‘You’ll always be Mr Mayor’: Kenrick Hanson looks back to the 80s and his time at Hackney Council
- Credit: Emma Bartholomew
Kenrick Hanson tells Emma Bartholomew about his time as Mayor of Hackney in the 80s, and his personal campaign now to get the plaque stating he opened Homerton train station – which TfL appears to have lost - reinstated.
“These days people say: ‘Hello Mr Mayor’ – they don’t say: ‘Hello Mr Hanson’. After all these years!” muses Kenrick Hanson.
“I say: ‘It’s a long time ago’, and they say: ‘Never mind. You are still Mr Mayor.’”
Kenrick, or Ken, now 79, was mayor of Hackney for a year from 1984 and deputy mayor the year before that. He’d only become a councillor for the first time in 1982, when he was told by the council’s chief executive he’d racked up the most votes in King’s Park ever for a councillor – testimony to his popularity.
Kenrick had built up a name for himself as secretary of the tenants’ association at Kingsmead where he had come up with the idea to take the Greater London Authority to court for not fulfilling its obligations to keep the Homerton estate tidy.
Before he moved to the UK in 1962 to work at a plastic moulding factory in Peckham, he was involved in the Bustamante trade union in Jamaica where he worked on a sugar plantation,
When he married his wife Phyllis three years later they moved to Stoke Newington and he took a job as a mechanical assistant at TfL. Becoming a parent governor at Princess May Primary School where his daughter Angela attended nursery launched the start of his involvement in the community. But it was his militancy at Kingsmead that got him noticed.
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The Gazette covered a protest march he organised which saw tenants dumping their black bin bags in front of the GLA’s housing office in Homer Road.
“We said: ‘You aren’t listening to us. This is your present’,” remembers Ken. “And we chucked it down in front of the office front door. They started doing a bit of shifting and turning and giving a bit more respect to the tenants of the estate.”
People had been throwing their waste over their balconies because the rubbish chutes weren’t big enough – but the GLA eventually promised to install bigger ones.
Ken also started three football teams to keep kids out of trouble, and campaigned for a community hall where he became the caller at the pensioners’ bingo club.
The Labour MP Stanley Clinton-Davis, now a lord, suggested Ken should become a councillor.
“I said: ‘I won’t do that until I know the people are with me so I can get support’,” he remembers. “He said: ‘They already know you – you have done so much already. People already know you at the town hall, because you stand up for the people.’”
Ken became vice-chair of housing and loved the debate at council meetings “where the opposition is having a go at you”. He had a whirlwind year as mayor and can’t remember all the invites he received.
“I was able to go around the borough to meet people and that was important to me. The people who vote for us are the people we represent, and we should know them,” he said. “This elderly lady once came to say: ‘We have your picture from the Hackney Gazette and I have it framed and have it over my bed head’. It was so nice to hear that.”
One of the most controversial issues during his time as mayor was Thatcher’s poll tax, which the council opposed. Ken still recalls the cheers in the council chamber when it was announced it had been scrapped. He is proud to have signed an anti-apartheid declaration, to send a message of support to Mandela’s freedom fighters in South Africa, and to have opened the borough’s first ever cycle track from Reading Lane to London Fields.
He remained a councillor for 18 years until 2001. But latter years were marred by the Mark Trotter affair. Ken was one of 17 councillors expelled from the Labour party in 1996 when the council refused to hold a public inquiry into why the known paedophile was hired to work in children’s care homes.
Ken, a father-of-four who has six grandchildren, took redundancy from TfL aged 52. He remained busy during his retirement working as a magistrate, a deacon of Homerton Baptist Church, and as Chair of the Association of Jamaicans UK Trust, as well as gardening on his beloved allotment.
But he has one bugbear stretching back to his time as Mayor. The plaque at Homerton Station stating he opened it in 1985 was taken down in 2010 when it became an Overground station - and apparently TfL can’t find it.
“It’s a landmark,” said Ken. “I need the plaque back for history’s sake, and in years to come it will show that Homerton Station was opened by none other than Kenrick Hanson.”