South London’s Hidden Heroes: #5, William and Jean

Exceptionally youthful, William’s now trying to crack Russian and Arabic - at 91 no less

Think ahead to when you’ll be eighty or ninety. What do you want to have achieved? For many of us, it’s finding a partner to live through life with, travel the world and to have had a satisfying career.

Meet William and Jean: two south Londoners who created a partnership encompassing all three of those aims and have enjoyed life to the full in doing so.

Too often we’re fed images of older people as stationary passengers sitting, waiting for someone to help them. Not everyone can still capitalise on their sense of adventure, humour, playfulness and will to learn. But these guys definitely do.

“He has a passion for languages and travelling”, says Jean, “and he’s never at home!” To put it mildly: William’s learnt about seven languages over the past few years, and at 91 he’s now trying to crack Russian and Arabic. Jean, meanwhile has just got back from travelling around America to see family, and has begun to plan her next trip.

William Jean moved here
William Jean moved here fifty years ago. Photo: SLC
They moved to Brixton in the 60s from Jamaica, setting up a Chinese restaurant which became a constant throughout so much change in the community around them. Having been the first generation in their families to have been born outside China, they were part of a multicultural mix long before that word became common parlance.

William explains in the film how they first met, and it’s worth a watch for that part alone. It’s touching how Jean tells it in her own playful way (to William’s surprise), and that over fifty years later they still enjoy telling their story. The photos of their nightclubbing days are as glamorous as those taken last week, and their anecdotes are as animated as though they happened yesterday.

William and Jean are regulars at our Brixton, Streatham and Herne Hill social clubs. Jean’s passed on many a baking tip to her younger neighbours and William comes to tech workshops to find out how to use his latest translation app. They’ve got so much enthusiasm to learn and to pass on their knowledge and experiences. That exchange is exactly what South London Cares aims to galvanise: our older neighbours connecting with young people newer to London for mutually enjoyable company and conversation.

We hope you enjoy William and Jean’s film as much as we have. Come back next week for our last film in the series. Richard is known and loved by everyone at South London Cares, and shows us around his village in Herne Hill.

Words: Tess Young, Programme Coordinator of South London Cares, a community network of young professionals and older neighbours helping one another. Find out more about them here.

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