Lives Remembered: Gaynor Asquith


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The Independent Online

Living in a good home is essential for a good life. Poor housing contributes to poor health and diminished education and employment chances. That is why people who dedicate their careers to providing good quality, affordable housing are so passionate about what they do. My friend Gaynor Asquith,who succumbed to an aggressive cancer in a few weeks at the age of 59 on 12 November, was one whose work resulted in thousands of people enjoying better homes.

A geographer and planner by training (at Hull University), Gaynor joined the Housing Corporation in Manchester in 1974 and saw it through the tumultuous changes of numerous Housing Acts and government policies while funding housing associations to provide homes for rent and, latterly, shared ownership. Housing has been a political football for generations and even as a non-governmental body, the Housing Corporation was at the forefront of delivering whatever was the latest government whim for "solving" England's housing crisis. Gaynor had the right balance of tact and humour to cajole and inspire so that local authorities, housing associations and residents saw results in improved neighbourhoods and decent housing. Her remit covered the North-west, including her native Cumbria, where Gaynor was born to Joe and Muriel Cameron before moving to Wolverhampton when she was four years old.

Gaynor was also a Regional Director in the North for the Guinness Trust. She set up her own consultancy in 1994 and was ultimately a Director of arc4, where her work contributed to better housing in the UK, as well as in the US and Eastern Europe.

Early in her career at the Housing Corporation in Manchester Gaynor was introduced to Malcolm, an engineer with British Telecom. They married in 1979, settling in a rambling farm house in Marple Ridge, Stockport. From this base, Gaynor and Malcolm travelled around the world visiting increasingly exotic destinations. Not luxurious travel, but trekking and camping.

One journey in Malawi caught Gaynor's imagination because of the struggles of such a poor country to tackle conservation. All of her problem-solving skills and charisma bore fruit when she founded Project African Wilderness, a charity dedicated to saving the physical wilderness of an area of southern Malawi.

The Trust has a legal agreement with the government of Malawi and their Department of National Parks and Wildlife to deliver conservation, eco-tourism and poverty reduction programmes at Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve, a beautiful 135 sq km reserve. Not many people come back from holiday, set up a charity in their "spare time" and set out to achieve such a monumental task – including the reintroduction of native species such as lions to the reserve – while providing equipment and support to local schools and villages. But as far as Gaynor was concerned, working in a local authority office in the north of England, or sitting with a tribal chief in a village in Malawi, was always going to result in a better outcome for everyone involved.

Gaynor was a superb cook and her "pudding parties" were famous. She was chic, a talented seamstress and maker of tapestries – everyone who thinks of Gaynor will have something of delight to share. She is survived by Malcolm and her brother Neil.

Canon Andrea Titterington

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