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“Finally I have some inner peace”

When he’s not making candles for the Queen or delivering NHS prescriptions to locals, Martyn is making the most of his tranquil new home for life at Hammersmith United Charities’ almshouse, Sycamore House.

“I’ve lived in West London since the 80s, not far from Sycamore House, in fact. I used to work in adventure tourism – I was a tour leader, taking people for trips all around the world. I hung up my Indiana Jones hat when I was 55. I started doing walking tours in central London and to tourist destinations like Stonehenge and Bath.

It all came to a shuddering halt in March 2020. All the tourists were gone. And I was sitting at home, wondering what to do.

Then I found a role with a hospital in Notting Hill, delivering prescriptions to people who had to stay at home during lockdown. I still do that for four hours every afternoon. I just feel like I’m doing my bit in the war, you know? Helping my local community. People are usually really happy to see me. It makes me feel very validated and blessed every day.

I’m also a candlemaker to the Queen – I’m based in a workshop in Shepherd’s Bush which has a royal warrant. It’s something I’ve been doing for 40 years. We make candles for events at Buckingham Palace, and also for television. If you’ve seen a candle in a BBC production it’s most likely one of ours. We often make them intricately out of beeswax, to keep them historically accurate. Sometimes we’re asked to make them burn brighter to help the cinematography, things like that.

For 30 years I’d been living in ‘short-life’ accommodation. That means you’re allowed to stay with other people in a property that would have otherwise stayed empty. Cheap, temporary accommodation in things like old houses, pubs, run-down mansions, old fire stations – all sorts. They weren’t in good condition and eventually it would go back to the owner when they wanted to refurbish or demolish it. It was very uncertain. You wouldn’t know if you were going to stay somewhere for five months or five years.

It was great fun when I was young and winging it. But for some reason, earlier this year, I just thought: I can’t do this anymore – 61 and living like a student. It’s not fun when you are older, moving everything into storage over and over again. My current place was coming to an end, with no guarantee of anything else. The last three times I’d been moved out there had been a gap of several months, so I stayed on sofas, or with my parents, which drove me crazy after 48 hours. When I first started with short-life, there was so much property to choose from. Now, there’s very little empty property left in London.

A while back I was delivering some medication to one of Hammersmith United Charities’ sheltered housing schemes. I was struck by how peaceful it was, and the gardens! I asked the tenant – what’s the story with this place? He said, well, if you’re over 60 and you’ve lived near here for over five years, you should get in touch – you might be eligible.

So that’s what I did.

The process to apply wasn’t daunting – right from the word go the staff at Hammersmith United Charities helped me along every step. They were kindness itself.

No stress exists in Sycamore House. People are nice and helpful, and I can be as independent as I want, commit to the activities as much as I like – there’s no pressure from anyone.

I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. It’s a beautiful flat, with wonderful gardens. And it’s got one thing you can’t buy in London, even if you’re rich: it’s quiet. All you hear in the morning is birds. No traffic, no shouting.

To have been winging it for 29 years and then to have home security. For the first time in my life I have a grown-up flat. Not having eviction notices through my door; not having to share my kitchen and bathroom. For the flat to be all mine. Finally I have some inner peace.”

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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 new trustees.

Join our friendly and ambitious team and help a thriving charity make a difference in our community

Who we are looking for
We are looking for people willing to bring energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to the role, and who will broaden the diversity of thought and experience on our board.

Specifically, we are looking for people to contribute to our Housing and Property Committee or Finance and Investment Committee and so will prioritise applicants with recent Senior Management experience of social housing, care for older people, or who have strong financial skills.

Hammersmith is one of the most diverse areas of London and we are committed to developing a Board which is representative of the communities we work with. If you have not been a Trustee before, please do not be put off getting in touch, we will be happy to have an informal chat and if you join us will make sure you have a good induction and access to ongoing training opportunities and support.

We would love to hear from people who have a strong connection to Hammersmith and Fulham but welcome applications from anyone in the Greater London area.

We hold 4 Board meetings a year which last for approximately 2 hours plus an annual strategic planning/board development meeting. Trustees are also asked to join a board sub-committee which meets 4 times per year. Meetings are usually held at 5.30 with the option to join remotely.

Please read the detailed recruitment pack for more information

To apply or find out more
Moon Executive Search has been appointed as our search partner. To apply or arrange for an informal chat please contact recruit@moonexecsearch.com FAO Sandy Hinks and quoting ref MC2329. , If you wish to apply please send a copy of your latest CV to Sandy together with a supporting statement (no more than one side of A4) explaining your motivations for applying for the role, how your skills, knowledge and experience match the role outline and what you can additionally bring to the role. Please be clear on your application whether you are best able to contribute to our Housing and Property Committee or the Finance and Investment Committee.

Closing date for applications is 7th April.

We want you to have every opportunity to demonstrate your skills, ability and potential; please let Sandy know if you require any assistance or adjustment so that we can help with making the application process work for you.

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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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