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Fifty Years Ago My Father Founded Shelter, Today He'd Still Be Dismayed

01/12/2016 08:33
Shelter

Fifty years ago today my father Bruce Kenrick was among those who set up the housing and homelessness charity Shelter in response to the horrors families across the country were facing in trying to find somewhere to call home.

Like so many of his generation, my father's destiny was changed profoundly by the war. Raised in Liverpool by strict Methodists he was destined for a career in his father's accountancy firm. However he returned from the war a changed person, and persuaded his parents to let him study medicine instead. He went to Edinburgh University and after a few years became involved with a Bible Study Group. From that moment onwards he was focused on doing what he saw as God's work on earth, and after much debate with his tutors he switched his degree to Theology.

My first memory of my father is walking down the streets in Liverpool aged around three. If anyone asked me as a child what my father was like I would have said that he was warm and loving, as well as being an incredibly fun and comic father. And of course I would have said that he was very important - after all he stood up at church and gave the sermon.

From a young age I was aware that he and my mother were different from the parents of other friends - somehow they managed to always to see the fun in things and not act like real grown-ups. When I was four and with two other children under five they moved to the island of Iona to live in a tent. When the weather got too bad we moved into a series of dilapidated cottages on the island. Washing the dishes in a rock pool was normal life for us.

In 1963 they decided to move to London and settled in Notting Hill. My image of my father at that time is of a smiling, charismatic man with an enormous amount of energy who seemed to attract people and be able to convince them to join his campaigns. His main focus was on housing the massive number of people who were living in appallingly squalid conditions or who - like Cathy in the powerful film Cathy Come Home - had fallen on really hard times and were at risk of being separated from their children and having nowhere to go. In the build up to the launch of what was then the Notting Hill Housing Trust, our house was even busier than ever with endless meetings going on in the living room, and people with nowhere else to go staying the night with us. It was exciting and I felt like I was part of something important. And following that came the launch of Shelter, a huge undertaking and one that he was rightly immensely proud of.

To those he housed and who saw his interviews and heard his 'Thoughts for the Day', my father was an inspirational and exceptional man with enormous energy and ambition to improve the lives of many. 50 years on he would have been incredibly proud of what Shelter has achieved, although also I am sure also dismayed by how so many families are still being forced to live, with nowhere safe and secure to raise their children. I hope in another 50 years his vision for a true home for everyone will have been well and truly realised.

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