(above, Gerry - in the middle - at one of our social clubs)
"Ok, John, do ya want me?.... I'll have them on Monday... they will definitely be here Monday."
As older neighbour, Gerry and I sit down to chat in the garden of his housing unit, one of his fellow neighbours John interrupts us to ask about the slippers that Gerry is in the middle of ordering for him from Amazon. Gerry doesn't have an Amazon account, so he has enlisted the help of a friend with one to get them ordered.
This conversation is just one amongst many "hello"s and "how are ya"s that Gerry greets people with who come out to enjoy the sunshine that day. I ask him about his strong sense of neighbourliness, and he shrugs it off. "Oh, a little turn like that is nothing!" Gerry is originally from the Republic of Ireland, County Offaly. He moved to London in the early '80s, but the value he places on community, and connections come from his home village. "When I go back, people still stop cars in the road if they see me standing someplace, which is lovely. We're a very close-knit unit."
It's this sense of community that is so hard often to find when people first move to London. Away from your home and your family, it can often feel hard to fit in, to find your tribe. But Gerry truly epitomises what it means to be neighbourly. Gerry started his career in the pub business, and when he moved to London, he began managing several pubs including the Wickwood Tavern in Flaxman Road, Camberwell, as well as The Cambria – which is still there today. "I loved (moving to London)! I'm very fortunate that I can slot in with most people... 99.99% of the people I've met I've always stayed friends with thanks be to God. I'm lucky that way."
(Above, left to right, The Wickwood Tavern and The Cambria)
I ask Gerry about a memory that stands out to him during his time in the pub business, and without a moment's hesitation, Gerry tells me about a Christmas dinner he was once asked to host for the police.
"One year, the police came to me, and 47 of them wanted a Christmas dinner. The day before they were coming, they called me, and the number had increased to 97! And I had a small pub. I had to go and commandeer plates and chairs from other pubs. I had a lady doing the food and things like that!... We got a standing ovation for that - that was the achievement of me lifetime! Some people were vegetarian, everything. Me angel guardian up there must have been watching - we didn't get one order wrong!"
It is another story that shows Gerry's natural sense of community, enlisting help from other pubs around him. It's perhaps this sense of community that attracted Gerry to South London Cares.
(Above, Gerry - far left - at a social club)
After many years in pubs, before 16 years spent chauffeuring (the stories Gerry has about that chapter of his life are best told in person, suffice to say that he "never once got a speeding ticket!") Gerry retired. He has plenty of stories to tell about his time in Ireland and London. "I start thinking about… me life and find meself smiling and thinking about some of the funny instances of me life." He tells me, "But unfortunately a lot of people that were there to experience them have now passed away. That's the sad thing."
So for Gerry, the chance to share stories about his life with his younger neighbours, and make new connections and friends at South London Cares social clubs is of huge importance.
Where did he find out about our network? At the pub, of course. Gerry was in The Tiger, Camberwell, with a friend and happened to be there at the same time as a South London Cares pub club. "After that, I just said, right I'll go out and enjoy meself. Go out to some of these clubs and see what it's all about. You meet a lot of people, and I often tell a yarn about something in my life."
And what yarn's he has to tell! If you meet Gerry at a social club, be sure to sit next to him – you're guaranteed a laugh!
Posted by Johanna Brooks on Wednesday 17th July 2019
Johanna is the Development Coordinator at South London Cares. She heads up our fundraising programme, cheering on our donors, challenge fundraisers and all those that help to make our activities possible.