As soon as the general election was announced, I felt compelled to go out and canvass. I'm a member of the Labour Party and I believe we must end austerity and make life fairer for the most vulnerable, as well as tackle climate change head-on. Plus, as a single mum, I know a Labour government would completely transform my teenage son's future. This is the most important election in his lifetime so, for the first time, I knew I needed to stop shouting into my lefty Twitter echo chamber and start knocking on doors.
My constituency is a safe Labour seat so it makes no sense to canvass locally; the only way to make a real impact is to travel to marginal constituencies, places where the party's position is precarious. Signing up feels positive but not long after I do, a Jehovah's Witness knocks on my door. I've never been rude to religious callers but I make an effort to be polite as I turn her away. It hits me how nerve-wracking it must be to knock on strangers' doors, and how vulnerable to abuse canvassers might be, especially in such a politically contentious environment. I've had my fair share of miserable telesales jobs over the years, and the idea of door-knocking fills me with a similar dread to picking up the phone to make a cold call.
I take to Twitter to ask for advice from seasoned canvassers and am overwhelmed by optimistic stories and encouragement. For my first outing at least, I'm assured, I'll be allocated an experienced partner. I can't make the scheduled training sessions, so I decide I'll just have to wade straight in and learn on the job.
I'm lucky enough to find a brilliant mentor for my first canvassing mission. I meet Assia Shah in a WhatsApp group for marginal supporters in my constituency. When I tell her I'm nervous about canvassing for the first time, she calls me to chat about it. A time-served campaigner who's about to stand for councillor, she impresses me with her confidence and knowledge. Assia tells me she is going canvassing in Lancashire the following day and offers to give me a lift. On our way out to the hills, we pick up Lizzie, another experienced campaigner. The car journey is an opportunity for me to ask the many questions I have about the process and both Lizzie and Assia put me at ease.
"The main thing to remember," Assia says, "is that we [are] there to chat to people and to listen."
At the meeting point, we find ourselves amid crowds of fellow supporters and an exciting buzz. People are wearing rosettes, stickers and a lot of red, and I'm glad I went for the crimson lipstick. We're put in a group led by Zafar Ali, a local councillor who's clearly proud of where he lives. The streets we're to canvass overlook Pendle Hill, famous for its 17th century witch trials.
"Just look at that view," Zafar says, "it's like Canada."
I've never been to Canada but I think there's probably a big difference between Canadian vistas and this lone Lancashire hill. Still, the view is beautiful and I admire Zafar's infectious enthusiasm for his home town.
There's no answer at the first few houses and it all feels like a bit of an anticlimax. Every time we knock on a door, I hold my breath, nervous about the reaction we'll get when we smile and say, "Hi, we're from the Labour Party."
Eventually one woman, clearly as nervous as me, gingerly opens her door a sliver. She takes a leaflet from us, thanks us and closes the door again.
Not everyone is as polite. "I've already voted by post," says a furious-looking man holding back a barking dog, "and don't ask me who for because it's none of your f*cking business."
Ah, there it is: the first slammed door. But with hundreds of houses to get through, there's no time to stop and dwell on it.
Next up, an interesting conversation with an elderly man who loves Boris Johnson. He's shouting at us about getting Brexit done when his wife appears behind him, shaking her head.
"Take no notice of him," she says, laughing.
"Oh, I'm voting Conservative, no doubt about it," says the next man to answer his door, before we've even had a chance to introduce ourselves. Seconds later, with a heavy dose of Lancashire humour, he adds: "Am I heck as like! Labour all the way."
I can't help but cheer a little bit, then we're trudging up the steep street to the next house.
The people with whom we have the most interesting (and potentially influential) conversations are those who are yet to decide who to vote for. Many of them come to the door in their dressing gown, breath visible in the cold air. I feel guilty about this but it becomes apparent that they want to talk about the policies that affect them. This isn't like selling people things they don't really need; this is about discussing people's futures. Without even realising, I've given up standing coyly beside Assia and joined in with lively, five-minute conversations about the NHS, public services, the planet. Passion has replaced my nerves and I can't help it. I remember why I signed up to do this and there's no stopping me.
"You're a natural," says Assia.
My second canvassing outing is to Cheshire. Again, I find an incredible mentor through the WhatsApp group. Lydia is 73 years old, completely fearless and really knows her stuff.
"Oh dear, that's a shame," she says, calmly, when someone tells us he voted for Brexit and just wants it done, deal or no deal.
It's a fascinating neighbourhood in that there is a diverse mix of political persuasions and we get a real insight into why people believe what they do. This time, instead of feeling nervous as we wait for people to answer doors, I am geared up and ready to chat. One household is on the electoral register as Tory but we're greeted by the couple's young son, who is able to vote for the first time. It's colder than before and he's in shorts and bare feet, so I don't expect him to talk for long, but we chat for nearly 10 minutes. The Green Party's policies make the most sense to him but Labour and the Conservatives are neck and neck in his area, so we discuss Labour's Green New Deal. He's convinced both the main party leaders are liars, but hopefully we've given him something to think about.
"You don't need a partner," Lydia says as we march to the next house, "you'll be absolutely fine knocking on doors by yourself."
With only days left until polling day, I feel motivated to do just that. I only wish there were more time to go out, meet people and listen.
My fears about being abused were unfounded but sadly this campaign hasn't been easy for everyone. Reports of physical assaults on campaigners, especially those with the Labour Party, have been far too common recently. Grace Fletcher-Hackwood, a fellow Manchester campaigner, was told when telephone canvassing to "hang yourself".
"It's the nastiest thing anyone's ever said to me in 18 years of campaigning," Grace says, "but BAME campaigners are likely to have had much worse."
She has a point. I had wondered whether Assia, as a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, had suffered racial abuse on the doorstep.
"Responses can be racist," Assia says, "but I just tell them I'm sorry they feel that way and thank them for their time."
Her stoicism amazes me but then again, as she told me during our pep talk on the way to Lancashire: take nothing personally.
I'm so glad I canvassed. I'll never forget speaking to a struggling single mum. Like me, she had a teenager, but she also had a disabled toddler and a small baby. The whole family had a cold and she shielded her face with a blanket while she spoke. I asked her about the difference in maternity care and support she was getting with her babies compared to that she got with her teenager. Things like the Child Trust Fund, free counselling through Sure Start and financial help for my studies all made my experience of being a new single mum much more hopeful and bearable than it might have been. She agreed there was a big contrast between her experience now and her experience 15 years ago, and said she felt inspired to vote for the first time.
For that woman's sake, for her children's sake and for the sake of everyone in the country who needs it most, I hope we get a Labour government for Christmas. If we don't, at least I'll know that I did my best, had vital and fascinating conversations, and met some awe-inspiring people along the way.