Stephen Parkinson remembers a colleague and friend
In order to amuse myself during lockdown, I’ve been posting a photograph on Facebook each morning. A subject matter would last for a week, and then a new topic would appear: pubs, basilicas, rivers, statues . . . you get the picture (!). Most days, some Facebook friends were kind enough to ‘like’ that day’s offering. And one who was very regular in clicking that button was Colin Niblett.
I first became aware of Colin towards the end of the last century. Forward in Faith was occupying rooms on the top floor of Faith House, Westminster. The Church Union had its bookshop and offices below us. Suddenly (it seemed to me, looking down the stairs), the Union had a new member of staff working in the bookshop.
Time passed, and it appeared that Colin (for it was he) was not fulfilled in his work. Word was that he might be leaving. By this time, I had got to know him a little so, when I needed a new Assistant, I wondered if he might be interested. We arranged to meet one evening in a branch of Pizza Express near Trafalgar Square. I explained my motive for giving him supper and he made it clear that he had no interest in staying at Faith House. I persisted, and told him how much we might pay him, how good our pension scheme was, and what fun it might be. He was still not interested. I ordered a second bottle of wine. He agreed to start the following Wednesday.
He arrived at Forward in Faith on 1st March, 2000, just in time to throw himself into the arrangements for Christ our Future – our great celebration of the new millennium, fixed for the Eve of Pentecost. As the event drew ever closer, clergy would telephone, claiming they’d only just heard about it, and were there any seats left? Colin treated each of these enquirers with an extraordinary degree of calm, patience and good humour. If the Director answered the phone, he tried to emulate his Assistant, and usually failed.
In the meantime, I inducted him into the mysteries of our databases. Colin re-organised many of these to make them more user-friendly, and he devised cunning ways to make the them work for us, generating invoices, letters and the like.
Once Christ our Future was done, his organisational skills turned to the Seventh Forward in Faith National Assembly, at the Emmanuel Centre in Marsham Street, just around the corner from Faith House. Each year, Colin made the backstage of the Assembly more and more his baby, gathering around him a loyal group of volunteers to run so much of what happened – with the result that the Director knew he might get in the way if he arrived too early!
The year 2003 saw us leave Faith House, to move to Gordon Square, into a flat considered by Camden Council unsuitable for human habitation, whilst ideal for office accommodation. Colin’s mastery of the detail of the move made that most stressful of endeavours – moving – a walk in the park! We had the use of a marvellous Meeting Room and Kitchen in the Crypt of Christ the King, where the Forward in Faith Council would meet – along with other Catholic Societies. All these meetings meant mouths to feed and Colin took charge. On his way to work, he would call at a local M & S, in order to relieve them of thirty or sometimes forty rounds of sandwiches, which were them cut up and laid out on flats, to accompany the gallons of coffee he would brew. His early working days in the hotel and catering trade stood him in good stead in this unexpected element of his job!
His fingers were on the pulse of Forward in Hope in 2006 and, indeed, of everything FiF did in those years. I could not have achieved all I did without his help and support. But after I retired in 2012, he began to tire, and intermittent ill health took its toll. In the Spring of 2014, FiF enabled him to take early retirement.
Towards the end of 2019, he was referred to Guy’s Hospital, where he had to undergo a number of disagreeable procedures. Side-effects followed, cancer appeared, the procedures multiplied and in September this year, he was told that there was no more to be done. He bore this news with the most extraordinary courage and fortitude. In the last ‘conversation’ we had – by text, for he could no longer easily speak – he was altogether more interested in how my children were getting on in life than in discussing his predicament.
On Saturday, 17th October, he ‘liked’ my daily photograph. He died, quite suddenly, that evening, fortified by the Rites of the Church. And when my Facebook photograph the next day didn’t receive his approval, I suppose I instinctively knew why.
Colin Peter Niblett – 14th March 1958 – 17th October 2020
Jesu mercy, Our Lady of Walsingham pray.
Stephen Parkinson was Director of Forward in Faith from 1993 until 2012.