Members come to UNISON from all sorts of backgrounds and for many reasons, but it’s probably fair to say there are not many who have made the journey from contemporary dance to addressing a union conference.
But that’s been the path taken by Tamar Dixon, who moved the first motion of this year’s Black members’ conference, on behalf of the union’s young members.
And it was the sort of assured performance that utterly belied her status as a conference newbie.
Tamar is now a teaching assistant at a primary school in Wolverhampton. But before that, she trained in contemporary dance. She glows with passion as she observes that the legendary modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham is “one of my favourite pioneers”.
After spending time as a dancer herself, including a stint at the Birmingham Hippodrome, her life changed dramatically when she took time out to travel to Thailand in South East Asia.
“I did my TEFL – teaching English as a foreign language – in Thailand,” she explains, “and that inspired me to work with young people and children. So when I came back to England, I just naturally changed course to work in a school.”
She’s not left her old passion behind her entirely – as well as her job at primary school she also teaches dance.
It was when she became a teaching assistant that she decided to join UNISON. “Although that was my mum pushing me,” she laughs. “She said: ‘Now that you’re getting into education, join the union – it’ll be great’.”
Indeed, her mother Sharon (pictured above, with Tamar) is a member of the national Black members’ committee. And Tamar is clearing following in her footsteps.
“Before I joined the union I thought it was a bit like a private club – that it would be hard to get in. But now I’m in, what I like about UNISON is that it’s a community.
“It’s the people that really make it – the members, the staff, the committees. They’re all just really, really committed to what they do. And they’re very supportive.”
She’s keen to point out that although she’s performed on big stages as a dancer, addressing 600 people at a conference is very different – although practice is vital in both situations.
In that first speech, Tamar told delegates how ‘confidence skills’ training offered by the union had helped her decide to put herself forward.
In fact, the same training also included guidance on preparing and giving a speech. And as a first example of UNISON networking, she and others in the small group exchanged contact details and have been keeping in touch since.
So the opportunities that training can offer, including the chance to meet new people and make new friends, are high on Tamar’s list of reasons to love the union.
Back at work, she says that because of UNISON she knows that she doesn’t have to struggle on alone if she has problems.
“I’ve gained the confidence to speak to people I don’t know, to not be afraid to ask questions and to be more assertive,” she says. “And now I want to get more education and training.”