A creative approach to life’s ups and downs

Henry standing and Mary and Peter sitting at a table in the Main Hall
Henry Webb enjoying a laugh with Lunch Club regulars Mary and Peter

Attendees at our monthly Lunch Clubs may have had the pleasure of meeting Henry Webb, a lively widower with shining eyes and great energy. A Tottenham resident, he is a regular at the Lunch Club, alongside his friend Jason. Local journalist Telma Marotto spoke with Henry about his life and his approach to the turns it has taken. 

The first time Jason and Henry came to the Hornsey Vale Community Centre was in 2014. They had a friend in common who used to live in Denton Road and was ill. Jason had heard about the lunch, which was across the street from their friend, and he invited Henry to attend, to try to persuade their friend to go with them. Their friend declined in the end, but since they were already so close and “had to eat anyways” they decided to check out the venue. Since then, they keep coming together almost every month. 

“We really enjoy it and we will keep coming, because without people coming, it will stop,’’ Henry said on a recent bright Saturday morning at nearby Stationers Park. “For many people this is all they’ve got, so if we can be there for them, we will. And we have fun.” 

Even though Henry does not live in Crouch End, his relationship with the Hornsey Vale area started long ago, even if in an indirect way. Henry was a printer for most of his life and in the 1950s was indentured with the Stationers’ Company. The park where we are having our chat on this sunny mid-June morning was built on the site of a former Stationers’ Company School, which makes me realise how much of London history I was about to get into in the next hour and a half with this North Londoner explorer. 

Don’t think it’s easy to find time in Henry’s schedule. At the age of 86, he keeps himself busy: gym twice a week followed by coffee with the gym colleagues and, once a month, lunch at the centre; volunteering twice a week. On Fridays and Sundays he meets his daughter for a meal, chat, and walk with her dogs. Saturday is his day off. Lucky me!

Keeping himself busy is part of what brings a smile to this face even after a heart condition that has left him with five stents. Doing all this is “better than sitting on a couch somewhere, isn’t it?” he says.

Jason and Henry at a Lunch Club table
Jason and Henry at a recent Lunch Club at Hornsey Vale

The gym and the walks around North London keep him fit, which he says is part of the secret of getting to his age with joy. Twice a week he volunteers at Whittington Hospital, helping people find their way around the wards. Going up and down the hospital stairs is part of his regular physical activity and gives him the chance to “meet all sorts of people, from all sorts of cultures.” He finds it entertaining to spend the hours chatting with them as he helps them around the hospital.

Filling his days with events that he finds fun is part of the creative approach Henry has towards life. It required a lot of creativity being brought up during the mass unemployment of the 1980s and early 1990s, when the number of people on the dole sky-rocketed. “There were 3 million unemployed and I was one of them. I must have written 50 job applications or more. I made a career of being made redundant,” he says.

To make ends meet, he and many others at that time had to find ways into the system. He applied for the government-sponsored Enterprise Training Scheme and after this course, for 14 months, he tried printing business cards from home. “Of course this is pretty useless if you have 3 million unemployed. It wasn’t a great business idea,” he laughs. After that, he joined the mature grant university program for a degree in IT. 

Even though he never worked in IT, Henry learned how to find activities that would be fulfilling for him.

If you want to know more about this chatty man and get a taste of real-life London history, you can meet him in one of the monthly Lunch Clubs. I surely recommend it.

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