In the late 1960s, when Livingston was designated a new town. incoming residents from cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh arrived to find there was a sad lack of shops and social amenities. In fact, many could not wait to get back home to their small but friendly tenement dwellings.
Fortunately, however, a former farm and its steadings had been converted into a community hub where people could meet and have a snack or coffee and eventually enjoy the facilities of a small theatre and state of the art recording studio, thanks to the forward thinking of the manager, John Hoey.
Craigs Farm was likened by some to an oasis in the desert and a warm welcome was always assured when often lonely new residents found their way to the café where Hoey’s wife Nan and her team produced what some said were the best sausage and onion rolls and home made soups ever tasted.
John Hoey had originated from Maryhill in Glasgow where he had worked at John Brown shipyards and developed a couthy sense of humour not unlike Billy Connolly.
He then became a shop steward at Longannet where his forceful dedication to promoting his colleagues resulted in his being politely invited to leave. His interest in politics was well documented and once he launched into a conversation, woe betide anyone trying to get a word in.
Hoey was knowledgeable, intelligent and highly articulate and he was guaranteed to score points over any politically aspiring rival. That he never became a politician was only due to his dedication to his work as manager of Craigs Farm.
It was Hoey who realised that the youngsters in the new town needed somewhere to chill and develop their talents. So he and his team created a space where they could come and rehearse and learn.
Tony Griffin, a then aspiring young band member fondly recalls Hoey’s kindness in helping promote his band. “He put us forward for a BBC One Rock School,” he remembered “and we were so pleased at his having such faith in us.”
The Hoeys had no children of their own except for three Yorkie dogs whom they adored. However, parents and the local children adored the Hoeys who ensured there were always home-made soups and snacks available at the café, whether the individual child had funds or not.
School children from nearby Riverside School and Craigshill High descended in droves every lunch time and nobody left hungry. Young mums with small babies congregated and made new friends.
Incomers on restricted budgets who required additional furniture for their larger homes only had to see John Hoey and be assured that what they required would be discreetly delivered in his weel-kent van, which uplifted donations from local people.
There was also a well stocked crafts shop where hand knitted garments at reasonable prices proved very popular.
Sadly, Hoey’s wife Nan predeceased him in 2012 and latterly his health began to deteriorate due to oncoming dementia and Alzheimer’s, which he fought bravely.
But prior to that, countless Craigshill incomers had great cause to thank Hoey for his always available advice and guidance .
Lifelong family friend Cathie O’Boyle recalls the time someone from the council rang Hoey at two o’clock in the morning, urgently requesting help for a resident who had no bed to sleep on. He saw to it the problem was immediately resolved. Nothing phased John Hoey – if someone needed assistance, he could be relied upon to be there whenever required.
Another Craigshill friend, Anne Combe recalls his welcome arrival at barbecues which, as an officer, she helped run with her RAF cadets . His presence lit up the occasion.
When a feature about Livingston appeared in The Scotsman, the writer had mentioned how John Hoey successfully ran Craigs’ Farm and was later gently chided for giving him full credit. Hoey insisted it was a team effort. Those in the know were well aware of his selfless dedication for which he did not wish publicity or public thanks and that he alone was responsible for making Craigs Farm the success it was to become.
Amongst his various interests, Hoey had been a lecturer at a college in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile as well as the friend everyone could turn to in their hour of need. His presence at local funerals, regardless of denomination, was much appreciated by the bereaved since he was such a key figure in the new life of the new town. Only at such times was he seen to discard his signature bunnet which he always wore as a mark of respect.
As a lasting monument to this modest man, a mural depicting his face – and his bunnet – still exists in an underpass in Craigshill.
That it has never been defaced by vandals is a testament to his popularity and he will go down in the history of the new town as an innovator and inspiring leader who only wanted to make life as pleasant as possible for every resident.
Perhaps not surprisingly, his lasting legacy is that he succeeded rather beautifully in accomplishing this.
John Hoey is survived by a nephew and several nieces.