Sandi Hughes - A recorded history

A feminist film-maker, DJ, poet and activist, Sandi has spent more than 40 years documenting community and political events concerned with gender, race and sexuality across Merseyside, such as protests against Clause 28. Sandi shares her experiences to encourage others to ‘always remember the good things’.

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Sandi was the daughter of a Black GI father and a White civil servant mother. She moved to Liverpool in 1963 and had 4 children with her husband. 

My husband was a sailor and away at sea most of the time, so I was like a single parent. But I loved it. After 6 years he came back. I was working in the Lisbon. I realised I’m like them, a lesbian like. He was horrible to me and all that so I said “I’m leaving you and I’m not coming back.

Sandi Hughes divorce papers

Edited photograph of Sandi’s divorce papers

The judge said you won't have custody of your daughters because you're a lesbian and unfit to be a mother to them. But you can have custody of your son.” But I couldn’t separate him from his sisters.

Soon after Sandi picked up a camera and began documenting her life. 

No one else was doing what I was doing. Doing’ gay scenes, Black people and marginalised women. We were not represented… Now I have over 300 videos.

Sandi Hughes collection of photographs

Collection of Sandi’s Photographs

I never stopped being a mother. Always had people round and young boys in my flat laughing. A lot of mothers kicked their lads out so I’d look after them all. I’d give them a scran, I’d take them down after the club finished.

Sandi captured significant community events and political events, including for LGBT+ parenting rights.

Sandi at London Pride

Sandi at London Pride

The marches used to always be men leading but I made a point of running to the front. At least 20 girls were at the front with me too.

As my kids were getting older an all that, there was just something hurting me that I didn’t like and I even said to the girl’s once, “I’ve got to go back and find my kids”. There was such a big bit where I never lived with them and all that one because they were just with their dad and I’d only go round if he wasn’t in the house. So for the last 20 years I make sure that I am defo the mother and they are my daughters and we just got into love again and that’s good... I had to go back to get my daughters. Not just seeing them or talking to them but had to get back into each other on that level. Bond. We love each other. We’re a proper family and we belong to each other now.

Sandi’s home decorated with event posters including a poster for ‘Project 28 Day of Events’

Sandi’s home decorated with event posters including a poster for ‘Project 28 Day of Events’

Not all of Sandi’s collections are in storage, and instead decorate the walls of her home. 

I hate throwing things away… When did I start collecting? It was the 80’s, because when the colour started coming  from all the event papers from all different people, I just started collecting them and that then. I had a laundry basket full and I thought “what am I going to do with them?”, so I stuck them up on the wall so I can just always look at them… I always look at this one from the 4th of June 1988. 4 of us girls got together because it was always the guys getting everything.

Sandi Hughes and Jennifer John

Sandi Hughes and Jennifer John

I love this photo… Jennifer had a girlfriend living in a pub and it was great and I used to go and sit in with her and gab with her.

UK Black Pride T shirt and Dike Just do it jumper

A 'UK Black Pride' T shirt and a 'Dikes Just do it' jumper

I used to love this one [Dikes Just do it]. All the clubs, gay clubs especially, and I always had them hanging off my shoulders like. I just sewed all them other bits. I got this one at Black Pride 2010… Sometimes we need to draw strength from each other.

Sandi looking through her records collection

Sandi looking through her records collection

Sandi is still DJing and collecting music.

She Hugs is my dj name. It’s my name S Hughes mixed together. It’s about loving people, loving dj’s and loving everyone who’s dancing.

Sandi continues to fight for equality! Sandi’s banner reads ‘I’m Black and I’m Proud.’

Sandi at a Black Lives Matter Demonstration in Liverpool in 2020

Sandi continues to fight for equality! Sandi’s banner reads ‘I’m Black and I’m Proud.’

I still have a clipping from June 14, 1963, when I was 19 and I was a wren. The paper says “Wren Sandi Hughes Had an Easy Win in the 2020 yards race at HMS Mercury”. Basically, at the race all the girls queued up, I was shy and I waited, but when I went over they all got off. They wouldn’t race with me because I was Black. The guy with the whistle said I couldn’t race but I said “no, I’m gonna race by myself” and I think I won a set of cups and saucers. I’m proud of myself. I didn’t have any family to help so I just lived for myself.

Going on a march. It’s about being with all the other people. I know wherever I go in Liverpool someone will say “Hiya”, I want to be amongst the people being in this together against racism.

Liverpool Echo article about how Sandi heroically rescued someone from a burning building

Liverpool Echo article about how Sandi heroically rescued someone from a burning building

Sandi won the SEEN Lifetime Achievement Award at Liverpool Pride 2012, and in 2021 Sandi received the Inspiration/Lifetime Achievement Award at the LCR Culture and Creativity awards.

In 1976, the girl in the flat above me. Her flat was on fire, I could see it all smoky. I had to crawl along the floor, there was only a foot where I could see, I dragged her down by her clothes and shoulders from the top flat. Then I just sat with her looking after her and gave her a drink of water. I didn’t think much of it at the time but it probably means more now than the awards.

You can see some of Sandi’s work archived on the Rewind Fast Forward website, but there is much more in her collection that she hopes to share one day.