It is with great sadness that we heard that long-standing Green Party member, Janet Alty passed away on 19 September at home in Leamington Spa, aged 86, in the presence of her two children, Ali and James.
Janet had a powerful and lasting impact on the Green movement and the Green Party in particular. She was the Party chair in 1987 and 1988 and was the life and soul of the Warwick and Leamington Green Party for decades.
I met Janet after many email exchanges, answering my unending questions about the Green Party. She was a major influence in helping me decide the Green Party was my political home. I turned up on her doorstep one day in 2004. She told me just days before her passing that she remembers that day vividly – ‘there you were on my doorstep, tall and lanky’. Janet’s home at the time was the centre of Green political activity – the comfortable sitting room was the home of networking and decision-making, another front room adorned with Green posters from all over Europe made us feel part of something much bigger and Janet showed us much warmth through good use of her kitchen. The back door was regularly open for Greens to wander in and out, often to the risograph printer in her basement. Janet was always there for us but she was a leader, never letting us go too far astray and had the magical ability to help others see the skills we had and how to put them to the best use for a better world.
Cllr Naveen Tangri sums up how many of us feel: “Janet was more than just a friend and mentor; she was an inspiration to many, myself included. Her unwavering dedication to environmental causes and her tireless efforts to make our community a better place will forever be remembered. Janet’s passion for the Green Party was contagious, and she had a unique ability to ignite that same passion in those fortunate enough to know her.”
Janet was a force of nature. Her drive and determination, stubbornness, her willingness to take responsibility and get on and do stuff, to put her head about the parapet, her preparedness to upset more powerful people (in a good way) and be brave were essential in helping the Green Party grow from a small base to now being the largest party locally and leading Warwick District Council.
Janet was a guide and support to me in the noughties. She was at the founding meeting of the Solihull Green Party with me in my late mother’s front room, she was on the doorsteps with me as we broke through to win our first Solihull Council seat and eventually, she sat me down in the Friends of the Earth Warehouse café in Birmingham city centre in 2008 to tell me that I needed to work for the Party. “Come work for us and I’ll underwrite your salary for the year” she said. Acting on the thoughts of now Warwick District Council Leader, Ian Davison, Janet felt there was no point throwing money at a single flimsy leaflet to go through doors at the 2009 European elections. Instead, she was keen for the party to invest in a paid campaign worker for the first time ever – a local party support and communications officer and campaigns manager in one role – to grow the party to achieve future local and eventually European election success. I’ve been working for the Green Party ever since. Janet’s foresight was undoubtedly crucial in seeing the need for a larger staff team and was the inspiration for setting up of the Field team, which has taken us from having 116 councillors at the time of our lunchtime conversation in 2008 to 750 councillors today.
Janet herself came close to becoming an MEP in 1989 but it was 26 years later that Janet was deeply proud to become Leamington’s first Town Councillor in 2015. There are now 17 District and County Councillors and 20 Town and Parish Councillors in Warwick District.
Beyond the Green Party, Janet and her late husband Christopher were critical in helping set up the Centre for Alternative Technology in the 1970s, which she supported for many years, including while our co-leader Adrian Ramsay was CEO a few years ago. Janet was an avid supporter of Living Streets. I still cross the road in the way Janet told me to so very forcefully: “Be unpredictable, don’t go to the crossing, wander in the road where the drivers least expect you to be so that they slow down and stay alert.”
In Leamington Spa, Janet was responsible for many initiatives – the Gaia wholefoods co-operative, supporting Warwick District Faiths Forum and significantly, a group teaching English to women who arrived from the Punjab. Her work with Punjabi women was truly groundbreaking and liberating. Beyond this, Janet’s personal commitment to racial equality was impressive, for example, she helped fund Barristers for the family of a black man who died in police custody in Birmingham.
Janet’s extraversion and energy were always evident. Cllr Ian Davison describes Janet as “strong-minded, ambitious and liked to follow her own path. Although I never told her, I regarded Janet as in charge of special operations. For instance, one day she suddenly decided there ought to be a Leamington canal festival: much to my surprise it was a great success”.
Long-time Green member Pippa Austin reminded me that Janet always said “Greens know how to party”! Janet was a regular at green gatherings, festivals, Pride and was even a founder of Leamington Peace Festival. Her close friend, Marcia Watson tells me that Janet sometimes managed to acquaint herself and her bicycle with a hedge on the way home, fortunately always staying intact.
Reaching across the political divide, Janet latterly became very close to Labour Town Cllr Mota Singh whom she introduced as her boyfriend, much to his amusement. While banished from the room when Green conversations got too political, Mota was much loved by Green colleagues and friends until he sadly passed.
Janet has left a remarkable legacy – a thriving Green political movement, a more inclusive and loving Leamington Spa, she has changed many lives and critically, empowered the rest of us to continue her work with pride.