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Handsworth hero passes away

HAPPY DAYS: John Holcroft (second right) with wife Pauline receives a community award in 2011 at Birmingham’s Annual Sports and Cultural Day from brothers Sted (far left) and Terence Wallen, who organise the annual event

POPULAR MENTOR and community activist John Holcroft, who guided hundreds of young people to find their right path in life, has died at the age of 68 following a long battle with kidney disease.

With his wide smile and his ‘hey kidder’ catch phrase, Lancashire-born Holcroft was known universally as ‘a doer’ who united all communities in multi-cultural Handsworth, Birmingham where he worked for almost five decades.

During his packed funeral at St Teresa’s Catholic Church, many paid tribute to the man who took them under his wing and encouraged them to stay on the right track.

Holcroft launched and ran many community projects in Handsworth – from care homes, where he met his wife Pauline, to St Teresa’s multi-cultural centre in Holyhead Road, the charity Law, Leisure and Learning and his final project which involved converting a derelict building in Villa Road into a thriving community base.

A deeply religious man, Holcroft set a fine example of loving and supporting his fellow man, which was remarked upon by the two priests who led the service, Father Sean McTernan and Father Simon Hall.

Nathan ‘Skippa’ Dennis, who was supported by Holcroft as a teenager, and is now a youth advocate, said: “John was one of the few people who practically demonstrated community cohesion.

“I always remember him saying that the name Christ stands for Christian, Hindu, Rasta, Islam, Sikh, Together. That was John’s philosophy.”

Errol Lawson, who is now a pastor, said he first met Holcroft when he went to St Teresa’s community centre to do some community service.

“As a 19-year-old I was way off track, but John sorted me out and transformed my life and I know so many people who can say exactly the same. Now I’m a pastor, I recognise that John believed in me and told me I could do something with myself.”

Terence Wallen, a trained clinical practitioner, who has devoted much of his life to supporting those who are HIV positive, had a similar story.

He said: “With his lovely big smile, John helped many who had absent fathers and showed us all how to leave our negative lives behind us and come good. I can honestly say this man changed my life and words cannot express how much I miss him.”

Holcroft, from Hebden Bridge, had four children and six grandchildren. His only daughter, Letitia, read a poem dedicated to her dad, which had been written for them both by his late sister Jean Holcroft.

He bore his illness courageously, never letting his constant hospital trips for dialysis interfere with his community work.

Mourners at the funeral included Britain’s first black heavyweight boxing champion Bunny Johnson, who used to train in the boxing gym at St Teresa’s community centre.

One of Holcroft’s oldest friends Roger Nicholls, said: “John was a giver and he helped to build so many bridges between communities in Handsworth. That is what made him unique.”

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