“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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January 2021 grants

We gave £120,000 to 18 local organisations in January 2021.

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Meet our trustees: Adam Matan OBE

Hammersmith United Charities trustee, Adam Matan, is a Somali-British human rights advocate, social activist and consultant.

Adam founded the Anti-Tribalism Movement in 2010, a non profit organisation tackling tribalism and inequalities within communities, and in 2020 went on to lead the Independent Policing and Crime Commission for Hammersmith and Fulham to examine the root causes of crime and anti-social behaviour in the borough.

What’s involved in your role as a trustee?
I have been a trustee for Hammersmith United Charities for four years. I really enjoy contributing to setting the direction and strategic priorities for the charity, and being involved in day-to-day activity like awarding grants. It’s rewarding to see our resources used for recreational and educational purposes for the community. I like visiting beneficiaries, to really see what impact small grants make to people’s lives.

As a trustee, I help to make sure the board is reflective of the communities we support in the north of the borough. I have a good understanding of what works well in the community sector, and which programmes and people we should be engaging with. I enjoy advocating for issues I’m passionate about, like disabilities, BAME organisations, and arts and cultural activities.

What’s shaped your work and values?
I came to the UK from Somalia when I was 13, following the Somali Civil War. In Somalia, children are often treated a little like adults, so I was very responsible when I came here – a bit more mature than a usual 13 old boy! We came here to improve our livelihood, and to help others, both at home and in the communities here. Those values were instilled in me at a young age by my family, so as soon as I finished university, I wanted to help other young people to achieve their potential. I went on to start the Anti-Tribalism Movement in 2010 – the aim was to fight tribe-based discrimination and promote peace and tolerance. Since then it has grown into an international force with 140,000+ members, which feels like one of my greatest achievements.

What changes do you want to see change in your community?
Covid-19 has exposed deep-rooted, decades-ignored social inequalities in our community. It’s unfortunate that it has taken such a world event to bring it to the surface. There is no way we will be able to ignore it now – so many people will be even poorer by the end of lockdown.

There is a family I’m working with on Lime Grove in Shepherd’s Bush. There are seven children, and mother and father living together in a two-bed flat. Imagine that under lockdown rules? Some of the children have underlying health issues. Both of the parents are key workers, so they can’t stay away from work – the family will literally starve to death if they do. But they always know they might be bringing the virus back, with no space for anyone to self-isolate.

Many fear that it’s just lip service when decision/policy-makers say that there will be change due to the lessons learned from Covid-19 There is a level of discontent and unsettledness amongst many BAME communities and their leaders. I don’t think it will be long until we see social unrest if there is no real response to some of these issues.

It’s something we’re beginning to work on at Hammersmith United Charities, with a programme called Let’s Talk About Race. We want to find out how we can engage with communities in a more meaningful way, to truly understand what our grantees and their service users think we should do to counter deep-rooted social inequalities. It has got to be led by the people.

What’s special about Hammersmith & Fulham?
I’m biased, but Hammersmith & Fulham is the greatest borough! It’s a city within a city. We have everything you can admire: three football clubs; the biggest shopping mall in Europe; beautiful, historical parks; the river; a flourishing business hub in Hammersmith; the ‘Silicon Valley’ of London at White City; and Uxbridge Road, one of the most diverse streets in London, running through the heart of the borough.

And through the pandemic we have seen how generous and supportive these communities have been to each other: the number of spaces opened for homeless people, food distribution, individuals been supporting each other, and businesses giving free food and other supports.

When there is a disaster, when there are members of the community who need support, the residents of this borough really pull together.

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5 minutes with Oksana

Our cleaner Oksana has worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to keep the staff and residents of Hammersmith United Charities safe.

 

When it all started, it was a bit scary being a cleaner. Everyone was staying at home, but I was going in to work. Putting on the gloves and the mask, wearing them all day, every day. It was hard at first, but now it’s just normal. I want to go in to work every day – it’s a nice place to be. I’m very happy to have a job, and to see different people.

I clean everything I see. All the time, it’s door handles, doors, tables. Everything. We try to be very safe all the time.

Residents like to speak with me whenever they can, because other people aren’t allowed to visit, and they can’t really go anywhere. I’m one of the people they see most regularly, along with the scheme managers who check in on them every day.

At times like this, you can feel exhausted. So you have to try to think about something good. I try to be nice to people – it gives you more energy. I enjoy spending time with the residents. They are very, very good people, and they always say thank you to me for the job I do.

I haven’t been able to go home to Ukraine for two years. I really miss my family. I speak to them three times a week, but it’s not the same. People there are a little bit scared too. I really want to go this year, but I don’t know. How things have changed.

When I had my vaccination, I was a bit scared. At first I thought, I don’t want it. Then I was thinking, I should get it, because I’m working with old people, and travelling in to work on the tube. And it was fine – very quick and easy. Plus it’s better for all of us, because it will help us all get back towards normal life.

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“It’s an opportunity to rewrite the future”

As our community takes tentative steps towards recovery, we find out how Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s Covid-19 emergency response has relied on partnership working and the creativity of the third sector.

 

 

 

 

 

“I can remember when we saw the first deaths in a residential home. That was a particularly low moment. It was traumatic for everyone – a terrible tragedy,” says Linda Jackson, director of Covid-19 Response and Recovery for Hammersmith & Fulham Council. “Now everyone has been touched by this crisis, one way or another. It’s been really difficult, seeing the devastating impact on families and businesses.”

The crisis over the past year has brought together everyone living and working in the community like never before, Linda says. “There has been an extraordinary partnership response between the council, fire, police, NHS, businesses, community organisations, residents – with camaraderie at every level.”

Early days of the pandemic

After recordingthe very first case on 22 January 2020, the council could see what was coming on the horizon and knew it needed to act quickly, Linda says. By the beginning of March, a structure was put in place to get some control and respond quickly. The team has always tried to be intelligence-led in its response, she says, and closely monitored how the pandemic was progressing in Hammersmith, London, the UK and the world.

It became clear in March 2020 that hospitals were discharging residents into care homes without first testing them for Covid-19. With an absence of national guidance or support, the council team forged ahead, linking up closely with health partners to close the homes to new admissions and test everyone to bring the virus under control. And in November, Hammersmith & Fulham became the first borough in London to launch lateral flow testing initially at residential care homes and then at three fixed centres making tests much more widely available. The council has also been facilitating the NHS-run vaccination programme, helping to set up centres and supporting GPs with systems and process.

For organisations providing sheltered housing with high numbers of older people, the speedy roll-out of these programmes has been game-changing. “With both testing and vaccinations, I always felt that the council was doing its best to bring any single benefit to the community as quickly as it could,” says Victoria Hill, chief executive of Hammersmith United Charities, which provides almshouse accommodation for older people on lower incomes.

“When we started being able to test our staff on site in December, it was a really big deal. It became a huge part of our infection control process,” says Victoria. “Before that, we were constantly worried that we could be infectious without knowing it and bring the virus on site.”

“All of our over-80s were vaccinated before Christmas, followed by staff in January. Now nearly everyone is vaccinated. It is such an incredible relief. Every single health and social care worker in the world has been weighing this up, every day, for a year: am I going to bring coronavirus into work? Am I going to take it back home with me?”

Working with the third sector

The council and the NHS are pushing out vaccines and testing to every corner of the borough with the help of the voluntary sector, Linda acknowledges. These organisations have a unique ability to wrap quickly around the thousands of people in the borough whose lives have been turned upside down by coronavirus.

“There is a quite breath-taking amount of skills and abilities in the local third sector,” says Linda. “These organisations move silently within communities and activate community capacity a lot quicker and better than a council officer could.”

Over the past year, the council and grassroots organisations have worked together to provide support where it’s been needed most. Early on the Volunteer Community Aid Network (CAN), along with street-level mutual aid groups, galvanised hundreds of people to volunteer their time to help vulnerable people. There has also been a 150% growth in donations to the food bank in the borough to support the surge in families who now can’t afford to put food on the table. “Some of the people using food banks were looking forward to a holiday a few years ago. Now they have no income and no money,” says Linda.

In partnership with fundraising organisation United in Hammersmith & Fulham, the council set up the Covid Appeal in March 2020, and local businesses and residents have now donated over £144,000 to fund organisations supporting people affected by the pandemic.

Community organisations are powerful because they have an intimate, inside-out understanding of the borough, says Victoria. “Hammersmith United Charities also provides grants to local organisations, and when I look at the organisations we’ve funded throughout this crisis, I see a strong movement of charities run by people who live here. They know the people most in need personally and over the crisis have worked together at speed to provide whatever is needed – whether it’s food, laptops, phone data, toilet paper, or a cheering phone call.”

“Throughout the pandemic, community organisations have stepped up very quickly, without thought to their previous agenda or outside pressures like funder’s targets. They just changed what they usually did to meet the immediate need, because their first priority was getting their community through this crisis. I hope funders now have a better understanding that it’s crucial to trust community organisations and give them the flexibility to respond to needs as they see them changing.”

Green shoots

So what does recovery in Hammersmith and Fulham look like? “I can see the green shoots of spring,” says Linda. “We’ve launched our ‘Shop Local, Shop Safe’ campaign to help businesses open safely as lockdown is eased. And we’ve got to build on the connections we’ve made with the third sector. After 12 months of working really hard together, how do we keep the capacity we’ve gained? We want to develop the recovery plan in co-production with the third sector, so that it’s an integral part of what the council offers, rather than working around the outside.”

The pandemic has shifted health and social care priorities. “Before, the focus was on specific diseases, like diabetes and cancer. Now? It’s on basic needs like food, employment, housing,” says Linda. “Some say it’s a backwards step. I say it’s an opportunity to rewrite the future. But we absolutely need the community sector to write it with us.”

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