Obituary: Richard Crossley OBE

richard july 20131

The first chief executive of the National Tenant Voice, set up by Labour but abolished by the Coalition Government shortly after the last election, has died of the rare peritoneal cancer aged 64. We were friends for 42 years.

Having worked at the front-line of community development for his entire career, Richard was seconded from the Priority Estates Project (PEP) to the Communities and Local Government Department to work on neighbourhoods policy before being asked to project manage the setting up the new National Tenant Voice (NTV), designed to make social tenants much more influential in the development of policy at local and national level.

Richard’s networking and people skills – honed on estates around the country – were crucial in negotiating the minefield of civil service rules and procedures, and getting the Treasury and Cabinet Office behind the project – a quango run by tenants wasn’t a concept they entirely understood. Richard made it happen but he also made sure that the tenants’ movement stayed in firm control of the project. Following its establishment, which involved bringing together tenants from all over the country into a National Tenant Council, Richard was appointed as the first chief executive. Regrettably, he was hardly in post before the incoming Coalition Minister, Grant Shapps, abolished the NTV and pushed tenants out into the policy wilderness again.

Richard’s career was unusual because he had no intention of climbing the greasy pole. He loved working with tenants on the ground and realising the untapped potential of community leaders in some of the country’s most deprived communities. His first job, a rare step for a civil engineering graduate from Nottingham University, was with Cambridge Cyrenians, followed by a four year stint doing community work in North Paddington. Then on to Stonebridge Estate in Brent, setting up the Charteris Neighbourhood Management Co-op in Islington and the tenant management scheme on Belle Isle Estate in Leeds (both still successful after 20-30 years). He then worked for PEP until his Government secondment, helping and advising tenants on estates all over the north of England.

Richard’s decision to leave London and return to Yorkshire in 1984 was a watershed moment for him. He was a real, but not stereotypical, son of Yorkshire – West Yorkshire to be exact. Born and raised in Halifax, the son of a monumental mason, the area was in his blood. From there he could easily reach his beloved Yorkshire Dales and even the Lake District to indulge his other passion – walking the fells. He settled in Leeds with his partner Jane Williams, conveniently almost within touching distance of the cricket ground.

richard july 2013

In Headingley Richard and Jane set about building a new community spirit, with a range of projects on the go at any one time. With others they formed the hugely successful Headingley Development Trust which now runs a series of projects including HEART, a large social enterprise centre packed with activities. Amongst other things, Richard loved organising the film club, with the selection of films decided by the members.

In 2012 Richard achieved one of his life ambitions, to go trekking in the Himalayas. His high point was Gokyo Ri, a peak 5200m above sea level commanding an astonishing view of the Everest range and much more. To get there he had to endure snow, severe temperatures of -20c and the effects of altitude. He took it all in his stride and, as a regular runner (having competed, for example, in the Great North Run) he seemed to be at the peak of his fitness.Richard Himalayas

Within a year of the trek Richard had fallen ill, had a bowel operation and then been diagnosed with a rare and incurable cancer of the peritoneum. Intensive treatments followed at ‘Jimmy’s’ hospital in Leeds and the Christie in Manchester, but, as his health declined, Richard launched a new adventure. He started writing the most extraordinary blog, detailing his illness and treatment, but also his reflections on life and death: he was a humanist and did not believe in the afterlife. He praised the wonderful staff of the NHS and reflected on his career and housing policy, and on his love of the dales and mountains. He criticised the language of cancer: I’m not battling an external force called cancer, he would say, I’m living with it: when I die, it doesn’t win, it dies too. He wrote movingly and inspiringly, completing his last entry days before his death.

Richard’s blog stands as a testament to a uniquely strong and emotionally literate person, full of compassion and empathy but with the competitive streak of an activist. A long-term supporter of CND, his politics were a mix of red and green, but his distinctive contribution was as the unwavering advocate of much-maligned social tenants. He had an enduring belief in the ability of ordinary people to work collectively to take greater control over their lives and environments.

In January 2014 Richard received an OBE for services to neighbourhoods and tenants. It was a just award, even for a committed republican. But it took a superhuman effort (by him and his family) to come to London for the Investiture in March 2014. Despite his now extreme ill-health and weakness, Richard refused a wheelchair and walked the whole event, taking the family for a celebratory coffee and cake afterwards. He even managed to talk to Prince Charles about the advantages of tenant management.

Richard OBE and Jane at Kempe

Richard’s wish was to spend his final days at home, which he achieved with the loving care of his partner Jane, daughter Emma and son Alex, and many other family and friends.

Richard Crossley OBE, born 11 January 1950, died 21 April 2014.


Steve Hilditch

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10 Responses to Obituary: Richard Crossley OBE

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  4. Michelle Reid says:

    What a beautifully written tribute to an accomplished and lovely human being. Thanks Steve.

  5. Tim Morton says:

    I’m sitting at Trafford Hall ( the National Communities Resource Centre reading this and writing this response. One of Richard’s tasks while at PEP was to visit Denmark with Trevor Bell to report on the Danish tenant training centre that underpinned their co-operative and tenant controlled housing. The ideas and report that they brought back provided some of the evidence for Anne Power to work tirelessly to bring into being a wonderful resource for tenants and community groups that flourishes to this day

    Together with Peter Bevington and Trevor Bell, Richard also developed the initial ideas for a Right To Manage that was taken on in part by the government and.became a secure tenant’s right in 1994.

    Richard was person who made a difference.

  6. Chris Outram says:

    A beautifully written and thoroughly deserved tribute. Thank you Steve

  7. Alan Lazarus says:

    I remember some great and optimistic days in Westminster and Paddington CND, with Richard in his white protective suit. Always cheerful and inspiring.

  8. Tony Herrmann says:

    What a beautiful and moving tribute. Thank you Steve, for capturing Richard’s commitment and excellence to working with communities and tenants as well as his deeply thoughtful humanity. I worked closely with him when he joined me in Belle Isle and it was one of the most creative and enjoyable working partnerships I have experienced. His positive approach to life whether empowering tenants, watching cricket or climbing mountains was always fun and sometimes inspiring.

  9. Phil Morgan says:

    Richard Crossley was a lovely guy. He combined rare qualities of both commitment to the cause of tenant involvement and a human touch in all that he did. For someone working without and then within Government he showed great patience.

    I worked closely with him on the creation of the National Tenant Voice and he would have made a worthy Chief Executive if it had been allowed to progress. The creation of the his blog outlining his illness was typical of his stoical approach to life. I will miss him but know that many many others will too.

  10. dnmufc says:

    Let’s hope the NTV can be resurrected if a Labour Government wins next year as a legacy to RC. Your obituary has done him proud.

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