Friday, January 25, 2013
Two decades ago she had nothing.
Lara Norris was just 19 when she fled a relationship tainted by domestic violence, helped away from her home by police in the middle of the night.
She still remembers the date - December 8, 1992 - and had nothing but the clothes on her back, her baby son in her arms and a bump - pregnant with her second son.
Fast forward to 2013 and Mrs Norris wants to use this life experience to help others by representing them as their MP, hoping to topple Yarmouth MP and Communities Minister Brandon Lewis from his seat in the next general election.
Mrs Norris, 39, has been chosen as the Labour party parliamentary candidate - the first female candidate in two decades.
Yarmouth’s last female Labour candidate was Barbara Baughan in 1992, and prior to that it was Pat Hollis in 1974.
Mrs Norris says she turned her life around with the help of others, and has since put herself through university.
“I’ve had to live on benefits and I know what making the decision between ‘do I eat or do my children eat’ feels like,” she said. “To be able to truly represent someone you need to have lived it.”
She currently lives in Bedford and works in London, managing the office of Luton South MP Gavin Shuker. But she has a room in Yarmouth and has been a regular visitor since 2010, when she was the eastern region organiser for the Labour Party for the general election.
She hopes to move to the area with her engineer husband Paul.
“He has been working in Great Yarmouth for a long time and it just felt right,” she said. “The biggest thing I believe is you have to be part of a community. As a whole family it’s something we’re looking forward to doing.”
She met Paul 18 years ago, and they married last summer. Her eldest son Alex, 21, has just graduated from the University of Sunderland and younger son Max, 19, is just starting a degree.
Mrs Norris completed her own degree in psychology at Hertfordshire University, followed by a masters degree, then worked for HomeStart - a local charity which supports parents with children under five.
“I got into doing things in a backwards fashion in that I had children very young,” she explained. “The very first day I delivered a political leaflet was 20 years to the day since I left my ex-partner.”
She became angry with how things were.
“I got wrapped up in that whole world of the voluntary sector but it was extremely frustrating,” she said. “I saw things I thought were obvious solutions and I got angry.”
She began to lobby for change after Labour stalwart Peter Hain challenged her to do so at a community meeting in 2008. And she says she has never looked back.
“There was never a point when I thought ‘this is what I want to do for a living’. There’s no career plan, but I’ve seen the problem and I’ve been there myself and I know how difficult it can be if you’ve got barriers in front of you.
“I know lots of people in Great Yarmouth and in the Labour party, and this seemed like the most honest, natural thing to do when it came up.
“I’ve spent a lot of time just speaking to people in the street, just asking what they really want, and it became obvious this is somewhere my particular life experience could make a difference,” she said. “In the past few months my experience has borne that out.
“There’s a big job to do, and I would like to do it.
“I’m honoured and a bit blown away by the whole thing. I’m just a normal person who started a fight several years ago.”