Obituary: Robin Mabey, Labour stalwart determined to provide social housing for those most in need
Jeremy Corbyn pays tribute to environmentally-conscious campaigner
16 June, 2017 — By Emily Finch
Robin Mabey with wife Christine at the London Olympics site. The couple met when they worked together for London County Council
WHEN Robin Mabey and his wife were out campaigning for Labour in the late 1960s they witnessed rats running rampant in a Barnsbury estate. The moment inspired Mr Mabey’s life-long work towards fair and accessible social housing for those most in need.
Described as a “stalwart of the Islington North Labour Party” by Jeremy Corbyn, Mr Mabey was a keen activist and spent polling day in 2015 volunteering for the party with his wife in Highbury East.
He died on Sunday May 7, at University College Hospital after a long illness. He was 81.
Born to Charles and Judy in Goodmayes, he spent large parts of his childhood in Shropshire after being evacuated to a farm during the Second World War. The outdoors became his classroom and he discovered the importance of green spaces. This passion later became part of his work as an environmentally-minded planning inspector and a committee member of the Highbury Fields Association.
Mr Mabey with the Islington Gardeners trophy he won for his back garden in 2013
Before graduating from Durham University, where he was a keen rower, Mr Mabey was sent to Kenya as part of his national service. While there, he didn’t encounter any Mau Mau fighters but was chased through the forest by buffaloes. He saw huge inequality in Africa and was drawn to the Labour Party – differing from his family who were all staunchly Conservative.
His talent for planning and organisation became clear during his second term in Kenya between 1959 and 1962, when he was able to trade cabbages for much-needed footballs to keep his idle fellow soldiers occupied. He was told by his superiors that there were no surplus funds but by the time he left the service, there was a shed full of footballs for his colleagues.
At 28, he worked as a researcher for London County Council where he met his wife Christine who sat opposite him in the office. In 1967 he joined the Civil Service and he was awarded a CBE in 1996 for his services to the Department of the Environment, a year after his retirement.
Mr Mabey went from Labour campaigner to Islington councillor in 1971 where he spent two terms as the housing committee chairman, driving the purchase of private houses to be used as social housing. He was instrumental in turning Milner Square, near the Almeida theatre, into affordable homes for ordinary working people.
Mr Mabey, who was evacuated to a Shropshire farm during the Second World War, later became a planning inspector and a committee member of the Highbury Fields Association
Mr Mabey’s former colleague in the council, Patsy Greening, described him as “forceful and straightforward, never taking part in silly internal politics”. Green Party councillor for Highbury East, Caroline Russell, who worked with Mr Mabey for 17 years, praised his dogged determination in checking up issues that affected residents.
Speaking ahead of last week’s general election, Mr Corbyn said: “He was committed to the community, the environment and a stalwart of the Islington North Labour Party.
“An election will not be quite the same without turning up at Drayton Park School finding Robin taking numbers on behalf of our party.”
Following his retirement from the civil service, Mr Mabey became chairman of a large housing association, Circle 33, now known as Circle Housing Group, and Groundwork, a community organisation which champions green spaces.
As a keen gardener he won awards for his back garden in Highbury. He particularly enjoyed growing vegetables and took pride in using them in his cooking. He was overjoyed at coming first in 2013’s Islington Gardeners back garden competition and his red geraniums continue to bloom on his kitchen windowsill.
A memorial service for Robin Mabey took place on May 24 at Marylebone Crematorium. He leaves behind his wife Christine, 76, and his three children, Kate, Lucy and Tom.