Kathy Sheen obituary | UK news


My mother, Kathy Sheen, who has died aged 81, was the pillar of her local community, the Borough in south London, between Southwark bridge and London bridge, where she spent her whole life.

A spirited and loyal woman with a dry wit and great sense of fun, she was involved in many aspects of neighbourhood life – helping to create the “Big Society” long before it became a political slogan. Her efforts were rewarded in 1999, when Southwark council recognised her as its citizen of the year.

Kathy was born at St Thomas’ hospital in Lambeth. After attending local church schools – with two interruptions when she was evacuated during the second world war to Wales and Kent – she gained several O-levels. Like many women of her class and generation, however, university was way out of reach, so after leaving school at 16 she did a series of administrative jobs.

Her ability was eventually recognised when she became secretary to the White Ensign Association, a charity providing assistance to former naval personnel. Her final job was with the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility, where her duties included preparing briefs for bishops in the House of Lords, dealing with prison reform and producing the in-house journal, Crucible.

However, Kathy found her true vocation in life outside work, centred on her deep Christian faith. She became a volunteer “welcomer” at Lambeth Palace and Southwark Cathedral, a school governor, helped run a Girl Guides group, and did charitable work with homeless people.

One of her proudest achievements was helping to create an adventure playground, still used by local children. She also loved performing in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and was a self-taught landscape artist.

Kathy’s father and mother both died during her 20s, leaving her with no close relatives. By then she had given birth to me. As an “unmarried mother” she was refused entry into the local Mothers’ Union and when she bought furniture on a hire purchase agreement she had to find a male guarantor to sign the contract.

Soon afterwards, in the mid-1970s, she met Phil Hoggard, whom she described as “a lovely Yorkshireman”. Despite their political differences, and a conscious decision to live separately, they enjoyed a devoted relationship until his death more than 30 years later.

A socialist, she lived in the same council flat for more than 50 years, steadfastly resisting the temptation to buy it, as this went against her principles.

She is survived by me.