John's Story

It was 1971 when I first became involved with Hestia, just one year after it was founded, back when it was known as the St Mungo Community Trust.

I had recently moved to West Kensington and was involved with local politics. I had a particular interest in housing, and working as a surveyor, initially in the east end of London, I had direct experience of the poor conditions some people were living in.

A local resident was involved with St Mungo’s, and he introduced me to Jim Horne, the founder. Jim had recently acquired three short-life houses in Hammersmith for rough sleepers (15 at that time) and he invited me to be on the local management committee.

In 1974, I became a local councillor. I raised the issue of our properties being ‘short-life’, giving us no security of tenure, with the Housing Department and I asked them how they could help. The upshot was that the Council allocated us three adjoining properties in Harwood Road, in Fulham, as replacements. Hestia runs the Harwood Road service to this day.

In the years that followed, the organisation grew immensely, with a wide range of new or expanding projects; having some involvement in it was remarkable.

One element of the organisation’s groundbreaking work was supporting people living with HIV and AIDS. It was during the early years of the AIDS crisis, and we were housing young men living with AIDS, many of whom had been kicked out by their family after they had found out they were gay. To support some of them we set up the Patrick House project, which was opened by Diana, Princess of Wales.

As a Trustee, I did get to go on the frontline and meet our service users too. I remember one man, a merchant seaman, who had no family. He had an accident and had to leave the navy and that is how he ended up being homeless, and then supported by us. Cases like that were common, whereby one unlucky event could turn a world upside down. None of us are immune.

There were some very special moments, too. I clearly remember the day that our first resident at Harwood Road moved into his own flat. That was unprecedented at the time although the aim had always been to help our residents become as self-sufficient as possible: many had spent years on the road and had lost day to day skills and the ability to live in a social environment.

I became a Trustee in the mid eighties, becoming Chairman in 1990 and serving in that capacity until 1996 when my term of office came to an end. However, I remained a member of the company and in 2007 put myself forward as a member of an advisory group, becoming a member of the Governance Committee and its Chairman until 2013, when my formal involvement with the organisation ended – after 42 years.

We decided to rename the organisation Hestia Housing and Support in the 90s, towards the end of my time as a Trustee.

In recent years I have been a Trustee of a charity in Richmond, and a Trustee of a national charity that runs care homes. Nowadays, I act as a volunteer for three charities, rather than serving more formally on a committee.

I am so pleased to have played a role over the years with Hestia: my involvement with this organisation has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my life.

Finally, I’m delighted to have this opportunity to pay tribute to all the staff who have done the real work over the years to build such a magnificent organisation, helping so many people in so many different ways.

Which book has impacted me the most?

Very much liked, rather than having made the single biggest impact: Mani, by Patrick Leigh Fermor – subtitled Travels in the Southern Peloponnese but covering a wide range of matters to do with Greece and its history. I was given a copy soon after my first travels in Greece – a country I am very fond of and have visited many times since. Patrick Leigh Fermor lived an extraordinary life, and wrote some deeply erudite books. He is perhaps best known for the three books on his walk in the 1930s as a young man from England to Istanbul and for his exploits helping the Resistance in Crete during the Second World War.

Which film has impacted me the most?

With the same proviso: High Noon. To my mind, the plot, cinematography, and music are impeccable. On the face of it, a Western about a town’s marshal facing up to a criminal he had committed to prison, and who is now returning for revenge. More deeply, about the need for good people to stand up to evil, regardless of the consequences – an eternal lesson.

Which song has impacted me the most?

Again, with the same proviso: Love Me Do, by of course the Beatles - their first hit, released just after I left school. I even now remember hearing it at the time and thinking they were a group of note. Their music and influence dominated my student and later years, and even now their music has resonance – 120 of us, of all ages, happily sang ‘All You Need is Love’ at my daughter’s wedding three years ago. Love may not in fact be ‘all you need’, but it’s not a bad start.