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Thursday, 14 June 2012

OBITUARY: Mervin Bentham was driving force behind Camden’s first multiracial youth club


Camden New Journal



Mervin Bentham 'always put the community before himself and was disciplined and determined in whatever he did'

Published: 14 June, 2012
by ANGELA COBBINAH

WHEN Mervin Bentham, who has died aged 84, came to England from Barbados in 1958 he intended to become a doctor. But newly married and short of money, he had to abandon his studies and take up more lowly work at Mount Pleasant sorting office in Clerkenwell.

But a sense of service honed during his work as a churchwarden in Christ Church, Barbados, never left him and, quietly and methodically, he spent his life trying to make the world a better place.

After settling in Countess Road, Tufnell Park, with his wife and baby daughter, he threw himself into the anti-racism campaigns of the 1960s, joining the recently-formed Camden Committee for Community Relations, where he would rise to become an executive member.

Particularly concerned about the lack of job opportunities for black youngsters, he helped set up Camden Youth Workshop in York Way, King’s Cross, where he taught maths.

He was also a driving force behind Kentish Town Youth Club, which moved to a purpose-built centre in Hadley Street in 1971 after starting out at Our Lady Help of the Christians’ church hall near his home some years earlier.

Although still working for the Post Office, Mervin studied youth work in his spare time so he could more fully contribute to the youth club, heralded as the first multiracial centre of its kind in Camden.

In 1975, he became vice-chairman of the Afro Caribbean Organisation, which operated from Gray’s Inn Road, King’s Cross.

One of its early achievements was the Paul Robeson House, a hostel for homeless black young people in Woodchurch Road, West Hampstead, a once-derelict squat that members took over and renovated.

“Mervin made a tremendous contribution during these years,” remembers former Camden youth worker Winston Pinder, who worked with him on all the key campaigns.

“He always put the community before himself and was disciplined and determined in whatever he did, without making a great noise about it.”

After rising through the ranks to become a supervisor, Mervin took early retirement from the Post Office to devote more time to his grandchildren.

But as ever he was drawn to the wider community, working once again as a churchwarden, for Christ Church in Crouch End, where he now lived, a role that saw him visiting the elderly and doing errands for them to the end of his days.

“Dad was a wonderful father and grandfather,” says daughter Rose.

“But he wanted to make the world a better place for everyone and if he saw something was wrong he tried to make it right.”

Mervin died in his sleep at his home earlier this month.

He leaves a wife, Anita, daughter Rose and three grandchildren.

His funeral is at 11am on Wednesday at Christ Church in Crouch End Hill, Crouch End.

He will be buried in Christ Church, Barbados.

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