“I’ve got everything to live for”

Meet Bill, one of our sheltered housing residents.

Bill

He’s had a singalong in an air-raid shelter, played a giant gorilla on the big screen and been around the world eight times. Now one of our residents Bill is happily settled in a quiet Hammersmith haven with everything he needs (plus a few new grandchildren to keep him busy).

I used to live in a bedsit just around the corner from here in Rylett Avenue. I’d walk past John Betts House every day and think, “That looks like a nice place to live.” I never dreamed I’d live here myself.

I happened to meet a lady who lived at John Betts in my art class, and she told me there were units available. And that was it. I can’t believe I’m living in such a comfortable place in my old age. This is the centre of London, but it’s so peaceful. You can hardly hear a sound.

Where I began

I can remember when London went through the Blitz. I was living in Scotland at the time. We never saw a single plane, but if an air-raid siren went off in London, a siren would go off in Brechin as well. If the Londoners were hurrying into their shelters, then off we’d go too – quick march. We’d have a good singalong, and even lessons if a teacher was in the shelter. And you’d be in trouble if you were caught without your gas mask. It’s a bit like today. Now, I think: if we all pull together like we did back then, we’ll win this war too.

I got my first taste of cinema in those days. Every Saturday afternoon we went, and it was always packed solid. Two pennies to get in. I loved ‘cowboys and indians’ sorts of films like the Lone Ranger. Since then, acting has been my life. I’ve been in about 100 films. I started at 15, and one of my first roles was playing one of Fagin’s boys in Oliver Twist. Eventually I made a bit of a name for myself as an arch-villain, I think because I was tall, had black wavy hair and a deep voice. I played Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster on stage. It was fun; everyone likes to be scared, from a safe distance.

My most famous role was Konga, a 1961 sci-fi horror film directed by Herman Cohen. It was about a giant gorilla which ran riot and I had to wear an ape suit for six hours a day, 10 days straight. I did most of the scenes on my own against a blue screen, chasing people, bending over houses, causing mayhem. Jess Conrad was one of the stars of the film. He was terribly good-looking and all the girls were mad about him. I had to kill him, which didn’t make me very popular.

Film-makers find it pretty hard to get 80-year-old actors, so I was still doing about a day a month on films up until last year. The last one I did was Stan and Ollie. But I’ll be 90 soon and I’ve had enough now. I’m quite happy just watching.

There were a few breaks from acting: I was called up for national service and sent to Egypt around the time of Suez Canal troubles. I worked in the Forces broadcasting service. I quite enjoyed it, but all that sunshine and sand! It was like being on a beach for a year. There wasn’t much to do.

I was also an entertainment officer on P&O cruise liners and I travelled around the world eight times. I organised cabarets and dances – and yes, of course I got involved too! I saw Rio, Sydney, New York… But do you know the place that I found most exciting to sail into? Southampton. Coming back home.

A peaceful haven

I never imagined that I’d finish up in such a lovely place. John Betts House has got everything you could want. When I wake up in the morning, the sun comes streaming in through the big windows. There are huge gardens right outside, and you can smell the flowers in my room.

I always say that when you get past 60, you develop a personality – everyone here is really interesting. People are friendly and happy to chat if you want, but they also mind their own business. There are always things to do, if you want to: social activities, coffee mornings, quizzes. I’ve been on trips to Bath and Winchester, and up the canal on a boat. I’ve also taken up painting in the last 10 years and that has kept my artistic juices flowing.

Things are a bit different at the moment. But this feels like one of the safest places in London. We are in an enclosed community, so there is no need to go out if you don’t want to. Occasionally I get up very early and go for short walk, when nobody’s around.

I’ve got three children but up until a few years ago there were no grandchildren. Now I’ve got two, with another one on the way. It’s like waiting for the number 7 bus. But it’s absolutely thrilling – I’ve got everything to live for.

 


Find out more about our sheltered housing

We provide beautiful and affordable sheltered housing in our almshouses, with award-winning communal gardens.

Call Claudia to find out more or to come and visit: 020 8600 0650 / 07733 842 574, email info@hamunitedcharities.com or go to have a look at our sheltered housing pages.

Hammersmith United Charities Response to Coronavirus (COVID-19)

In line with Government advice, Hammersmith United Charities has invoked our Business Continuity Plan and implemented a new operating model focussed on keeping the residents of our Almshouses, our team, contractors and partners safe and well during the Coronavirus pandemic. (more…)

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The almshouse movement

So much more than affordable housing

With the average house price in Hammersmith at more than 25 times the salary of a nurse, it is no surprise that many workers are reaching retirement without the safety net of their own property. That’s why almshouses like ours, providing older people an affordable home in the community where they belong, are as vital now as when the movement began hundreds of years ago.

By Victoria Hill, Chief Executive – Hammersmith United Charities

 

The coronavirus has seen an outpouring of appreciation for key workers who leave the safety of their home to work keeping their community safe, fed and well. In the frightening early days of the first lockdown, we stood in the street and clapped for healthcare workers, carers, shop assistants, cleaners and more – all the people who put themselves at risk for the sake of others.

The contribution of key workers is rarely highly valued in monetary terms and these are often the very people who struggle to find an affordable home near their families and vital services as they grow older and become more in need of care themselves.

The average house price in Hammersmith is more than 25 times the salary of a nurse, and so it is no surprise that increasing numbers of workers are reaching retirement without their own property to fall back on. And with the average rental cost of a one-bedroom flat at two and a half times the state pension, it is easy to see how so many older people are also priced out of the private rental market.

With one in four older people in our area now living in poverty, the mission of almshouses like ours is as relevant as it was 400 years ago when Hammersmith United Charities was founded.

The almshouse movement has been around for hundreds of years but the Almshouse Association and the Charity Commission have only recently created a formal definition of what it means to be an almshouse. It describes exactly what we do here at Hammersmith United Charities.

Our charity was founded in 1618 with a gift of £100 to provide housing for the relief of the ‘elderly poor’ of Hammersmith. This gift has been added to and grown by generations of trustees and we now have an endowment and 92 flats on two sites just off the Goldhawk Road. These properties are highly protected and cannot be sold or used for any other purpose. Our residents must be over 60, have lived in Hammersmith for at least five years, be of limited means and in need of sheltered accommodation.

In human terms, our status as an almshouse means that the Charity can provide housing to the people who have often contributed most to our community but feel valued least. We believe that no one should be denied the opportunity to live in a decent home simply because they were never given the opportunity to climb the property ladder. The cost of our flats is regulated by statute to ensure that anyone can live here without causing hardship.

For us, almshouse living is about much more than just affordable housing. We know from research by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing that where we live and our relationships also have a significant impact on our wellbeing. For Hammersmith United Charities, what defines us is our ability to provide a home where people feel safe, in the place where they belong, surrounded by a community who values them for life, not just for lockdown.

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More information:

Over 60 and looking for a new home in Hammersmith? We provide beautiful, welcoming sheltered housing with award-winning communal gardens. Flats available now from £870 per month.

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UNITED in Hammersmith & Fulham has launched the H&F Winter Covid Appeal in partnership with Hammersmith & Fulham Council to enable local individuals, businesses and foundations across the borough to support those most in need of assistance.

100% of funds raised will be donated to groups working with people who face risk because of coronavirus in Hammersmith & Fulham this winter.

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The UK’s only radio station for the Somali community, Nomad Radio broadcasts here in Hammersmith and Fulham. Community-led and bilingual, it’s just received a grant by Hammersmith United Charities to keep it on the airwaves through the coronavirus crisis.

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