1963 was one of the coldest winters on record in the UK. While the rest of us were huddling round our coal fires, some concerned young residents of Sheen and Barnes were growing ever more worried about the plight of older people who were trapped indoors by what became known as the ‘Big Freeze’. Getting together with friends the result was FiSH, a group of volunteers who were prepared to go out and give very practical help to anyone who needed it. It was to be one of the first such groups in the country and had been based on a similar scheme in Headington, Oxfordshire.
Prominent in that initiating group of self-help pioneers were Mary-Lee and Conway Berners-Lee. They both played a significant part in the birth of FiSH, setting up the all-important helpline with which people in need could contact FiSH. Their son, Tim Berners-Lee, who was just eight at the time, some years later famously gave birth to the World Wide Web which is, after all, just a helpline on a global scale!
In these early years, FiSH in East Sheen and FiSH in Barnes were organised separately. Both were heavily supported by the local churches and relied entirely on volunteers and a helpline to coordinate the services they could provide. Legendary among helpline operators was Doris Bown, a housebound MS sufferer, who was happy to coordinate the FiSH volunteer network from the helpline, diverted by the GPO to her living room phone. In Barnes the line was originally manned by Marigold Makepeace. At the time giving lifts to hospital and doctors’ appointments took up a large part of volunteer time while other volunteers helped individual clients with shopping or doing gardening or DIY jobs around the home.
By 1972 Tim Dewhurst had become the Chairman in Barnes, ably supported by a group of trustees including Viera Gray who always offered her wisdom and careful guidance. Later the residential care home in Ferry Road was named in her honour. Any form of help needed was responded to by a band of volunteers, many of whom still live in Barnes, who have happily helped their neighbours since the 80s. When Sunday roasts were a central part of more people’s lives FiSH had a rota of “dinner ladies” who shared their family lunch with those who no longer cooked for themselves.
In 1984 the Barnes organiser suddenly resigned and trustee Veronica Schroter suggested a temporary solution agreeing to run the organisation from the office in her home. This evolved into a 16-year term!