Ags, who died on 6 May following a long illness, became Chair of KOVE in October 2017. She brought long 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 in organising a wide range of activities for older people, and working to ensure they have a voice in making 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 very 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 could have a base there, such as the Somali Cultural Association. She was very sad to hear that the centre had closed in 2020.” Ags also played a key role in the Kilburn Festival, which was 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, for example, and campaigned against the name change. She worked for various theatre companies including Monstrous Regiment, Hull Truck, the Theatre Centre for Young People, Gay Sweatshop and the Pascal Theatre. She also worked for the Disability Arts Forum and was once the European tour manager for the jazz musician Carla Bley, later turning down the chance to have the same role in a tour of the USA.
Suzanne Pawaroo, a member of the KOVE Steering Group, says, “Ags will be greatly missed. I had not known her for long, about four years or so, but knew that she had been a great asset to KOVE. I remember meeting her on two Saturdays close to the Farmers’ Market in West Hampstead. We soon found ourselves in conversation regarding holiday travel and, despite her condition, 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 that 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
Ags Irwin (Peter Lush) and Claude James (Mel Wright)
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.
Claude lived in a Stamford Hill rooming house in London with fellow new arrivals, 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 to get Claude 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.