The staff and trustees at Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) are deeply saddened to hear of the untimely death of Susan Alexander, ‘Alex’ as she was known to us all. Alex was a key person in the early days of the organisation which was set up in Glastonbury by Steve Staines as a response to the hostile environment that followed the Criminal Justice Bill in 1994. Alex took over as National Co-ordinator when Steve moved on to pastures new – at that time, FFT was a tiny organisation which lived a hand-to-mouth existence. Through her hard work, commitment, passion and ability, Alex ensured FFT survived and moved onto another level.
In 1999 Alex relocated the organisation to Brighton, which was a pivotal move for FFT, although she herself was often working on reduced wages and wouldn’t know whether she would have employment in the next month or two. Alex occupied one desk in the corner of a vast room (she would have been amazed to see the same office now, crammed full of a succession of people who have picked up the baton where she left off).
Today we are the largest national charity working in the UK with all Travellers regardless of their ethnicity and Alex was key in helping lay down those roots, which have enabled the organisation to grow and flourish into what it has become. Friends, Families and Travellers lives up to its name and values those who cross its path; Alex’s spirit definitely lives on. Thank you to our dear friend and colleague for your generosity, ambition and passion from all your friends and colleagues at FFT. You will be missed but your legacy continues!
Indeed, I felt privileged to know Susan Alexander ‘Alex’, initially as my former employer at Friends Families and Travellers and more significantly as a friend. Whilst the distance meant that we did not meet up as much as we would have liked (I remained in Brighton and Alex relocated to Wales to set up The Travellers Aid Trust) we stayed in contact, meeting where possible to catch up on work, life and children, which is what mostly filled our conversation latterly. Alex was passionate about anything she did, but especially passionate about her children, Austin and Lily.
Written by Zoe Matthews
You can find a tribute page to Alex here.
Friends, Families and Travellers received the following tributes from people who knew Alex:
Former Director of Friends, Families and Travellers, Chris Whitwell, said: ‘Alex was the person who kept FFT afloat during those lean years when funders simply did not recognise the work to address the inequalities against Gypsies and Travellers as having relevance to the wider struggle for race equality. This was beginning to change when I joined the organisation in 2005 and we were able to secure the necessary funding support to build FFT into the widely known and respected organisation that it is today. This would not have been possible without the secure foundations laid by Alex during those difficult years and the organisation owes her an enormous debt of gratitude.’
Long-standing trustee, Judy Pointing, said: ‘Alex was crucial to the development of FFT, taking the helm when its survival, never mind expansion into the organisation it is today, hardly seemed possible. Alex saw us through our darkest days, at one point preparing to continue as a volunteer and to staff a virtual office via the FFT mobile because we didn’t have the money to pay her or the rent. Somehow, she pulled us back from the brink, and the rest is history. The FFT of today is part of Alex’s legacy, for which we are eternally grateful.’
Dr Andrew Ryder, a colleague and friend said: ‘Alex was a hugely important figure in the campaign for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller rights through her work in developing Friends, Families and Travellers, the Travellers’ Aid Trust, the All Party Parliamentary Group and Traveller Law Reform Coalition and so many other ventures. I and many other activists received tremendous support and encouragement from her and the landscape of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller activism would be very different today if it had not been for her work. Her work had a massive impact on policy, the development of numerous national and local community groups and the welfare needs of many vulnerable and marginalised families. I feel privileged to have known her.’