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Bruce Kenrick’s arrival in Notting Hill

This week, in celebration of our official 50th anniversary on 20 December 2013, we are releasing extracts of Bruce Kenrick’s unpublished autobiography. In part one today, Bruce Kenrick talks about first arriving to the Notting Hill area with his family in 1962, the poor condition of housing, and the sense of community he felt.

“After three weeks I found the ideal house. It was owned by two sisters and their brother. The house had no kitchen or bathroom. The back wall was falling down. (It fell down twelve months later.) But it was right in the heart of Notting Hill on a street that was then a run-down slum. It met our needs.

We bought it with the royalties from a book of mine, Come Out the Wilderness, about the work which we’d shared in New York’s Notting Hill. We moved in because we wanted to, and because of a long-held dream to identify ourselves with those in need.

But I’d learned enough to know that, while this was a prescription for fulfilment, it was no prescription for happiness. In fact I also knew that it might bring more grief than I could take. It did. Our broken roof helped identify us with our neighbours. It leaked so badly that when snow fell for weeks in our first winter I seemed to spend more time with a shovel on the slates than I did in the house itself. My wife, Isabel, and I draped sheets from the top floor ceiling to a tin bathtub inside so the melting snow was channelled to the tub and, when it was nearly full, we would open the window and empty it once more, with the time-honoured cry, ‘Gardez loo!’

Such facts as these did not mean we were identified in any serious sense with those who lived in Notting Hill. But it helped that I went without a salary from my church – my choice had been to wait on Iona [the Scottish island where the Kenrick family had previously lived] and see if the Church of Scotland would back my venture; or just go. It also helped that I kept our larder stocked by taking such jobs as driving a van and teaching at the London Nautical School. What also helped identify us with our neighbours were such facts as finding that our walls crawled with cockroaches and lice until the borough’s de-lousing men arrived.

But these were trivialities beside the facts that we had six rooms where many families had one, and we had a job to do and a vision that gave deep satisfaction. And all the time we knew what so few others ever knew – at any time at all we could get out.”

Next: read ‘Lancaster Road Church and the beginning of Notting Hill Housing‘ by Bruce Kenrick.