Remembering Kevin Headley – the smile at the heart of Groundswell

On 5th May 2018 Kevin Headley, one of Groundswell’s much-loved volunteers and great friend died suddenly. Kevin was one of our Homeless Health Peer Advocates (HHPA), and after graduating from the training in April 2015 spent time using his experiences to help currently homeless people engage with healthcare services. Most recently Kevin trained as a peer journalist on ‘From the Ground Up’, a collaboration between Groundswell and The Pavement Magazine. He was part of a team who were reporting on the issues that matter to people experiencing homelessness and working to identify solutions.

Kevin Headly at his Graduations

Here at Groundswell we have so many stories and fond memories of Kevin:

Staff and peers have been reflecting on these as we come to terms with his passing. We know Kevin touched so many lives and was involved in so much, here we capture what this special man meant to Groundswell.

“The work we do is noisy, messy and chaotic. In the midst of that Kevin was always a little patch of un-rushed calm. Despite the fact that he was always in the middle of organising hundreds of things, and was always surrounded by piles of paper, laptops, cameras and bags, he was always there in the middle smiling and chilled. He was an immensely kind person, very warm and gentle, who always had time for people. Most of all I will miss his wonderful beaming smile – whatever rubbish he was going through, himself, or with the people he worked with, he always smiled. When he walked in a room the first thing you saw was a sharp hat and a big smile.” – Kate Bowgett, Director of Advocacy, Groundswell

“Kevin had a wonderful cheeky laugh that made me smile, he was a unique individual who will be so very sorely missed. It was a pleasure knowing Kevin and he made a massive influence to the many, many individuals lucky enough to know him.”

“I joined Groundswell as a volunteer and completed the six week HHPA training and was finally let loose in the real world! For my very first health in-reach session I joined Kevin to shadow him. I was so nervous – Kevin met me beforehand and instantly his calm, happy laid back energy put me at ease. He was so friendly and easy to be around – the clients loved him and he made everything look easy. I thought I would just be watching him that day but he empowered me to get stuck in making smoothies, chatting to clients and filling out forms – from that day on I never looked back! That was a couple of years ago and I am so glad that I got to know Kevin better. His love of the arts, his passion for social change and his street warrior heart are what I will miss and remember the most, and of course that million watt smile.” – Katie Langford, Resources Manager, Groundswell

“I first met Kevin on the ‘From the Ground Up’ project in 2017, and since this time we continued to collaborate on stories for the Pavement magazine about issues which currently affect homeless people. My first impression of Kevin will remain my lasting one, his big smile and his bigger heart. Although he was constantly busy working on new and evolving projects he always made the time to share his knowledge, warmth and energy with so many others.
Favorite Kevin Quote: When I was homeless I didn’t lose everything, in fact I gained more than I lost, anything that I lost was material things and irrelevant to my life. I did find a connection with people, it’s just humanity isn’t it?” – Kevin Headley”

“Wonderful Kevin – full of stories about Hackney Wick, London life and ideas for the Pavement. The most recent issue even has his new page in it – the problem page, done with a light but practical touch. When I last met him at the Pavement April meet-up, at Groundswell, Kevin had some very funny stories about a Russian Man who features. I am so pleased I was able to show Kevin the proofs and know he liked the look of his idea come to fruition.
Of course there’s also his talent at art, something we’d loved having in the Pavement (see 113/March-April) and we were hoping he would also be at the Behaving Badly art show this autumn. I will always think of Kevin wearing his big hanging ears hat, and I will give him a secret thumbs up whenever I’m at Hackney Wick (which is more often than you might think thanks to a West Ham fan family). It was such a short knowing, but I so appreciate how welcoming Kevin was to the Pavement’s new editor and also what a wonderful advocate he was for the Pavement through his peer reporter stint on ‘From The Ground Up’ 2017.” – Nicola Baird, the Pavement editor

“I knew Kevin from the time I joined Groundswell. Holding a conversation with him is relaxing. He is confident of what he talks about and a good listener. Kevin always looked relaxed and at ease with life. I have never seen him stressed, panicked or angry. He is always jovial but observant. In my last interaction with him recently I thanked him for a job well done and he told me it meant so much to him. Very humbling, he will be greatly missed.”

“A gentle, generous funny and selfless man. Always seemed ready to think about others ahead of himself.  Stoic and unflappable. Unworried and unhurried.”

“It’s so difficult to find adequate words to describe Kevin. A lovely, kind hearted, generous man. He would at times notice people on the streets who were ill and either take them to the GP himself or arrange for someone else at Groundswell to do it. I’ll miss his smile, the twinkle in his eye, the willingness to help and put others before himself. I’ll miss his stories but above all I’ll miss asking him a question and him taking me on a bewildering tour of other topics and never returning to the question I asked him. He was an exceptional man and losing him is a complete shock and very difficult to take in. I was deeply saddened when I heard the news.”

“When I think about Kev I can’t help but smile. He was his own person and that heart did a lot of work. Big Love.” – Tom Allen

“I was very sorry to hear about Kevin. Condolences to his family, friends and all who knew him.”

“When Kevin was alive he was a very good person, he always tried all his best to make sure he helped people out anywhere anytime any day. He was so nice to people I am very sorry for him to go too soon. May God accept him in a better place, Amen.”

“I may not have been very close with him (met twice), but on both occasions his personality shone through and he had a spirit that endeared him to everybody in the room. A lovely person and he will be sorely missed.”

“Kevin never failed to bring a smile to my face, mainly because he always had one on his. He had an incredible ability to understand the world and people around him and share love and compassion with all the people he met. I’m going to miss the times when he would come in the office and share his stories (sometimes very long stories) about all the incredible things he was doing to create a better world. There is a big gap in the world now that Kevin is gone, and I hope that everyone who knew him can try to be a little bit ‘more Kevin’ to fill that gap.” – Martin Burrows, Director of Research and Campaigns, Groundswell

“I had the very honest pleasure of training Kevin throughout the HHPA training and of managing him for a time following his graduation. Kevin always had such a relaxed and laid back demeanour that I sometimes found it difficult to keep track of his movements but that smile of his always allowed me to remember his kind and genuine nature and it’s utterly impossible to be cross with a man like Kevin. I was aware from conversations with him of some of the events he was creating and other projects he was involved with but sadly, it wasn’t till his passing and hearing tales from others that I realised the magnitude of his contribution.

His charitability knew no bounds, he would frustrate me beyond belief with his insistence of going beyond what I had asked him to do to assist our clients. If I were to tell him he couldn’t (as a homeless health peer advocate) assist a client to a benefits appointment or something similar, I would invariably discover shortly thereafter that he had taken off his Groundswell ID and done it anyway. He did as much as he could for as many as he could and I only wish I had known then what I know now. A talented man with a heart bigger than most, taken far too soon and will be missed by so many, including me.” – Sharon Clint, Project Manager, Groundswell

“Kevin will be sorely missed by so many people. He was a big and important part of Groundswell and made a huge contribution to its work. I didn’t know Kevin for very long, but enjoyed talking with him in recent months. He was always polite, intelligent and cheerful and I learnt much from him. A great loss.” – Lynn Young, Vice Chair, Groundswell