Last Friday (28th October) marked the departure of Millman Street Community Centre’s Older People’s Manager, Richard Norman – our “Sorter-Outer”. Originally from Felixstowe, Suffolk, Richard is leaving after nearly seven years at HCA (he must have broken a mirror at some point).
Members, staff and volunteers attended his leaving party at the centre, played out in the usual semi-chaotic circumstances to a soundtrack of rock’n’roll tunes – it was typical of the man that he let our members choose what they wanted to listen to, when he himself prefers country & western. There was a buffet, cooked and prepared by Saira, Ruma, Bridie and other kitchen staff, mercifully brief speeches and a well of emotion about the proceedings.
Even former HCA-ers such as Len and Sue turned up to help give Richard a decent send-off, and everyone had a few words to say about him: largely the sort of gushing tributes that would have embarrassed him were he still here to prevent them being blogged about. But you’re not, boss, so read on.
The Millman Street Community Centre members had plenty of tributes for Richard:
“He’s very friendly,” said Sevilla. “He can be very helpful. He helps a lot with the elderly members. I’ll miss him, as will other members. I was surprised he is leaving.”
Tom said: “It’s a great pity he’s leaving, a man of his experience of the world. I wish him all the best for the future!”
Jean M said: “He’s been a good help to me. I’m sorry he’s going. If he’s going to better himself, good luck to him! He got me a carer and we seemed to hit it off straight away. So I thank him for that! He also helped in other areas,” she confided. “He got me a video of The Flintstones, and some CDs for me – he sent off for them for me. So he’s done all that for me as well. He also sorted out trains [timetables and journey plannning, etc] for me. He’s been a great help!”
“He’s the most polite and kindly man,” said Thelma. “He’s always ready to help you; give you advice. A real gentleman. I’ve got respect for him; he always smiles and helps you if he can. I’ll miss him!”
“He’s a very nice man,” said Margaret. “He’ll be missed greatly! He organises things and we’re going to miss him until somebody else can do it. I’m sorry to see him go!”
“I like him very much,” Helena said. “He’s a very nice man. I’m going to miss him very much. He has a good sense of humour, always fun! He’s very nice to everybody.”
“He’s one of the nicest people we’ve had down here,” Ivy said. “He treats everybody the same and I hope he gets a lovely job. He went into [HCA] calmly and did his best. I wish him the best will in the world.”
Queenie said: “We love him! He’s one of us. He belongs to us! We know him so well, he’s one of us! I wish him well!”
“He’s very kind and helpful,” Janice said. “He always goes the second mile to help everyone! He’s got a very pleasant way with people, even if they’re grumpy [this reporter, a renowned curmudgeon, can testify to that]. He’s very clever, and patient. And we will miss him! I hope he has a very happy time!”
“He’s a very nice boy,” Anne said. “I’ll miss him!”
“I don’t know enough about him,” said Mulegetta, with characteristic impishness when first asked. But Richard would not have been phased by this, nor surprised that later Mulegetta added, more seriously: “He’s a nice man. He’s a good man! I’ll miss him!”
As for Richard’s plans after HCA, “I hope he’s going to a better job,” said Bettina.
“I don’t know what to say,” added George. “I don’t know why he’s leaving.” [Lottery win? Excruciatingly well-paid role wandering pleasant Alpine villages selling strudels? Surprisingly poorly-paid mercenary work in one of the world’s many warzones? The man himself would not be drawn about his future.]
“He’s been very good,” said Fred. “Very helpful. If you have any problems, you can go to him and he’ll help you out. He’s been a big help with Olive’s stroke and dementia. We’re going to miss him here. We’ve known him such a long time!”
“I feel sad,” said Edna. He’s a nice man. I’ve known him for years! He’s a kind man!”
“He always made us welcome,” Yvonne said. “Always makes me feel happy. He has a calming influence. Never shouts. A thoroughly nice man. It’s been a pleasure to meet him. It’s a shame he’s going!”
Ken said: “I think of him as a friend. He’s totally devoted to [HCA] members. Always with a sense of humour and conscientiousness. In fact,” he added, “All round, he’s a good egg! We will not see his like again!”
Ken captured scenes from the leaving do in a series of photographs. Some of them turned out, well, a bit surreal to be honest; possibly a better summation of the atmosphere down the pub afterwards. A selection of these shots are included:
Other members had their own take on Richard’s tenure and departure. Gloria, who wasn’t there last Friday, nonetheless recalled: “He was alright. Sometimes. He could be a bit moody,” she said, but, “He’ll be missed!”
“We don’t want him to go,” said Patrick. “He’s so helpful if you have any questions; about health and that sort of thing.”
Lily spontaneously recited a poem dedicated to Richard: “Why are you going and leaving us alone? You know that we will miss you. But we wish you love and happiness and don’t forget us!”
“I’m very sorry he’s leaving,” said Pauline. It gave me quite a shock! He’s a really, really nice person.”
Ruma, one of our kitchen staff, said: “He helps with any problems; he helped them [the members] a lot. He’s a nice person, very friendly, and a sense of humour. He’s a very supportive person,” she added. “I can talk to him; he’s fine. We’re going to miss him!”
“He’s going to be really missed,” said Support Worker Sarah. “Without him I wouldn’t have got an opportunity here [at HCA]. He’s been very supportive, and he’s a nice person, and a good manager. It’s not going to be the same without him here.”
“I’ve really enjoyed working with Richard,” said Befriending Manager Kate. “I will miss the lovely warm relationship he has with the members here. It’s been a great help to me,” she continued, “that he was the Good Neighbours Scheme organiser [before I came to HCA]. He had a wealth of advice and information.”
Volunteer Mandy said: “He’ll be greatly missed. Come back!”
Pat – Steve’s mum, former HCA staffer and now a volunteer – said: “I’ve enjoyed my time working with him. He’s been very nice to work with. He has loads of time for the members, and they love him!”
Steve – Pat’s son and long-time HCA Senior Support Worker at Millman Street – said: “I’m going to miss him as a good friend.”
HCA’s resident Arts & Craft tutor, Carmen, apparently covets Richard’s “big black chair”. Procurement of office furniture aside, she said: “I’m really sorry to see Richard go. It was a pleasure working with him. He’s a decent sort. He was lovely with his [hack can’t read his own smudged notes at this point] each and every minute to every member. I wish him well in all his new endeavours.”
Volunteer Sam said: “He’s very friendly. Very warm and easy to talk to. I loved to come here and he encourages me to come here anytime I like. I’ll miss him. He’s like a son to everyone here [HCA members]. I hope he will visit us here!”
Hanif, HCA’s liaison for the local Bengali community, said: “He’s one of the most positive colleagues we’ve had. He’s been an outstanding person. He’ll listen to you and give you a new perspective on things.”
Former HCA Trustee Rosalind said: “He’s one of the friendliest, most thoughtful people; he has a special feeling for Millman Street and its members. His loss is a blow to all of us. If he doesn’t come back to visit us, we won’t speak to him,” she grinned.
Berhane (Mulegetta’s wife) said: “He’s the most kind, warm and unconditional man. He accepts everyone the way they are. Very understanding and accepting. It’s a big loss for the centre [that he’s leaving].”
“He’s got a nice sense of humour,” said Norman. “A nice man. He’s a good singer and guitar player – a very nice singing voice. Very much underused. I’ll miss him of course. He and Sue are a very hard act to follow!”
Mrs H – of the Sing-Along Band – also paid tribute: “He’s so welcoming,” she said. “We’ve known him forever. He makes us feel at home; relaxed. He has the knack of making things come into focus. He’s brilliant!”
“He was fantastic!” enthused Canute, a member who is shortly off to America. “He knew what he was doing. He made the place come alive. He’s also a good singer. He’ll be greatly missed!”
Shaku said: “Richard was always a great support and admirable both in his caring and his professionalism. What I remember most is personal. After my husband died, I found it difficult to get out and about, adjusting to the situation, and he would always give me a hug. It was a release. As if he’d especially looked out for me. Very un-English! He persuaded me to come in and volunteer!”
Diana said: “I’m very sorry that he’s going. There was always a nice atmosphere [at Millman Street]. It’s always very nice to come here. Very pleasant. I’ve been to various events here.”
“He’s very kind,” Shirin said: “He appears unflappable; always jolly. Lovely guy – a big loss to the organisation!”
This reporter would like to thank Richard for all of his help, support, advice – not to mention a fair few good laughs – ever since he rummaged through a skip to find someone to write a blog which, under his guidance and editorship, evolved from something that no one read to what it is today: a blog that people are forced to read as punishment for minor misdemeanours. Without Richard to check for libels, infringements, obsecenities, spulling erorrs and gramatikal mistooks, it may be some time before the blog is legible again.
Of the more experienced HCA stalwarts, Shirley said: “He made volunteering to work with older people really groovy. He made you realise they’re just normal people. Makes it fun! We’ve had such a laugh here!”
Martin – HCA’s outgoing caretaker – said: “On the whole, I’ve enjoyed my time here. Richard’s been a good friend and been easy to get on with.” As for his own post-HCA plans, Martin said: “I’ll do all the things I’ve been putting off; now I’ll have no excuses!”
Former HCA office something-or-other Len revealed: “We tried to form a band – The Hobos of Holborn. We rehearsed only once.” Richard was the singer, with Len on percussion and Martin on “weird instruments,” as Len recalled. As for the Hobos’ repertoire, this was largely country & western, and “Richard sang a Val Doonican song, but in a country style. We never did a gig; drank a lot of beer at the one rehearsal. We could’ve been contenders!”
Former Manager Sue also praised her successor: “It’s been a pleasure to work with Richard. Always so helpful and good humoured and patient with people.” Of all the myriad tasks he performed, Sue recalled that Richard was, “Really good in setting up the volunteer scheme.”
Then came the speeches – mercifully brief; some more than others:
Lucas, HCA’s CEO, said: “Richard has been here a lot longer than I have. We were hoping he’d be with us as long as Sue was. This,” he resumed, indicating the leaving do, “Is about us saying ‘thank you’ to Richard. He’s been phenomenal over a number of different roles – supporting volunteers as Assistant Manager and now as Manager. He’s really done it all and given his heart and soul. We’ll miss him terribly and hope he’ll come back and visit us.”
Shirley, who assists with HCA’s Tea & Talkies outings at Warner Brothers Cinema, said: “I’m feeling sad he’s going today. We’re going to miss him very much! He’s a lovely fella. I’d never have volunteered here if not for him. I love you all [to our members] and that’s down to Richard. Thank you, Richard!”
By some organic democratic process of their own devising, the members had chosen Queenie to present Richard with a bag of assorted presents (gold bars, priceless bejewelled watches, tickets for round-the-world tours, etc). “I wish you well,” Queenie said. “And, to general amusement, added: “And behave yourself! We’ve relied on you so much. You’re our sorter-outer!”
Richard then took the floor, all eyes and ears on him as he began his speech. He began: “I’ve met lots and lots of lovely people since I’ve been here…!”
And that was as far as he got. Overcome with emotion, he modestly ducked out of the public glare and let members and staff enjoy the food and drink while he recovered.
After the members went home, and the remains of the food and drink were tidied away, a contingent of staff and volunteers – led by Richard – ensured that the old place was safely locked up one last time, before boosting the economy of a local public house and generally relaxing in good-humoured talk after what had been a long, exhausting and emotional last day’s work at HCA for Richard. This reporter made his excuses and left before the evening turned rowdy and the riot squad were summoned.
Holborn Community Association would like to thank Richard for his many years of service to the organisation, and of course to wish him all the best in the future. We’ll miss you, boss! Please pop in for a visit anytime you’re in the vicinity.
Photos by Ken; some photos & report by Notes Smudger