Ags died on 6 May following a long illness. She became Chair of KOVE in October 2017 and brought great experience of both the voluntary sector and the Kilburn and West Hampstead areas, where she had lived since 1980. She provided inspiring leadership, supporting the Steering Group and staff to organise a wide range of activities for older people, and working to ensure their voices are heard in decisions that affect their lives. Despite deteriorating health, she helped bring together our anthology of writing and artwork expressing older people’s experiences of the lockdown. She suggested the title, Lockdown Pie, contributing four poems.
For many years, Ags was Chair of Kingsgate Community Centre. Local resident and film-maker Anna Bowman recalls, “In the late 1990s and early 2000s, thanks to her drive and the efforts of staff, the centre became a vibrant community hub. She was a skilled fundraiser and ensured there was funding to create disabled access and a better space for the cafe, and that lots of local organisations, such as the Somali Cultural Association, could have a base there. She was very sad to hear that the centre closed in 2020.” Ags also played a key role in the Kilburn Festival, held annually in Grange Park from 2003 to 2017. The festival celebrated Kilburn’s diverse community and attracted thousands of local people.
Her working life was mainly focused on the theatre. She was involved in the early days of The Tricycle and campaigned against the name change. Theatre companies she worked for included Monstrous Regiment, Hull Truck, the Theatre Centre for Young People, Gay Sweatshop and Pascal Theatre. She also worked for the Disability Arts Forum and was European tour manager for the jazz musician Carla Bley, later turning down the chance to take the band on tour in the USA. Her friend, theatre writer and journalist Carole Woddis, wrote her obituary, published in the Guardian's Other Lives. https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2021/may/28/ags-irwin-obituary
KOVE Steering Group member, Suzanne Pawaroo, says, “Ags will be greatly missed. I had not known her for long, about four years, but knew that she had been a great asset to KOVE. I remember meeting her near the Saturday Farmers’ Market in West Hampstead. We soon found ourselves in conversation regarding holiday travel and, despite her health, she remained interested as to what she would have liked to do in this regard. She was always positive, I admired her for her tenacity and resilience whilst clearly suffering distress. Whenever I pick up Lockdown Pie, I will remember it was Ags who suggested this appropriate title. She was gifted with a natural ability for writing, in particular that of her wonderful poetry.”
Ags can be remembered through the eponymous poem which opened Lockdown Pie. Please click here to download a copy.
Peter Lush, Anna Bowman, Lucinda Coxon, Suzanne Pawaroo and others
From left: Ags Irwin (Peter Lush) , Claude James (Mel Wright), Nancy Brabazon at installation of KOVE bench, Kilburn High Road Station (Mel)
My friend and colleague Claude James, who has died aged 90, was the first black person to be elected to a railway trade union executive committee and the first black manager of Euston station in London. He fought for fairness and against racism in the UK.
The eldest of six, Claude was born in Guyana to Gladys and Cyril, and lived in Kitty village. His grandmother was influential in his early life, taking him to meetings to discuss current affairs. He enjoyed his time at Britain high school in Queenstown before starting work for the City Engineer Council. He sailed for Britain alone in 1954, and found digs in a Stamford Hill rooming house, living with fellow new arrivals and taking on a washing-up job alongside his studies. Browsing a local photographic studio window one day, he admired a portrait of a stunning young woman. To his surprise, she turned up on his doorstep three months later to inquire about renting a room for her brother. She was Daisy Thomas from Jamaica. They clicked straightaway and were married on Boxing Day 1956, going on to have a son and daughter.
In 1955, Daisy helped Claude to get a job at British Rail, where she was working. He rose to become the health and safety manager at Euston Station and, later, the first black manager there. He was also the first black person to be elected to a railway trade union executive committee, of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association. A Labour party member who sat on the TUC’s race relations committee, Claude served as a local magistrate and on employment tribunals, and pursued the reform of sentencing under joint enterprise law. Most recently, through the National Pensioners Convention, he campaigned for British retirees who live abroad on 'frozen pensions', excluded from the annual state pension uprating. After retirement, Claude continued to be active in his union and in the community.
In 1978 the family moved from Stamford Hill to the modernist Alexandra & Ainsworth social housing estate in Camden. Radiating respect and concern, Claude became a leading figure in the tenants’ association. He helped set up the South Hampstead and Kilburn Community Partnership to offer opportunities for people of all ages. As joint coordinator of Kilburn Older Voices Exchange, I first experienced his patient good humour as we waited in the tenants’ hall each month for residents to slowly join our community forum.
Claude was a member of Hampstead cricket club. He and Daisy enjoyed their retirement, travelling internationally to watch the West Indies team play. He became Daisy’s carer when she developed Alzheimer’s disease around 2000, until she died in 2017. Claude is survived by their two children, five grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
(KOVE’s former Co-ordinator, Mel Wright, wrote an obituary of Claude, published in The Guardian’s Other Lives. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/mar/16/claude-james-obituary)
Nancy was born in 1920 in Birkenhead on the Wirral and was a founding member of KOVE. She died in summer 2021 at the age of 100.
After the First World War Nancy's father, unable to find work, moved the family to a cottage in the village of Goostrey near Holmes Chapel in Cheshire. Nancy was proud of this early family life, recalling how they had to collect drinking water from a well. While still at school she helped out on local farms, starting work at 14. She returned to Birkenhead at the age of 18, to train as a nurse. It was the beginning of the Second World War and Nancy found herself nursing people badly injured from air attacks on Liverpool. After the war she married and had four children.
Nancy arrived in Kilburn around the Millenium. In 2002 she was appointed to KOVE's initial community panel with her neighbour and friend, Lilian Skeane, interrogating service providers and helping to develop proposals for improvements. She and Lillian were at the heart of KOVE’s early efforts to improve the local podiatry service, presenting our proposals to the council's Elderly Person's Sub-Committee in the autumn of 2003. She was central to several key KOVE projects, including community benches and public toilets, and she attended the first phase of the Kilburn Debates. For many years Nancy lived at Vivian Court Sheltered Housing and was closely involved in pursuing a safe road crossing there, meeting officials and planners until very recently. Humorous but taciturn she kept a droll eye on the changes in support available to her and her fellow tenants.
During the past ten years, due to her incapacity, Nancy had less energy for outside activities. We missed her distinctive Cheshire accent at meetings but kept in touch by phone: Mel Wright always found her interested and supportive of KOVE when he called round on her at home. In her last years Nancy was cared for by her son Sean but kept in contact with other family members living further away.
John Miles and Mel Wright
Pran Handa was born in India on 21 March 1930 and died, aged 89, on 1 December 2019. Pran became a member of KOVE in 2016, via a mutual connection at a Brent Museum exhibition, and we were very pleased when he agreed to join the Steering Group.
His active interest in the Kilburn neighbourhood was ongoing. He chatted to one and all along Kilburn High Road, out on his daily walk including his beloved Grange Park. Very proud of his artistic family, Pran was also interested in intergenerational work and was keen to link up different generations in the area.
Pran was supportive of KOVE installing street benches for people to have a rest. He generously paid for two for the benefit of the local community, the one near Finchley Road Waitrose was dedicated to his wife. His kind and warm spirit made him a popular local figure and he is very much missed.
Lynda Stuart, acting Chair of KOVE and Secretary of Webheath Estate Tenants and Residents Association, comments:
“I knew Pran through the KOVE Steering Group and frequently met him as he took exercise via Webheath. We spoke of the benches campaign and he hoped to see one on the estate. When he became ill he put cash in an envelope to realise this; it was enough to provide an Amberol bench in the community garden. The plaque reads 'Life is but a river so live for the moment and take a seat'. His daughters have visited the garden and know how much his bench is appreciated. The dedication was postponed by the pandemic but Pran will be fondly remembered."
Pran's daughters, Karolina and Margareta also paid tribute to their Dad:
"Pran was a person who thrived being part of a community. He was a proud father and grandfather but also sought to help others. Pran came from India but spent most of his life here. He valued and remembered treasured moments of his childhood as well as other memories of India. However, he also had a sense of pride in being British. Pran always thought about helping others but also about education. In his motherland, India, he contributed daily to a fund to help educate girls. Here he strived to see others succeed. Time at KOVE was really important to him. The ethos of making a difference and being part of a community allowed Pran to help others. In addition, he felt indebted to KOVE for helping him have a bench dedicated to his beloved wife."
Lynda Stuart with Pran Handa (Mel Wright) and Myra Newman (John Miles)
Myra Newman was a prominent figure in Belsize Park and Primrose Hill, where she had been a librarian. She had an absolute faith in solving the world’s problems by bringing people together and was instrumental in setting up a series of intergenerational lunches at the Belsize Community Library between members of KOVE and The Winch’s Connecting Parents Group. As she was a member of our Steering Group her proposed bench outside the library in Antrim Terrace will have KOVE’s support – but only if she is commemorated too! It’s Myra’s spirit and drive and memory we’d most like to see preserved.
You can read more about her contribution to the local community here: http://www.ageingbetterincamden.org.uk/latestnews/2021/7/13/a-tribute-to-myra-newman