“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.”
Find out more
- Over 60, from the area, on a low income and in need of a safe and affordable home?
Find out about our sheltered housing in Hammersmith with beautiful award-winning gardens.