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“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 Leslie, our Housing Manager to find out more or to come and visit: 07470 793 565, email leslie.morson@hamunitedcharities.com or go to have a look at our sheltered housing pages.

Opening our doors to older people in need of a home

We're inviting older people on a low income who need an affordable new home to tour our almshouses.

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Parenting, the Funpact way

When her children approached the pre-teen years, Elise Pacquette became concerned that she knew nothing about what it was like growing up in today's society. How could she lead children into independence in a world very different to the world she grew up in?

“Parenting is tough, really tough. While some think that once kids start to become more independent it gets easier – well, in some ways it gets harder.

So the parents/carers go to parenting classes, teens go off to PSHE classes at school. But they are getting different information, at different times. As a parent myself I just couldn’t understand that there were no courses for parents and young people to attend together.

It didn’t make sense to me that this didn’t exist, so I set it up myself. Now Funpact enables parents/carers and their children to come together, have fun and learn about independence, forming a firm foundation for further discussion at home together.

We run transition to secondary workshops for year 6s and their parents/carers, helping them both feel ready for the next chapter in their lives. Our course, Bridging the Gap, focuses on the social, emotional, financial and practical aspects of growing up. Ambition 2 Success is run as a one-day workshop in schools for both parents/carers and pupils to attend. It helps them create a positive trajectory for their lives and learn strategy and problem solving skills.

It’s not been at all easy – the learning curve to get Funpact to where it is now has often been pretty much vertical. I am often self-medicating on chocolate under my duvet! My background – as an illustrator, painter, stage manager, sign language interpreter, prop making tutor – didn’t help me much when setting up Funpact. I had no idea what I was doing but I was driven by an unrelenting passion to see change in how families are supported towards their children’s independence. And one thing I do know about myself is that I have grit.

And now there are so many stories of families who have come up to us and told us of the impact courses have made well after they have attended them. That the course helped the bond between them and their child, helping them better understand each other.

I remember one teen who was really struggling in school, and didn’t open up to his mum at all. Through our course that relationship started to grow and he started to share some of the stuff that was going on for him. The parent was then able to give him the support he needed and everything got sorted out.

There was also a father whose work shifts meant he hardly saw his son. But he managed to come to the first session of a six-week course and enjoyed it so much he changed his shifts so he could attend the course and spend more time with his son. So it’s not just what we explore during the courses but the relationships they help.

We are indebted to our youth alumni, who help us regularly update our sessions based on their expertise and lived experience. And I can honestly say that without Hammersmith United Charities’ funding we probably wouldn’t exist today. Hammersmith United Charities gave Funpact our first ever grant and have supported us ever since as we have grown. Through this funding we can now support year 6 pupils in over 20 schools in Hammersmith and Fulham, run Bridging the Gap in five schools and three community venues and Ambition 2 Success in five schools.

Up until now, I have been working alone in the back room, but this year because of our Hammersmith United Charities grant, I will have two new team members to join me for a few hours a week to help us grow. This is incredibly exciting!”


Find out more 
Picture gallery – Funpact at work:
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“My new home is a gift”

It was a big life change for Lorraine when she retired and moved to Sycamore House a few years ago. But her lovely flat and its newfound security has ‘changed her life’, she says – and she’s busier than ever.

“I came to Sycamore House two years ago, having lived in Barons Court for about 16 years. I’d been having all sorts of problems with tenants, drugs and dealers. There were lots of stairs, and my flat had been broken into. It just felt like time to move.

I found out about Sycamore House via a friend. It’s absolutely amazing. I just love the flat; it’s bigger than the one I was in before. There is a wonderful garden at the back – the place absolutely shone in summer time. It’s lovely to go out and sit, and enjoy time with others you’re friendly with. I think I can name nearly all of the 50 or so people who live here now.

There’s lots on socially here at Sycamore House so I involve myself in that as much as I wish – I usually go to the coffee morning and catch up with everyone on a Thursday. I’ve made some very good friends here. We have lots of celebrations and parties, including a yearly fundraiser where family friends can come along, and the local mayor visits too.

The best thing about Sycamore House is the security and safety, and having the help there whenever you need it. Because my family is in Northern Ireland, I don’t have any immediate family nearby. So this community is perfect, because as and when I need support, it’s there.

Chris, Sycamore House’s scheme manager, is an excellent support – he helped with the paperwork that had to be done when I moved in, and now we keep in touch every day via Whatsapp. I know I can go and see him in person if I need particular help with something.

Chris helped me with getting housing benefit, which I qualified for after I retired a couple of years ago. I’d never been on benefits in my life so I was a complete novice and didn’t know anything about it. But Chris helped me navigate the system which was a big relief.

I was very apprehensive when I retired and moved out of my old flat to come here. But it’s changed my life. My eyes have been opened by all the new volunteering I’ve done in the local area: I work at the food bank, Charing Cross Hospital chemo ward, and have applied for work at Maggie’s too.

This flat is a gift; I thank God every day that I made the move. Life is good.”


Find out more 

We provide safe and affordable sheltered housing in Hammersmith with beautiful, award-winning gardens.

 

Lorraine with Sycamore House scheme manager Chris
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5 minutes with…Lisa Da Silva, Head of Housing and Property

We’re really happy to welcome Lisa to Hammersmith United Charities. Lisa is responsible for ensuring our almshouses are of the highest quality and meet the needs of our residents.

What’s involved in your new role?

My role as Head of Housing and Property is to lead the sheltered housing operations for the charity. I will be responsible for delivering a safe and high-quality housing service meeting statutory and regulatory requirements. I will also be responsible for ensuring that the support services provided to residents meet their health and wellbeing needs.

What are you looking forward to most about your new role?

I am looking forward to working as part of a smaller team and bringing my experience and knowledge to the table. Continuing in an almshouse charity setting is advantageous as I feel I will be able to hit the ground running to continue to deliver homes that are safe and well maintained, as well as a high-quality service on behalf of Hammersmith United Charities to the residents.

What sort of work have you been doing previously?

I have over 25 years’ experience of working in the housing sector, the majority of which has been spent in supported housing for older people. I have experience of managing both sheltered and extra care properties and I am keen to share my knowledge and experience as well as continuing to learn myself.

What do you like about the area?

It has been several years since I worked in an urban, vibrant setting with dispersed sites, so I am really excited about this aspect. I am very keen to familiarise myself with the wider community as the setting should lead to lots of opportunities which will be beneficial to the residents.

What sort of things bring you joy outside of work?

I really enjoy spending time with my family and socialising with friends over dinner or a catch-up coffee. I have to be honest though, I can often be found with my nose in my Kindle – there is nothing as relaxing as a good book.


Find out more 
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In pictures: out and about

Our team took part in the Wormholt & White City Community Festival in September, which celebrated our vibrant community.

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