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Norman Beddington obituary

Norman Beddington converted his north London house into an eco-home, and in 2014 started Haringey Labour Climate Action Photograph: from family/none

Norman Beddington converted his north London house into an eco-home, and in 2014 started Haringey Labour Climate Action Photograph: from family/none© Photograph: from family/none

My friend Norman Beddington, who has died aged 75, was a pioneer of environmental and social justice projects. He saw how old buildings could be repurposed to provide opportunities for young people.

In the 1970s, he bought an old factory to start Kingsgate Workshops in West Hampstead, north London, still going strong as an affordable workspace for artists, makers and designers.

He then established North London Vehicle Training Workshop for both women and men in what had been a service centre close to Finchley Road and Frognal station. One of the best instructors was Anna Puttick, later revealed as Astrid Proll in exile from the German Red Army Fraction. This was followed by Coldharbour Works in Brixton.

Norman and I met in 1971, through a mutual friend and founder of the radical science and technology magazine Undercurrents, Godfrey Boyle. When Norman had dreams of establishing a micro-brewery before the technology existed, I helped him instead to set up a real ale off-licence in Kentish Town.

Born in Albury, Hertfordshire, Norman was the son of Patience (nee Berry) and Richard Beddington, a farmer. His family was of the Anglo-Jewish upper crust, his grandfather Edward Conservative chairman of Hertfordshire council.

Sent away to boarding school aged seven, first to Lockers Park prep, then Rugby school aged 13, Norman missed home greatly. In adult life it took him a while to resolve the difficulties. On our extended walks together, we would often talk about the forces that formed us.

After studying history at Bristol University, graduating in 1969, Norman joined Lambeth council as a planning officer, at a time when whole streets in the south London borough were being demolished to build new estates. Norman argued the case for conservation and rehabilitation, both in his role, and outside of work, in the magazine Community Action. He also campaigned to save Covent Garden and Liverpool Street station.

Working at Pimlico Neighbourhood Aid Centre from 1975, Norman saw inequalities at first hand and wanted to do something about them. After moving to Islington he became a Labour councillor (1983-90) and initiated a kerbside recycling service for the borough.

Gaining a master’s in environmental studies at East London University in 1995, Norman worked for a period as a consultant for an EU taskforce set up to promote environmental considerations following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Norman’s first trip was to Poland, to share initiatives with municipal architects accustomed to blocks of flats with one heating system and no thermostats.

He married Charlotte Thompson, who worked for the armed forces charity SSAFA, in 1995. In 2008 they moved to Haringey and converted a house into an eco-home with solar panels, super insulation and rainwater harvesting. He started Haringey Labour Climate Action in 2014, working closely with his MP, Catherine West.

Norman maintained a strong sense of family and a huge circle of friends. A great traveller, cyclist, gardener, allotment owner, and jazz fan, above all he never stopped working for his causes and the community.

Charlotte survives him, along with his daughter, Alice, from a previous relationship with Victoria Philipson, his grandson, Otto, and a sister, Rose. 

Story by Anthony Stoll: The Guardian:

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