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A home to be proud of

One of our Sycamore House residents, Kitty, reflects on what truly makes a home, and how she’s finding her way through lockdown.

“I was born in Limerick, Ireland, but my husband and I came to London in the 1950s to try and get a start in this country.

We didn’t have a great way about things to begin with – we lived in a few different places, but it was hard to save for somewhere decent. We started off the two of us in a little bedsit in Chiswick; when we had two children, one of our first family homes was the matter of one bedroom and a kitchen in a shared house. Another place had a bath in the kitchen, which doubled as something to sit on at meals. They were tough times, but you have to make the best of everything, don’t you?

I often think back to 1972, when we were offered a council property: a flat in Trellick Tower on Golborne Road. It was brand new – with 14 cupboards in the kitchen! But it was the height that got me. We were on the 21st floor. People told me that there was a picture postcard view out of the windows, but I just could not look down. I should have gone with my instinct. We were four years in that flat, and I hated every minute. It became known as the ‘Tower of Terror’. A lot of bad things happened there. I just kept my head down with children, but we felt really cooped up.

One winter someone flooded the lifts with thousands of gallons of water from the fire hydrant. We were all without power, heat or electricity between Christmas and new year. Everyone was going up and down stairs in the dark, falling, getting ill. And the postman couldn’t come up to deliver.

Once there was a fire on the 15th floor, right below us. We were told to stay in our flats, but of course there was no ladder that would have reached us in the top levels. My husband was working that evening, and I had the four children by then, with my son a couple of months old. We were just watching the blaze. I went to the neighbour so we could be together; I was so frightened. No one died in the end, but the 15th floor was completely gutted.

After that I went to social services to see if we could move somewhere safer. We got offered a beautiful house on St Elmo Road. There was a big garden, a double garage – and four bedrooms! I couldn’t believe it.  It was the happiest time of my life; it was a lucky house.

37 years, I lived there. But my husband died in 2010, and my children were making their own way in life. I stayed two more years in the house, but I didn’t feel safe rattling around on my own. It broke my heart to leave it – I had put everything into my home. But I knew that people with a young family would benefit from it. I think they’ve kept some of it the same – my little lamp is still outside the front door.

Moving to Sycamore House

At that time I was thinking along the lines of sheltered housing as I was coming to that age where I knew I’d benefit from a little care. I looked around such a lot of places, but nothing would do. I was giving up so much, so I had to feel really sure.

In 2012 I came here to Sycamore House. That feeling when you come in – you felt it was going to be a place you could feel proud to live in. I liked the care that came along with your flat, that someone came to check on you in the morning, and a cleaner tended to the place. Everyone was very kindly and the gardens were lovely. My daughter described the communal lounge as something you’d see on a cruise ship!

I do like the social side of things you get here, in normal times – the trips out together. We used to have live music and celebrate birthdays. It can be overwhelming to begin with when you move into sheltered housing, with so many people to get to know. I try and have nice conversations and learn what makes people tick – eventually I find my way.

Life in the pandemic

Lockdown in the summer wasn’t too bad – at least we could go into the garden and see people when the weather was fine. Bless them, they even purchased an outdoor heater for us. It was a walk in the park compared to the lockdown this winter. But staff have done well by us – they are doing their very best. The scheme managers are always there, and always have a happy word to say to us.

It has been a trial, not seeing family. The only time was when I had my 80th birthday and my daughter had her 60th. They came with some balloons and sandwiches and we celebrated on the pavement.

There has been hardship for everybody. A down-side of living so closely with other people is that you have to get your head around losing them when they pass on. I lost the man who lived next door to me, and I lost another friend very recently. We would ring each other, and we were there for each other. It put me down a bit. I really take it to heart when a person goes, I’m afraid. I can’t see how I will get used to it.

But I go downstairs, look around me, and it does me good. Prayer does help me immensely. If you have a religion, it doesn’t matter which, it’s something to turn to. I try to be there for people, and stop and listen – that’s the important thing, listening.

What I’m looking forward to most of all is meeting one or two friends for a pub lunch. I’ve been on my own cooking, cooking, cooking – all the time. What I wouldn’t give to have a meal and then just push the plate away. And go to the shop, go to Marks, have a look around.

But I’ve had both of my vaccinations now, so things are starting to change. I think spring is bringing a new hope for us.” 

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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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We’re looking for a new Grants and Communication Officer

We have a terrific opportunity for someone at the early stages of, or looking to begin, their career in grant making. Find out more about our Grants and Communication Officer role here.

Location Based at Sycamore House (W6 0AS) with frequent visits to other HUC locations and grant holders (all in Hammersmith)
Salary: £28k – £34.5k (pro rata) depending on experience
Contract: 22.5 hours per week (3 days), Permanent
Reporting to: Head of Grants and Community
Benefits: 28 days annual leave plus bank holidays (pro-rata), Up to 8% employer contribution to pension, Health cash plan on completion of probation

The opportunity

This is a terrific opportunity for someone at the early stages of, or looking to begin, their career in grant making.

Key activities involve supporting the management of the grants programme, contributing to raising the profile of the organisation and the impact of our grant holders, and
maintaining the grants database.

Hammersmith United Charities is part of our community, and it is important that the Grants and Community team are in touch with what is happening in Hammersmith and the rest of our small team. This involves frequent visits to grant holders, partners or networking meetings as well as hands on involvement with the life of the Almshouses.

About you

We are seeking an individual who is passionate about community, loves working with people, is flexible and thrives in a changing environment, genuinely enjoys administration and takes pride in excellent attention to detail.

We particularly welcome applications from people with a strong connection to Hammersmith and Fulham.

Purpose of the role

To provide support to all aspects of the Charity’s grants and community work including:

  • Grants administration
  • Database, website and social media management
  • Supporting prospective and current grant holders
  • Helping promote the work of the Charity and that of our grant holders

Download the detailed Job Description here

Application process

We are committed to our team reflecting the diversity of the communities we work with and welcome applications from people of all ages, sexual orientations, genders,
ethnicities, nationalities, religions and beliefs.

If you are excited by the role but aren’t sure if you have the right experience then we’d still love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact Paul, our Head of Grants and Community, for an informal chat by emailing paul.robson@hamunitedcharities.com to arrange a call.

To apply, please send us written answers to the following questions using a maximum of 600 words in total OR answer the questions in a video of up to 5 minutes.

  1. Tell us why you want this job and why you want to work for Hammersmith United Charities
  2. Tell us about your skills and experience and how they are a good fit for the role

Please email your written answers or video to officeadmin@hamunitedcharities.com no later than midday on Tuesday 21 November 2023, shortlisting will take place that week.

First round interviews will be held online on 29th or 30th November

Second round interviews will be in person at Sycamore House, W6 0AS on Wednesday 6th or Thursday7 th December. A presentation may be required at final interview.

These dates may be subject to change and applicants will be advised in advance should this happen.

To be appointed to this role you must be eligible to work in the UK, undertake an enhanced DBS check and provide satisfactory references. We will follow up on this later in the process.

By submitting your application, you are consenting to the processing and storage of your personal data in order that you can progress through our recruitment and management process. We will never sell your data however we are obliged by law to inform you that should we be required to we may share your data with external agencies. This may include but is not limited to CareCheck (a service for managing and processing Disclosure & Barring Service clearance applications) and our HR Advisors. We will also contact those individuals you name as your referees to confirm your suitability for the role you are applying for. Your data will only be used for your role and to comply with our statutory and legal obligations. If your application is unsuccessful, we will retain your information for 6 months; after this date it will be safely destroyed. If your application is successful, we will retain your information for the duration of your commitment and up to 6 years after you cease employment.

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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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5 minutes with…Our community gardeners

Meet our community gardeners, India and Lucy, who nurture the award-winning green spaces at our almshouses.

What do you both do and why do you enjoy it?

We are the community gardeners for Hammersmith United Charities’ two sheltered housing schemes (almshouses), John Betts House and Sycamore House.

The gardens are an unexpected highlight at both almshouses. Visitor, residents and staff alike often comment on the beautiful surprise of the gardens as they discover them for the first time.

We manage, maintain and improve the gardens while also providing activities and workshops for residents. A big part of our role is to encourage the residents to use the gardens, and advise and support them with their own plots and pots displays.

At both the almshouses, we love the diversity of personalities, activities and events – and how each day is different from the last. The kindness of the residents to the staff and each other is a daily joy.

How would you describe the gardens?

The gardens provide a space for all residents to enjoy in a variety of ways. Groups of residents meet in the gardens for a chat and a cup of tea, others sit alone and immerse themselves in the sounds and sights of nature, or simply read a paper or have a chat on the phone.  Some residents get their daily exercise by doing laps of the gardens, while many residents have their own small plots and pots, getting involved in the practical nature of gardening, planting, watering and weeding.

Currently residents are preparing for spring by planting bulbs in pots and looking forward to the next growing season following the dark and quiet winter months.

How do the residents help you with the gardens?

We work closely with the residents and many of them assist us in maintaining the gardens by watering and weeding, sweeping paths, leaf clearance and dead heading the beautiful roses.  We appreciate all the work the residents do and could not maintain these award-winning gardens without them.

What are some important gardening jobs you’ll be doing as we head into the autumn and winter?

Seasonal jobs include leaf clearance and ensuring all pathways are safe, bulb planting and compost turning. We manage all our green waste so that it returns to the gardens for the health of the plants and trees. We are currently preparing areas in both gardens to create wildflower meadows for next summer.

What is your favourite local green space to visit and why?

India has recently introduced Lucy to W6 Garden Centre on the edge of Ravenscourt Park.  It is a beautiful oasis of indoor and outdoor plants, garden supplies and has a gorgeous cafe. Many of our residents enjoy it too!

Find out more 


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Almshouse living may boost life expectancy by up to 2.5 years

New research from Bayes Business School has found that many almshouse residents receive a “longevity boost”.

On average, the lower a person’s socioeconomic status, the lower their life expectancy. But new research from Bayes Business School has found that many almshouse residents receive a “longevity boost” compared to their peers of the same socioeconomic status from the wider population.

The new research is based on analysis of many decades of records from 15 English almshouses. The life expectancy of almshouse residents was compared to people of similar gender and socio-economic background from the general population and was generally found to be longer. Giving an example, the authors estimate that a 73-year-old man entering the almshouse with the highest longevity boost in the study today could live 2.4 years longer than his peers from the same socioeconomic group.

Almshouses, which have traditionally provided affordable community housing for older people, are usually designed around a communal courtyard or gardens. Residents live independently and there are plenty of opportunities for social connection and support when needed.

Professor Ben Rickayzen, report co-author and professor of actuarial science at Bayes Business School, said: “More research is needed to ascertain exactly what factors cause almshouse residents to have a longer life. However, we postulate that it is the sense of the community that is the most powerful ingredient.

“For example, a common theme… is that [almshouses] encourage residents to undertake social activities and responsibilities on behalf of their fellow residents. This is likely to increase their sense of belonging and give them a greater sense of purpose in their everyday lives while mitigating against social isolation.”

Hammersmith United Charities Chief Executive, Victoria Hill, said: “It’s great to hear some evidence for what we’ve always felt to be true. Community means different things to different people, but usually it’s more than just the opportunity to socialise and be active. It’s often things like feeling safe and welcome among your neighbours, knowing there’s always someone nearby to help or being able to help others. It doesn’t surprise me that this feeling of belonging in your community may help you live longer and, we hope, happier lives.”

Find out more 
  • The full report: ‘Almshouse Longevity Study: Can Living in an Almshouse Lead to a Longer Life?’
  • Bayes Business School news release with a summary of key findings
  • Find out more about Hammersmith United Charities’s almshouses
  • Find out more about almshouses and their history

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