This is part of a series celebrating Morecambe’s Finest, the personalities and unsung heroes who make our town great. Reporter MICHELLE BLADE speaks to SUE GARDNER who owns The Sanctuary cafe.
For Sue Gardner people are her life and as she puts it: “Where I get my energy and wholeness from”.
Sand grown’un Sue, 59, who opened The Sanctuary cafe and charity in Morecambe’s West End just over a year ago, has always strived to help people in the community for as long as she can remember.
A former pupil of Ryelands Infants School and Skerton All Girls School, she moved to London at the age of 15 to work as a nanny for the woman who founded Slimming Magazine.
Ironically, Sue suffered with eating problems from the age of seven and developed bulimia in her teens, an illness which ruled her life for years.
At the age of 19 she went to work in a bank in London and met her husband-to-be.
They eventually moved back to Morecambe and had two children Natalie and Matthew.
She said: “When I was seven or eight I didn’t eat my food and my mum took me to the doctor’s but there was nothing definite diagnosed.
“In my teens I became bulimic – I would binge on food and make myself sick to get rid of it.
“My weight fluctuated from fat to thin. At that time nobody spoke about it.
“I struggled on my own and went through life thinking that was normal.
“After I got divorced at the age of 45, I wanted to do something to help others. I was meeting more and more people who suffered with eating disorders.
“Together with my counselling and nutrition knowledge, my friend Sue Hind and I set up the Eating Disorder Network, with support groups for people suffering with anorexia, bulimia and obesity.
“We had our own premises in Parliament Street in Morecambe and during this period it was a great success. When we got psychologists and GPs referring to us, we felt we had finally gained our reputation.”
But after a pilot scheme with the NHS, the plug was pulled on the network’s funding and it had to close.
Sue said: “It was devastating because people were still coming to us for help but we couldn’t carry on.”
EDN folded in 2009 and for a few years Sue was unable to work. But with her parents owning shop premises on Heysham Road for 45 years, Sue saw an opportunity arise for a new charity venture.
She said: “I still wanted to do community work but maybe not for a specific group of people.”
For four or five months, Sue and her brother refurbished the former newsagents into The Sanctuary community cafe and charity.
On January 10, 2013, the cafe finally opened and Sue’s dream became a reality. She said: “For the first six months certain things worked and certain things didn’t.
“The knitting and crocheting classes have been very successful, as well as after school baking clubs and sewing classes. It’s like stepping into family life coming into The Sanctuary.”
Various groups such as the MS Society and the Lancaster and Morecambe Fibromyalgia support group hold their meetings at the cafe and Sue and her band of 14 volunteers are planning a pilot meals on wheels scheme.
Sue said: “I couldn’t have done any of this without my mum and dad. We are now setting up a business plan and hope to have paid workers soon. The hardest thing for people is stepping over the threshold and its great to make them feel special. That gives me a buzz.”
Call Sue on 07900 002018.