Free Spirit: Penny Walker

Penny has been so active about making the world a more friendly, safe and inclusive place to be that her contribution to a future world of love and peace cannot be under-estimated.

Here are just a few articles about her life:

20 June 2019: Guardian: Every night a house in Coventry opens its doors to the city’s homeless asylum seekers By Loraine Masiya Mponela

It’s quarter past eight in the evening, and a small crowd gathers outside a row of terraced houses on a residential road in Coventry. The air is filled with voices from all over the world. Most people have hung around the neighbourhood all day waiting for the shelter to open. On busy nights, some will be turned away.

Once inside, everyone is allocated one of the compact bedding areas. It is cramped, tense and there’s no such thing as privacy, but most have no choice – it is the only safe, warm place to sleep that night.

For almost twenty years, Coventry Night Shelter has been offering emergency temporary housing to those caught up in the UK’s immigration system. Most have had their asylum application rejected, and while they prepare to appeal, have no legal right to housing or benefits payments. Without friends or family to rely on, they are effectively homeless.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/the-guardian-foundation/2019/jun/20/a-place-of-refuge-and-hope


26 May 2021: Coventry Observer: OBITUARY – Pair pay tribute to ‘inspirational’ Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre founder Penny Walker

PEACE activist and campaigner Penny Walker was the ‘inspirational’ founder of Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre and Coventry Peace House.

Read more here: https://coventryobserver.co.uk/news/obituary-pair-pay-tribute-to-inspirational-coventry-refugee-and-migrant-founder-penny-walker/


ICN – Independent Catholic News: Obituary – Penny Walker by Richard Johnson, Leicester CND

Penny Walker, who has died in Highfields, Leicester, aged 70 after a 15-month battle with cancer was mum, grandmother and extra-ordinary campaigner for non-violence: sustainability and peace in South Warwickshire, Coventry and Leicester. Every project Penny started was ahead of popularity, but each would be mainstream eventually. What Penny did, said “special” from an early age.

Penny grew up in Lindsey, Suffolk, her father was a conscientious objector and teacher, her mother a secretary. Penny said she “wanted to help people” and needed to experience life to understand what this meant. To avoid university, at age 17, she went to Gretna Green with a friend, and married, so that she could not be made to go home.

Between 17 and 47 years Penny was amongst other things a wife, mother, an occupational therapist aid in mental health, a house parent at a residential school, and also gained a diploma in person centred counselling. Penny was an early activist with the green party. Her family travelled overland to India for nine months. And in 1996 spent focused time visiting communities around England in order to understand “what community meant” – this ultimately led to the creation of Coventry Peace House.

In 1997, age 47, Penny lived for a year in a caravan outside the Alvis tank factory Coventry to witness for non-violence and hopes for alternatives uses of the technology (weapons made into ploughshares.). In 1998 Penny set up a sustainable housing co-operative from five tiny terraced houses on a main road – progressively raising money to make the block more usable and one. This was and still is Coventry Peace House. In 2003 Coventry Peace House Education Trust began – using environmental and inclusion projects. Coventry cycling centre opened in 2004 teaching how to maintain your bike and selling recycled bikes to local cyclists, a “Community Space” in 2005 giving space for a night shelter for “destitute refugees” – welcoming twenty different people every night, eleven months of the year. Coventry Peace house delivered community groups, migrant support, exhibitions, workshops, writing, films and discussions. Coventry Peace House’s work included statutory organisations – council, police and health so that Coventry Peace House was hugely known and respected for such a small organisation. Penny also worked with her neighbours – litter picking – canal art to prevent vandalism – summer picnics for all – bring and share in local parks. Penny brought a van and developed a vegetarian food making and delivery service.

In the early 2000s Penny found the back of a shop in Hillfields and made second hand clothes available to refugees newly arrived in Coventry and set up Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre which in 2020 helped over 4,000 different individuals. Penny truly lived her values out in her life. People noticed her compassion, positivity, energy, and commitment. Penny led and helped Coventry to be the welcoming city for refugees and asylum seekers that Coventry is.

Penny retired from Coventry in 2011 and moved to Highfields in Leicester, and early on wrote or edited a number of books including; We are south Highfields, Statelessness, Uncovering Resistance, Highfields in World War one and conscientious objectors in World War one in Leicester. Penny also edited a booklet on examples of peace-making, based on every-day and personal stories. She organised the laying of a stone and the burying of a memory casket to conscientious objectors in Leicester’s Peace Walk and led local campaigning against militarism, including confronting the army’s recruitment campaigns for 16-year-olds in Leicester. Penny was an organiser for a national campaign against armed drones and chaired the East Midlands regional organisation for Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. She was arrested protesting – trying to stop armed drones bombing in Afghanistan. Penny worked with the Afghan community in Leicester and with peace activists with links in Kabul. She organised a May Pole for peace in Castle Gardens. Penny not only had so many good ideas and was so creative in her activist thinking she also made all these events actually happen, sometimes by raising money, but always by enthusing and co-ordinating and encouraging others, by leading from the front.

Penny Walker born 23/10/1950 Died 21/05/21 Is survived by her children Mel Read and Charlie Walker and grandchildren Brooke and Lilly Read. She will be greatly missed.