The 10mph speed limit imposed on Lake Windermere recently upset a lot of people. One of them was Timber Trades’ Benevolent Society president Barbara Cartwright. At weekends she and husband Ian, a director at timber agent Hunt Brothers & Co Ltd, used to drive up from Liverpool to their caravan near the lake to go water skiing. It was their escape and it’s been snatched away by the speed restriction. The authorities say the limit stays, but Barbara’s not letting it lie.

“We’re involved in the protests against the limit and as far as we’re concerned, the fight goes on,” she said.

That’s something you rapidly realise about Barbara. When she takes on a project, she throws herself into it completely, whether it’s to do with her career, or a weekend hobby. And she’s taking the same wholehearted approach to her presidency of the TTBS, an organisation she’s little short of passionate about. Since she took on the role last year she’s really clocked up the miles, touring the country to boost support for the charity. She admits it can be hectic, balancing her Society role with her job as a director and company secretary at hardwood importer AB Lewis Ltd, but she’s determined to get to as many of the organisation’s functions as possible.

“I didn’t join the TTBS committee to make up numbers,” she said, “I wanted to be actively involved in promoting and supporting the Society.”

Growing up in Crosby, Barbara attended Bootle Grammar School for Girls, before going to secretarial college. Then, in the early 70s she got her first taste of the timber trade, joining hardwood specialist Hunter Fowles & Co Ltd, then owned by Tony and Brian Lewis. When Ralli Bros bought the firm, Barbara went to work in other industries. However, she was soon lured back to timber.

“Tony and Brian were setting up AB Lewis, and wanted a secretary who spoke German because they planned to import a lot of German beech,” she said. “I sold myself on my secretarial and accounting skills and said I’d learn the language. I never did learn German, but then we don’t do much beech anymore either!”

Thirty years on, the original three-strong team is still there, but AB Lewis now has a staff of 13 and, since the 80s has been based in purpose-built premises in Formby.

Working in such a male-dominated industry as timber never bothered Barbara. “Having six brothers, I’m used to it and I’m not shy about speaking my mind!”

She welcomes the fact that today more women are taking on decision-making roles in the trade, but stresses that she’s not an ardent feminist. “I’m not averse to using womanly wiles!” she said. “And I don’t believe men and women are equal, although I’ll leave it to readers to decide what that means!”

If anything, the TTBS was even more of a male bastion than the wider trade when Barbara joined its Liverpool (now North West) committee in 1997. But this soon changed and she went on to serve two terms as TTBS North West president before taking on the national office.

&#8220I’d like to see our industry take more of the burden. After all, our new slogan is ‘the timber trade’s own charity’”

Her commitment to the organisation is evident. “Most who get involved with the TTBS say the turning point came when they visited beneficiaries,” she said. “It can be a difficult experience. Some live on the state pension with no other income. They really depend on us.”


Amongst other things, the TTBS pays for TV licences and phone rental and sends out £100 cheques at Christmas. This March it will also distribute £50 cheques towards fuel bills. And another fixture are the Christmas and spring hampers.

“These include essentials but some little luxuries as well which are always much appreciated,” said Barbara. “One lady recently wrote to say the hamper had been a real boost, not just to her diet, but to her morale.”

With pensions failing to keep pace with the cost of living, Barbara sees the role of the TTBS becoming even more important. “A few years back we were still talking about a time when the Society would no longer be needed,” she said. “But now I can’t see that ever happening.”

Part of her countrywide campaigning is aimed at keeping TTBS funds flowing in, but she also wants involvement. “What struck me is how much the Society depends on small to medium-sized businesses – we don’t have many bigger companies involved,” she said. “We’re also very dependent on affiliated members; people in businesses which work with the timber trade but are not actually part of it. Their support is invaluable, but I’d like to see our industry take more of the burden. After all, our new slogan is ‘the timber trade’s own charity’.”

Barbara also urges the trade to put forward more beneficiaries. “We currently have about 200, but we know there are more out there who need the Society’s support. All it takes is for people to look up former employees and colleagues, just to check how they’re doing.”

Barbara’s presidency goes on to 2007 and there’s little doubt the dedication to achieving her goals for the development and growth of the TTBS will continue through her term and beyond. Don’t be too surprised if that speed limit on Lake Windermere is lifted either!