Farewell to Helen Durnford
On July 7th 2022, members of QPARA and other friends gathered at the Bandstand in Queen’s Park to say farewell to Helen Durnford. Helen has been active in local issues for nearly 40 years and has co-ordinated the Queen’s Park Day team for about 15 years. She is moving to Wiltshire to be nearer family.
Flavia Rittner, Robin Sharp, Richard Gentry and Neil Nerva spoke, and there was a message from the Queens Park Day organising group, who were unable to attend. Helen responded with memories of her arriving in the area as a young teacher and thinking Salusbury Road looked “rough”.
Flavia presented Helen with a guide to Wiltshire and an envelope with the contributions from many friends.
Below are copies of the notes of two of those speeches (may differ slightly from what was said) and some photos.
Helen’s Hurrah! 7 June 2022
It is a sad day when we mark losing a treasure such as Helen from our community. At the same time, it is wonderful to be celebrating a litany of good deeds in this rather special place, Queen’s Park, which she has helped to make more special.
Looking back, Helen reckons that it was in 1984 when she began to work for Hopscotch that she first got stuck in. The issue was the amount of dog poo in the Park and the threat it posed to children. Since then she has never stopped. That’s 38 years of doing good in the public realm. It is remarkable by any standards, and we are all hugely in Helen’s debt.
Helen’s contributions have been so many, so constant and so multifarious that I feel rather like Leporello reciting his catalogue aria in Don Giovanni if I try to record them – though I hasten to add that anyone less like the Don than Helen is hard to imagine!
Another number is 770 – the number of emails from Helen still on my laptop. Among the vast array of subjects are: buses in Salusbury Road, unused and derelict phone boxes, the state of the Bakerloo Line, bike hangars, EV charging points, Brent’s recycling centre, E-scooters, school streets, the Falcon pub site, foodbanks, the vaccine bus, even the wildlife noticeboard. I could go on.
For those who have not seen them, Helen’s emails have two special characteristics: they are direct, calling a spade a spade, and display exceptional vigilance – but not vigilantism. Now that we don’t have a community policeman, Helen buzzing round on her electric bike (which morphed into a tricycle on Queen’s Park Day) knows more about what’s amiss in our streets than anyone.
Helen’s campaigns are legendary. Many have related to the Park about which she cares deeply and many to the quality and safety of our precious streetscape. Most have been taken up by QPARA. Park managers and Brent officers have come to know her tenacity and extreme common sense.
However in an age where opinions are shared at the drop of a hat on social media, what makes Helen stand out is that she is a doer, even more than a talker. The planters of olive trees and flowers in Salusbury Road add a splendid dimension to our local street-scene: Helen is surely the lynchpin of the team responsible? Queen’s Park Day brings pleasure to some 18,000 visitors from far and wide. For some 15 years Helen has co-ordinated the team who run it with unfussy aplomb.
Helen – we can’t pretend we won’t notice the huge gap you are going to leave, but we thank you from the bottom of our hearts and wish you all the joy in the world as you go.
Wiltshire, prenez garde!
QPARA member since 1973
Message from the Queen’s Park Day organising committee.
Unfortunately, Covid and family responsibilities prevented them from being able to present this themselves.
Queen’s Park Day has been taking place for, at best guess, as long as 30 years, and each Chair has put their own stamp on the event. Elaine, then Helen, saw fit to revert to a more traditional model of village fêtes. When Elaine stepped aside, the transition was seamless; Helen’s abiding interest in fêtes, festivals and fairs made heading up Queen’s Park Day seem like her destiny!
Donkeys were sourced from afar; prestige arena events booked; local dance schools and diminutive gymnasts showcased; and cakes, bakes and preserves became the stuff of sometimes fiercely-fought neighbourly rivalry. And what a formula for success it’s been, with an average of 15,000 people attending! Of course that reflects meticulous planning but, more importantly, it’s all driven by Helen’s own passion.
Officially, planning starts with a first meeting in January, but in reality Helen has already scoped and booked key arena acts by then, so that we don’t miss out. Much thorough discussion takes place, but although our committee structure is very ‘flat’, final decisions rest with Helen. When new ideas are fielded, we all wait with bated breath to hear what she thinks. And then we all agree!
On the day itself, Helen is in all places at once, delighting in her borrowed mobility scooter. Whatever careful diplomacy has been exercised beforehand – when applying for funding, say, or dealing with disgruntled stall applicants – on the day, no prisoners are taken. Helen’s trenchant practicality cuts through, sorting problems little and large. It is her finest hour!
Memories jostle. Helen’s “worst night of sleep ever” the year she looked after children’s entertainer Mr Alexander’s caravan; head-to-head tussles with pesky park keeper, Larry; properly made tea – milk in first – and homemade cake at our meetings. Best of all, though, has been the fun and friendship that has characterised our working together, and Helen has been the leader in that, too.
Is there a future for Queen’s Park Day without Helen? Well, she hasn’t absolutely said she’s not continuing from afar next year, but she has told us that Pewsey Carnival has been happening since 1898, and is an awfully big deal … Whatever happens, our loss will be Pewsey’s gain.
With much love from Andrea, Lesley, Carin, Jo and Simone
Click to enlarge photo. “Back” to return to this page.
Thanks to Richard Gentry for the photos.