Annette Rosser is a friendly and chatty member of the local community. Her skills in talking and listening to anyone were honed with years of youth work, for which she was recognised and honoured by local organisations.
So what does a proud ‘old school’ youth worker think that modern youth work needs to improve?
‘It’s not a matter of changing what people do as such as making sure it’s funded,’ she muses. ‘If councils put more money into youth schemes that were dynamic and engaging, then there would be fewer gang problems in cities and fewer youth ‘problems’ overall. You can’t simply expect young people to entertain themselves – you have to help them find a focus that they love – that’s what youth work has always and will always be about.’
Born in December 1926 in Esher in Surrey, Annette had what might be considered an unconventional upbringing.
‘Both my parents were in theatre and performance,’ she said. ‘They were also involved in the early film industry too. But after the Great Depression and the General Strike, Daddy was forced to go out and work in the retail leather trade. With two theatrical characters in the house, everything was always very dramatic!’
The family, together with Annette’s widowed grandmother, lived in a semi-detached Victorian house ‘halfway down the main drag between Hampton Court Palace and Sandown Park’ in West London.
Her early memories evoke an era: ‘All deliveries were by horse and cart, and I remember being at the garden gate, in a pram being pushed by my granny when King George and Queen Mary went by on the way to the races.’
Then the Second World War came, when Annette was 13. At 14 she left school rather than be evacuated.
This was the time Annette Rosser began her association with youth work.
‘I had joined the Girl Guides in 1938 and was looking to become a Sea Ranger – who were then associated with the Guides – at the age of 15. Part of that was to do some youth leading. It was suggested that I would be better suited to the Cubs than the Brownies because I had such a deep voice! So I opted to change to the Cub Pack and became Bageera and later Akela of the Western Green Thames Ditton Pack of Cubs.’
This naturally led her into training to be a teacher – and to her being barred from fulfilling her dream of joining the Wrens.
‘Teaching was a reserved occupation, so I couldn’t join,’ she said. ‘I wanted to be a signaller, and was frustrated to the eyeballs! I think that’s where my interest in the Sea Rangers started because it was originally designed as a pre-training scheme for the Wrens.’
She left teaching to become a sales woman in a London store but kept her association with the Cubs and Girl Guides – ‘because I loved meeting and getting to know all sorts of people. Daddy used to take me on his rounds when I was a child and I saw real poverty down by the docks – but there was always respect, especially for a lady – people would never swear in front of one, no matter where they came from.’
Keeping her connections with the scouting movement, she attended a special reception to meet the new Chief Scout after the death of Robert Baden Powell. There she met a master Scout leader, Geoffrey Rosser, who would be her future husband.
The couple were married in 1956. In 1962, Geoffrey left the family business to start out on his own running a sailing school and hotel in Brixham. They settled into the South West and Annette settled into bringing up their two children, Ian and Fiona. Geoffrey took command of the Sea Cadet unit associated with the Britannia Royal Naval College.
In 1970, after the death of her father, she and Geoffrey bought a house in Crowthers Hill. Then in 1974, Annette lost both her mother and her husband Geoffrey.
The similarity between the drills of her old group the Sea Rangers and the Sea Cadets meant that she agreed, in the short term, to keep the Unit running with other parents.
‘The first thing we had to organise the unit to do was to form the honour guard at Geoffrey’s funeral,’ she said.
The six months Annette was helping to run the unit seems to have fired her interest in the youth work which had been such a huge part of her early life.
She restarted the 1st Dartmouth Rangers, taking them on trips and events, and coming up against an adversary called ‘health and safety’ for the first time, having to use all her cunning to make sure it didn’t stop the fun and interest of the girls.
Annette then joined the Ivy Lane Youth Centre in Dartmouth and trained as a youth leader. She threw herself into the work.
She worked with youth leader Paul Novak; ‘A London boy – we had a lot in common and had a lot of fun on the discos on Friday nights,’ she said. ‘The town didn’t approve however, with the music being so loud. We had to fight like mad to get it secured – the council wanted to turn it into sheltered housing - but where would the young people go?’
In 1979 her hard work was recognised, when she won the Rotary Citizens Award. It was a proud moment for her, despite the fact she never sought out the limelight.
During this whole time she was running the Ranger Unit, and it became one of the most successful in the country, with 14 girls travelling from Totnes to take part.
But it couldn’t last – insurance problems meant that Annette had to retire, aged 65, in December 1991.
But she was not to be stopped – and began to work with the probation service. She had never lost her common touch, or the ability to give respect to all she met, irrespective of their age, position or attitude.
Then, at age 70, in 1996, the probation service told her that they could no longer insure her, and her long service working with the young was over.
‘My favourite age is the teenage years,’ she tells me. ‘They are maturing physically but haven’t the life experience to find a mental balance. They need to have experiences and see more variety before they make decisions about where they want to go in life – and that is why working with them is so rewarding: you can help them find a way to use their talents in life.’
First Published July 2011 By The Dart