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April 20, 2011

A life devoted to community

The bedrock of the community sector is made up of thousands of individuals who commit time and energy to make their community a better place for everyone to live. More often than not that involvement with community life is restricted to the place they live. But for some, that initial involvement leads to other voluntary roles that have a wider, sometimes national significance. These briefings don’t usually highlight individual contributions but occasionally it’s worth reflecting on a life steeped in the service of communities

Bill Kirkhope

Born: January 23, 1923; Died: March 28, 2011.

BILL Kirkhope, who has died aged 88, was a successful electrical engineer who spent most of his working life abroad. When he came home he was an active nationalist, but also an exceptional community activist and leader.

He was born in Carluke, went to school in the town and started an electrical engineer apprenticeship at the age of 16, before joining the army at 19. It was there he travelled, first to Egypt as part of the Royal Electrical and Mechanic Engineers, based in Alexandria.

He left the army in 1947 and met and married the love of his life, Betty, in 1949. She was his wife for over 50 years before her death in 2000 and they lived in many countries, including Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Yemen and Sri Lanka.

But he loved Scotland and upon his return in 1972, Mr Kirkhope started a life in politics, always supporting the SNP. He spent six years, from 1974 to 1980, as district councillor for Carluke West.

He spent most of his time for the next 20 years in community and voluntary activity.

One of his earliest commitments was the new Clydesdale Housing Association. He chaired the organisation between 1996 and 1999, when they built over 120 homes. He held other positions and showed a genuine and strong commitment to tenant participation, learning and development.

During his period he also chaired Carluke Community Council for 10 years, and was vice chairman, helping to revive the Carluke Gala day celebrations.

As vice chairman of the Association of Local Voluntary Organisations in rural South Lanarkshire he helped support and facilitate the development of the voluntary sector contribution to the economic, social and cultural development of the community.

When a development trust started in Carluke in 1999, he was one of its first directors, helping to pursue environmental projects and contribute to town management and development.

When Care and Repair in South Lanarkshire split from Clydesdale Housing Association, he became secretary from 2003. Its crucial role in providing information and advice on home repairs, improvements and adaptations to elderly and disabled homeowners and private sector tenants was close to his heart.

He did not limit himself to his local area and joined the board of the Legal Services Agency (LSA) in 1992, when he was 69. LSA tackles the unmet legal needs of disadvantage individuals and groups throughout Scotland. He recognised the importance of this work and became its secretary, only giving up this position in 2010 because of his ill health.

As part of his involvement in Clydesdale Housing association he joined the Clydeside Federation of Community Based Housing Associations in 1996, and was a board member when it became EVH – supporting social employers. He was appointed vice chairman in 2005, and chairman in 2009 at the age of 86. He was a softly spoken man but now had to chair conferences of 300 people and direct a business supporting 180 social employers the length and breadth of Scotland.

Unfortunately his health was poor but it didn’t stop him chairing conferences, attending meetings and the opening of new offices with his old friend, the Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, in July 2010. The photograph of that event was at his bedside in hospital in his last week.

The Kirkhopes never had any children but he had many nieces and nephews, some joining them on their foreign jaunts.

He was presented a Social Award from South Lanarkshire Council in 2008 and had a street in Carluke named after him (Kirkhope Place).

Through all this voluntary activity, he made a great friend in Muriel Alcorn. They were good company for each other and were lucky to enjoy so much in common in his later years.

Despite being less mobile he still tried to keep up his interests and even took on a new one last year, the Scottish Community Alliance. In late 2010 he was diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer and moved to stay with his niece, Bett, and her family in Livingstone. He still provided wise counsel for those who dropped in and even a few laughs. He will be missed by the many he touched throughout his life and his legacy will live on.