DCSIMG

The Rev Bruce Kenrick

THE REV BRUCE KENRICK Minister and founder of Shelter

Born: 18 January, 1920, in Liverpool. Died: 15 January, 2006, in Oban, aged 86.

HE HAD a passion and zeal about his ministry that concentrated the minds of successive governments. The Rev Bruce Kenrick was at the forefront of a campaign to improve the lot of the homeless in the Sixties and Seventies. In 1967, the Labour government introduced legislation to improve the funding arrangements for housing associations, which automatically freed up land and money. That was the year following the creation of Shelter; Kenrick's lasting and fitting legacy. Kenrick has, rightly, been called "one of the unsung heroes of 1960s urban ministry".

His commitment and energy could cause unrest with colleagues but no-one ever doubted Kenrick's desire to improve housing for the poor and needy.

Bruce Kenrick was the son of a Liverpool accountant and attended Merchant Taylors' School in Crosby. He served in West Africa during the war and then came to Edinburgh University to read medicine. During his studies, he became involved with the work of Edinburgh's Christian Union and switched to reading theology.

His missionary work, while studying at Princetown University, took him to the slums of New York where he worked in Harlem. It proved an eye-opener to Kenrick who felt British Churches' involvement in urban affairs was too remote.

He was ordained in 1961 into the Church of Scotland and, after a time in India, went to Iona to join the ecumenical community created there in 1938 by the Rev George MacLeod. On Iona, Kenrick lived with his wife - whom he had met when they were students in Edinburgh - and three of their children. They camped out in the summer and rented a "but and ben" in the winter. He wrote Come Out of the Wilderness there which was a personal plea for the Church to become more involved with the suffering of the poor. He told of his work in Harlem - where staff worked in shirt sleeves (certainly no dog collars) and promoted a relaxed atmosphere. They did not operate out of churches but from the street corner or in shops.

"The Church must suffer and be crucified with those it seeks to serve," Kenrick wrote. "It must keep on being crucified even though the nails bite deep and the hope of resurrection is obscure." His no-holds barred style certainly convinced many other young ministers to choose to work in the inner cities after the book was published in 1962. The book, which had a forward by the Father Trevor Huddleston, was a worldwide best seller.

At the end of that year Kenrick moved south to join a parish in Notting Hill Gate. At that time it was far from the smart area as seen in the eponymous film of 40 years later. Indeed, the area was run-down and full of bedsits crammed with large immigrant families.

What Kenrick termed the "Damnable housing conditions", he argued, led to domestic violence and marital break-ups.

The relaxation of rent controls in 1957 fostered the fortunes of the slum landlords such as Peter Rachman.

The situation was dire with evictions and bully- boy tactics. His concern for the situation led to Kenrick forming the Notting Hill Housing Trust (NHHT) in 1963. His compassion was total - even mortgaging his own house so that another could be purchased.

He initiated a programme of buying dilapidated property at auction and, along with volunteers, doing them up and renting them out to those in direst need. Kenrick's drive and energy clashed with the bureaucracy of many council officials but after a national advertising campaign his opinion was getting through to the authorities.

Through a remarkable coincidence, the BBC screened the ground-breaking play Cathy Come Home within weeks of Kenrick launching Shelter. December 1966 saw the culmination of intense work by Kenrick in which he persuaded individual housing schemes throughout the country (many founded on the principals of NHHT) to merge their interests into one common goal.

Harold Wilson's government took notice immediately. Within six months legislation was going through parliament that provided funding for housing associations. By 1974, the Housing Act saw a proliferation of community housing throughout the United kningdom.

Shelter became a major charity and proved able lobbiers of both the government and the media. In 1982, Des Wilson was appointed a director of Shelter against the express wishes of Kenrick, and an internal struggle began. Most of the board sided with Wilson and Kenrick resigned in a spirit of some acrimony.

Kenrick was a visionary who wanted to be proactive and provide assistance where it was needed. Committees and lengthy planning meetings got in his way. Shelter's chief executive, Adam Sampson, called Kenrick: "a founding member of the awkward squad. That passion; that inability to hear the word no, was the bedrock of successful campaigning, and it still defines Shelter today."

Kenrick spent some years as a United Reform Minister in Hackney and travelled the world on a Churchill Fellowship. But for the last 20 years of his life, he shunned all publicity and retired to Iona where, despite increasing blindness, he involved himself joyfully in the community's ecumenical work.

Kenrick conducted many services at the parish church on Iona - often acting as a locum minister. "His Remembrance Day service was always special" recalls the Rev Murdoch MacKenzie who knew Kenrick for many years. "Bruce was very much part of the Iona community and was much liked throughout the island. He accepted the ways and traditions of the island and didn't want to change things. He found much peace here. One of his annual tasks was to be Father Christmas at all the schools' Christmas parties: he was an ideal Santa."

Rev MacKenzie took the funeral service on Iona yesterday and confirmed that this kind, devoted and generous-hearted adopted son of Iona "will be buried on the island in the burial ground Reilig Odhrain beside the ancient kings and princes of Scotland."

Kenrich divorced Isabel Witte in 1983. Nevertheless, they remained close and she and their four children survive him.

 
 
 

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