Tell us about your job.
I’m responsible for cleaning Beech Grove House, Beech Grove Terrace and the computer room in Richard Hughes – that’s a total of nearly 40 rooms. Each morning I do the dusting, mopping, vacuuming, replacing paper towels and any other cleaning jobs that need doing.
Before coming here, I was a bricklayer, but had to take early retirement because the work was getting too heavy. I’ve been working at the University for nearly 12 years now and I absolutely love it – I especially enjoy working in Beech Grove House because it’s so old.
You’re a bit of an amateur historian – what have you found out about the building?
I did some research and found out that the house was built by a Leeds cloth merchant called Abraham Rhodes in 1799, which makes it the oldest building on campus. The estate originally included warehouses and workshops to the north and lawns, shrubberies and an ornamental pond to the south. The house passed to an iron founder John Ogden March in 1840, and a Mrs March is known to be the last occupant before it was eventually given to the University in 1925.
The house is fascinating – it has lots of original features, like the fireplaces and coving. And the cellars are huge, one of them has 12 massive carved stone pillars holding up the floor above and another has rows and rows of intricate shelving – I think it must be where Abraham kept his wine! The big green gates at the entrance to University Square are the original gates to the house – it must have been a very impressive place.
What’s your most frequently asked question?
How old is the building and do we get visits from people who used to study or work in it?
Tell us about the award you received recently.
I was given a Divisional Commander’s Commendation by Divisional Commander Ian Whitehouse of the North West Leeds Division of the West Yorkshire Police. It was for “exceptional support to North West Leeds Division” in recognition of the community work I do on the estate where I live in Little London, just near the University.
So how did your community work come about?
I’ve lived on the estate for 38 years and over the years it gradually got more and more run down, and problems with gangs, drugs and robberies got worse so in 2006 I decided to do something about it. I went to see my local police about setting up a Neighbourhood Watch scheme. They were really helpful, giving me advice and stickers and property marker pens, plus details about how people could get proper security locks fitted. I told my neighbours about the scheme and what it involved, and gradually people joined the scheme.
At the same time, my neighbour Kath Holt set up the Oatlands Residents’ Association, so people could go along, get advice and discuss issues affecting the estate. We now get about 30 people coming to the residents’ meetings and the Neighbourhood Watch scheme has spread from my area into other parts of the estate.
Together, the two schemes have really begun to make a difference; crime levels are down and there’s a much better sense of community on the estate. We even held a fete this year, complete with a bouncy castle for the kids and a tombola to raise money for the residents’ association.
What are the future plans for the estate?
Our Community Advisory Group has been talking to representatives from the private finance initiative that’s going to improve the estate, and the first work should start this autumn. We’ve told them what we want to happen – things like blocking off narrow passageways – and new shops and a supermarket are being built.
Of course, there are still some problems but the important thing is that people now feel they’re part of a community and know where to go for advice.
What happened when you got your award?
The awards ceremony was held at the Yorkshire County Cricket Club in Headingley, and about 120 people were there including the Lord Mayor. Most people were invited because of their community spirit and service including Martin Richardson, the Leeds man who challenged and overcame an armed robber. I also met Isabel Swift from Leeds University Union Volunteering and Community Office who was receiving an award. It’s really good to know that our contributions to the local community are recognised and valued by the wider community and city authorities.
Bernard Holmes was talking to Sarah Ward