The life and achievements of disability, public transport and Labour campaigner Stephen Asleford were celebrated on 25 October at his funeral at Croydon Crematorium and the gathering afterwards at Ruskin House by a wide range of people who knew him over the years in a variety of organisations.
Tributes were paid to him at the Crematorium by his brother David, who had come especially from Australia with his daughter, Ellen Clifford of Disabled Peoples Against Cuts (DPAC) and Councillor Toni Letts. Leanne Purvis a close friend in DPAC read a poem ‘The Bus Ride’. Those speaking at Ruskin included other members of DPAC. Ted Knight and Charles King, a fellow member of the Croydon Mobility Forum and Passenger Transport Advisory Committee.
Charles King’s Appreciation of Stephen
Since the funeral Charles King has written the following appreciation especially for this blog.
Stephen came to Croydon as a young boy attending St Andrews school in Old Town. As an adult he lived in Selhurst.
Stephen Joined Croydon Branch of the GMB around 1975 when he had started working for Croydon Council in one of their sheltered workshops. He was a committed trade unionist and through his GMB membership he campaigned on behalf fellow members. I first met him around this time. When as a young man he turned up at a GMB branch meeting and kept us all half an hour longer than usual. But of course, it was on a sensible subject of workers with disabilities.
Disability workers campaigning
Despite a number of disabilities, he was a campaigner through and through. Whenever he could he would appear on marches and demonstrations especially when this involved cuts for people with disabilities. One of his first campaigns was to get the GMB and other trade unions to campaign on behalf of workers in sheltered workshops, to recognise their genuine work and to be properly paid on local authority rates of pay. He not only lobbied the Council, but also the then Croydon Conservative MP John Moore. This campaign took him a number of years, but he succeeded.
He was prominent member of the unions who fought against the closure of Crossfields sheltered workshop, which was not only against the loss of jobs, but for the loss of a safe environment where people with disabilities and learning difficulties could contribute to society. He attended many trade union courses, conferences and functions representing members with disabilities.
Stephen joined the Croydon Labour Party in the late 70s and was one of the GMB delegates to his Constituency Party now Croydon North right up until his death. Until he was physically unable to, he delivered leaflets by the hundred and helped out at many a street stall.
Disabled People Against Cuts
Yet this was never enough for him. He was active outside the Labour and trade union movement in many other ways. He was a founder member of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and a co-founder of Bromley and Croydon branch of DPAC.
Mobility and Public Transport
He was a prominent member of Croydon Council’s Mobility Forum and their delegate to the Public Transport Liaison Panel, a member for Transport for All (TfA) and Disability Croydon.
As somebody who could not drive, he was passionate about public transport and buses in particular. He used his knowledge of public transport and the needs of people with disabilities, advocating their needs to bodies such as TfL, GTR, Network Rail and Croydon Council.
Even if he didn’t know they name of every driver on his local bus routes the 75 and the 157 I am sure they knew his and was liked by them all. In his last days he was campaigning for an addition stop in Portland Road on the 130 route. Although he won the argument TfL decided they couldn’t agree a safe spot, not to be defeated Stephen came back and said well divert the 130 round Clifford Road.
Selhurst was his local station and he had campaigned for many years for step free access and lifts which are now being installed. I am only sorry that he won’t be able to see the results of his campaigning.
Even in adversity Stephen was always cheerful and willing to help
others regardless of any cost to him. He will be missed by us all.
Ted Knight’s appreciation of Stephen
I feel very privileged to have known Stephen and very honoured that he welcomed me as a friend.
I came to know him through meetings here in Ruskin House.
Always the advocate of those without a voice.
His words would come booming across the meeting.
Do you know what is happening out there in the community, he would demand.
He would then explain in graphic form, the suffering of a family or a vulnerable person, at the hands of uncaring bureaucracy.
But it would not just be a horror story because he would then tell you what steps he had taken to assist.
But what Stephen always emphasised was that no one should be left to battle alone.
Collective support was always his message.
But not just words or letters or petitions, Stephen believed in direct action.
That is why he was so proud of his comrades in DPAC.
Stephen knew that the establishment had power and resources, that the role of the state was to preserve an unequal society.
But Stephen had confidence that working class people acting together in unity could win friends and allies to overcome that class barrier.
Whenever I met up with him he would tell me of another action that he and his comrades had carried through.
He would chuckle, and you can hear that chuckle, as he explained in detail how they had demonstrated or occupied, perhaps a benefits office or surrounded a bureaucrat or saved a family from eviction.
But Stephen also knew that it was not enough just to help and assist people when they were under attack, but it was necessary to remove the threat altogether.
You had to change the balance of wealth and power from those who owned to those who were exploited.
That is why he became excited by the movement that grew around Jeremy Corbyn.
He well understood the demand:
“From the Few to the Many”.
He was very proud to say that he was the one of the first to support Jeremy.
Croydon TUC had invited Jeremy to speak at May Day 2015, days before the General Election.
Stephen had his photograph taken with Jeremy holding DPAC banner
That photograph has appeared many, many times on Facebook.
Then when Jeremy became candidate to be Leader of the Labour Party, again we invited Jeremy to speak hear in Ruskin House.
Expecting a meeting of 50 or so, 500 plus turned up, together with the world’s press.
The press surrounded Jeremy and stopped him entering the meeting.
Stephen immediately took charge.
He moved in between the reporters and Jeremy.
And when Stephen moved in with those shoulders, they had to get out of the way
And he then ushered Jeremy to the stage and the meeting began.
He then gave his support, awaiting the day when Jeremy and a Labour government came to power.
Whenever I was running a meeting here at Ruskin, Stephen was always the first, usually waiting for me to arrive, and as I paced nervously up and down wondering whether people would come, Stephen was always the font of absolute confidence .Calm down Ted, he would say. They will come.
Then if, when the meeting opened, and there was any hesitancy in discussion, that voice of his would loudly come across the room, and another of his experiences would get people talking.
It is always hard to say goodbye to a friend, but particularly one who has been a firm and constant fighter.
A man, who from his own experiences, understood the pain and frustrations of those who looked to him for help.
That is what made Stephen in his own right a leader.
And as such he will be remembered and be a strong influence for those who continue his struggle.