedy recovery and I look for forward to seeing what you have planned for the Foundation in the future. All the best for the future.

For more information about the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, there is previous Haunt Manchester coverage here and also the Foundation website and merchandise links.

Images 1, 3 and 4 with thanks to The Sophie Lancaster Foundation website and Facebook page

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