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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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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!”

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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.”

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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.

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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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