by Barbara Gwinnett, Vice-chair Wolverhampton City Fairtrade Partnership
In February 2014 the Chairman of Wolverhampton City Fairtrade Partnership, Dennis Turner (Lord Bilston) sadly died from cancer. As MP for Bilston he had been instrumental in launching the City’s bid for Fairtrade status in 2003. When the City achieved that status in 2004, he took on the role of chairman of the Partnership and served in that capacity until a month before his death.
Dennis was born in 1942 in Bradley, Bilston, West Midlands. At the age of 24 he was the youngest person elected onto Wolverhampton council where he served as Labour councilor until his election as MP for Bilston in the 1987 general election. He served as PPS to Clare Short when she was Secretary of State for International Development. Both Clare and Dennis ensured the Government maintained a commitment to Fairtrade. He stood down as MP in 2005 and took a life peerage as Lord Bilston, which enabled him to continue his work in the Palace of Westminster. He served for a while as chairman of the House of Commons catering committee, where he tried to ensure more Fairtrade items were used in Westminster catering.
In Wolverhampton his support for Fairtrade was exemplary. He used every opportunity to promote Fairtrade and drive the work of the Partnership. His two themes were education and business and under his leadership he saw seven Wolverhampton schools and the University of Wolverhampton gained Fairtrade status. Behind the scenes he used his influence and contacts for the work of the Partnership and was always happy to attend Fairtrade events – whether that was speaking at a Gurdwara to a Sunday morning congregation or visiting the Fairtrade stall at an event in the City. Thanks to his influence the Partnership had an annual reception hosted by the Mayor and Mayoress. Dennis’s last public appearance was to open the first West Midlands Fairtrade Regional Forum in November 2014.
Dennis often quoted William Morris: “For the CAUSE alone is worthy till the good days bring the best”.
He will be sadly missed by the members of the Wolverhampton City Fairtrade Partnership, but we will endeavour to continue the legacy of his work. It has already been agreed that there will be an annual award for outstanding services to Fairtrade in the City, and Dennis’s family have kindly agreed that this should be named The Lord Bilston Award in memory of Dennis Turner.