Aileen Hammond obituary: 'Force of nature' and social justice campaigner
John Saynor, Judith Gubbay and Phil Turner
- Credit: John Saynor
Former Camden councillor and Haverstock Hill resident Aileen Hammond has died aged 82.
She was force of nature and a passionate believer in social justice who was never afraid to speak out or take practical action.
A feisty former Belsize councillor, Aileen worked for the Labour Party, of which she was a lifelong member, and for the Co-operative Party. She was also involved with Camden Civic Society, the Safer Neighbourhoods Panel and the Belsize Society.
“She was not aligned with one faction or another, but was just someone who wanted to make her area a better and fairer place, making use of her skills as a transport economist,” her friend John Saynor said.
Aileen was an energetic campaigner and she frequently offered her flat for election campaigning, even when she wasn’t a candidate.
Aileen always did what she thought was right, and never shied away from telling the truth, even where it was inconvenient.
She found herself in controversy when the council proposed to close two small libraries, including the much-loved Belsize Library. She joined forces with other “library rebels” and voted against the proposed closures.
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This meant defying the party whip, but she survived to continue fighting for her constituents. “Aileen and the rebels were right and I was wrong,” said Phil Turner, a member of the council’s leadership at the time. Both libraries survived.
In recent years, her belief in the vital importance of education led Aileen to initiate and run for ten years a very successful children’s competition to improve the environment on behalf of the Camden Civic Society.
At the Safer Neighbourhoods Board, she spoke against some of the more arbitrary aspects of policing in the borough and was an advocate of fairness in the application of stop and search policies.
Aileen was an active and effective member of Camden Co-operative Party for many years and it is a measure of the high regard with which she was held that, only two days before her death, she was re-elected as chair in her absence through her illness, a post she had held since 2015.
She wanted to make people’s lives, particularly the dispossessed, the poor and the oppressed - and even more particularly children - better. She will be irreplaceable to the party but we will go on remembering her leadership, her kindliness and her humanity. Hers was without any doubt “a life well lived”.
Proud of her south London working class roots (her father, a second-world war Burma veteran, had been a bus conductor in Catford and worked for London Transport for 43 years), Aileen moved to Belsize Park after gaining a degree in economics and philosophy from Bristol University.
Her career as an economist took her around Britain and further afield to Luxembourg, Nigeria and Indonesia.
Aileen’s pleasures were many, from tramping over Hampstead Heath to evenings at the Proms followed by good food and lively talk.
She loved to entertain, often hosting local groups in her energetically dug and planted garden. One friend recalled accompanying her on numerous outings, to the theatre, the opera and to lectures at the Royal Institution and similar societies, together illustrating the breadth of her cultural and intellectual interests.
“Aileen was fun to be with, and never boring, with all sorts of insights into life,” said Bristol fellow student Vivien Benjamin.
Aileen died peacefully on February 19 in University College Hospital from the cancer and complications that she first faced 25 years ago. She is survived by two cousins, David Harrison and Gill Ereira.
“I hadn’t spent much time with her since childhood, but when I did, I could see how intelligent she was,” David said.
“She had a forceful personality, but could engage anyone in conversation and find subjects in common with them.”
Aileen’s friend Jeremy Berkoff said: “She faced her illness with bravery and spirit under the difficult present conditions, and I will miss her greatly.”
St Pancras and Somers Town councillor Roger Robinson said: “She worked hard and well as a local councillor and was a very lovely and hardworking community person too. She was always friendly and helpful and cared for our worries.
“May she rest in peace with our thoughts with her.”