Penny Wade: Worker for the homeless

Beneath a modest, charming, calm exterior, Penny Wade had a will of steel and an unwavering determination to help anyone who needed her help. It is largely thanks to her that there continue to flourish in Richmond, Surrey, the Vineyard Project, an open-access drop-in centre, and Spear (Single Persons Emergency Accommodation in Richmond), an organisation devoted to the homeless.

She was born Penny Ladds, at Frenchay near Bristol, in 1930. Her father was an officer in the Gloucestershire Regiment and in 1932 the family travelled by P&O liner to Mhow in central India. Penny herself described that long-gone way of life, with cook, butler, gardener, "washer man", groom and night-watchman and her own privileged life in the nursery. "My parents taught me to believe that everyone, whatever their colour, should be treated equally," she wrote.

At a later stage Penny's father was stationed in Madras and the family lived in the beautiful Nilgiri Hills, where Penny started her education with postal lessons from England. "It was an idyllic life," she wrote. Back in England, her brother William was born and the whole family left for a posting in Burma.

Penny's first school was in Rangoon, but there was soon talk of a Japanese invasion. Two attacks at Christmas 1941 (when Penny saw "bombers like huge birds of prey" and "the bodies of people killed in the raids") led to the evacuation of the women and children, taking with them only what they could carry. The train to Calcutta was attacked by bandits. "We lay on the floor of the carriage like sardines, as bullets came through the windows."

There is no doubt that these childhood experiences, as well as her training in the 1950s as a nurse at St George's Hospital (then at Hyde Park Corner in London), helped Penny Ladds to cope with the challenges she was to meet in Richmond. She commented herself on the emotional strain for nurses of "dealing with serious illness and death while learning to be calm and detached".

A writer recently referred to "the unquestioned domesticity" of wives in the1950s (compared with "the unquestioned possibilities of the 1970s") – but for our group of women domesticity was never going to be enough. Penny Wade (she had married Robin Wade in 1953) and I met when we were both young mothers, full of idealism and energy, members of the CND and the NCT (then the Natural Childbirth Trust). We shared intense interest in other people's lives. I was always a writer and would suffer from a strong feeling that what Penny was doing was more worthwhile than what I was doing myself.

I went to her ante-natal classes and have always been grateful for learning how to relax. "Relaxation for living" would become an important part of the programme at the Vineyard Project. Richmond – that leafy small town on the Thames on the south-west edge of London – may look affluent and fortunate, but it has always attracted a large number of the dispossessed and unfortunate. One of Penny Wade's colleagues writes: "Many of the regular users of the centre had mental health problems, learning difficulties, alcohol or drug; dependency, were homeless and disadvantaged or lived alone and felt lonely or isolated. Penny had the unique ability to recognise in each person individual needs, strengths and abilities and would help and guide them towards reaching their potential."

Spear was the result of two people (who had spent time at the Vineyard) being found dead on the river bank, after sleeping rough on dangerously cold nights. A survey in the borough found 33 sleeping rough and a further 35 "insecurely housed".

Penny Wade retired from the Vineyard Project in 1995 after 18 years, but continued to be involved in many community projects as a trustee of the Richmond Parish Lands Charity, chair of Spear and as a committee member of Kingston Refugee Network. She was glad to have more time to spend with Robin, who had always been the most supportive of husbands. She took up painting seriously, and they both enjoyed lots of theatre, concerts and travel to Robin's native Australia.

Ann Thwaite

Penny Ladds, community worker: born Bristol 16 March 1930; married 1953 Robin Wade (one son, two daughters); died Richmond upon Thames, Surrey, 22 July 2008.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map