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Roddy Kentish obituary | World news

Category: Political Protests,Politics

My husband, Roddy Kentish, who has died aged 87, was one of the “Mangrove Nine” arrested after a 1970 protest against police raids at the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill, west London. In the subsequent trial at the Old Bailey all were acquitted after two of the nine, Darcus Howe and Althea Jones-Lecointe, defended themselves by arguing that the prosecution had wrongly conflated black radicalism with criminal intent. The judge found evidence of racial hatred on both sides, and for the first time racial discrimination by police was acknowledged in UK law.

After the trial Roddy fought for decent housing conditions in the area, played a key role in the establishment of the Notting Hill children’s carnival, and set up a project to train disaffected young people in a trade.

Roddy Kentish and Cardinal Basil Hume at the opening of Westway workshops in west London
Roddy Kentish and Cardinal Basil Hume at the opening of Westway workshops in west London

Born Rothwell Kentish in Kingston, Jamaica, to Alexander Kentish and Clara Hill, a domestic worker, Roddy helped to look after his younger siblings, so his schooling was erratic. Yet he was always interested in politics, and as a teenager would read the newspapers aloud in the local barbershop.

After training as a fitter-welder in Kingston, he came to London in 1957 to work, living in various lodgings before being allocated a Notting Hill Housing Trust flat in Powis Square. In 1961 he had a daughter, Sophia, with Sylvia Webb. The couple later separated.

Following the Mangrove trial, Roddy became more active in local politics. He joined protests against the wholesale housing demolition to make way for the Westway flyover, and Rachman-style landlords. He secured derelict housing to run children’s activities, which were the foundation for the children’s carnival. From 1975 he was part of the carnival development committee. He was also involved in the renovation of the Tabernacle building for community use.

We met at a film festival I organised in 1974, where he introduced a film about the Mangrove trial; we married the following year. Together we began an apprenticeship scheme for unemployed local young people, with older community tradesmen as mentors. “What they need is a ‘sense of belong’,” Roddy declared in his Jamaican syntax.

We ran the Teamwork Training scheme – opened by Cardinal Basil Hume – for five years, building and maintaining woodwork, electronics and mechanics workshops under the flyover, and employing 40 people. Roddy displayed great charisma and focus in caring for the young people, but the growing administrative burden, along with his failing health, led to the closure of the scheme in 1980. The buildings and equipment were handed over to the council, despite being built by community labour.

After this Roddy worked as a car mechanic and, being an excellent cook, did catering for friends and family.

At the Jamaican “nine night” party held at the Tabernacle after his death, people asked how they could revitalise such effort and enthusiasm. A new generation seems to have found inspiration in the courage of the Mangrove Nine.

Roddy is survived by me, our sons, Joseph and Martin, Sophia, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.


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