Down on the farm

Sue Reddington is the director of Meanwood Valley Urban Farm in Leeds which provides an escape route for inner-city children where they can experience rural life and develop an awareness and concern for their environment.

Sue, who is divorced and lives in Leeds, left school at 16 but later trained as an education welfare officer. She has worked at the farm for more than twenty years. In 2000 she was awarded an MBE for her work there.

The best thing about my job is seeing the young people who come here develop some self-belief and self-confidence. A lot of them have had very negative experiences in their lives so it is doubly rewarding to see them make progress.

What I like about Leeds is the size of it. It's small enough to be easy to get to places, but it's big enough to be a dynamic place.

I also like the fact that it is an improving city and that it is becoming more prestigious. I've lived in New York and in Rome, but I was happy to come back to Leeds both times.

The first news I heard when I stepped off the plane in New York was that Elvis Presley had died, so I always remember exactly where I was when that happened. I lived there for a year with my husband who was on a teaching exchange and it was marvellous because I had always loved old films like Breakfast at Tiffany's and there it all was in real life.

I was an au pair in Italy when I was 19. I always think of that period as when my life went from black and white to colour, I couldn't believe how beautiful it was. I went with a friend and she married an Italian, so I still visit. She takes me to all the non-touristy places.

When I heard that I had been awarded my MBE I said "I'll have to phone my mum". Everybody looked at me because she died when she was only 47 and so had been dead for years, but in that moment I forgot. My dad was dead by then too but I was still proud for them, that their daughter had achieved this. I took my auntie with me on the day.

I like painting, watercolours are my favourite. I love Turner, especially when he was experimenting with colour. I love everything about art, the history of art fascinates me, I visit galleries to relax. That and gardening are my favourite things to do

I had a countrified childhood, even though it was in Garforth, Leeds. It was a rural area then. I was a tomboy, we would build wigwams out of the straw left in the farmers' fields and play cowboys and indians. I did a lot of horseriding as well, I would volunteer to muck out the stables to get free rides, then I would ride bareback across the fields. We climbed trees and played with the natural things around us, it allowed us to use our imagination. It would be quickly in for tea and then back out again. That is why Meanwood Valley Urban Farm is so important for the children who come here, it allows them to use their imagination too.

The best advice I ever received was that you can achieve what you want through hard work, which I learned from my parents, and I think it is important for all young people to know that. Lifelong learning has been part of my life.

My dad was a mechanic but he also played the piano, our house was small but we always had a piano in it – sometimes two. He had interesting musician friends and the house was always full of them. My mum would sing.

Basically, my twenties were my selfish decade when I thought mostly about myself and in my thirties I started to think about other people. My philosophy of life is to be patient, persistent and positive. There is a lot of good in the world as well as a lot of bad, there are always people who will help.

I once met Basil Hume and, although I am not a Catholic, there was something so gentle about him that he made me feel humble. It happened thirty years ago when he was the Abbot of Ampleforth but I still remember it so well, that moment when I shook his hand. I'm not usually impressed by people but there was something magical about him.

I remember walking through Leeds market with my mother while I was wearing a hat with a veil and people were teasing me. I have a large collection of unusual hats, I love vintage clothes and particularly hats. I started wearing them as a teenager and have carried on ever since. I've given some of my vintage clothes to West Yorkshire Playhouse, I once went to a play and spotted my dress.

I don't tell jokes because I always get them wrong but I was told a good one by Silas Paige, who is aged seven: what do you call a donkey with three legs?

A wonkey