Tributes paid after death of former mayor who led campaign to save town’s landmark tower blocks
Date published: 19 June 2023
Photo: Rochdale council
The late Robin Parker during his mayoral year
Tributes have been paid to Robin Parker the former Rochdale Mayor who went on to spearhead the campaign against plans to flatten the town’s landmark Seven Sisters tower blocks.
Robin, who lived at the College Bank flats himself, passed away aged 78 after a heart condition deteriorated recently.
The death of the retired Labour councillor turned tenacious campaigner has been met with sadness by his family, friends and old political allies.
It comes after the Seven Sisters campaign was recently given fresh hope – with plans to flatten four of the blocks shelved and put under review by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing,
His long-term partner Ann Jones said she was ‘desperately sorry’ he would not be around to see the fruits of the campaign that he began six years ago.
Robin had three spells as a councillor, representing Central and Falinge ward, and West Middleton ward.
As a campaigner he made a passionate speech to a full council meeting in July 2017 – handing in a petition to save the famous high rises – met with applause from members across the political spectrum with the campaign going on to attract high profile media attention.
His close ally Mark Slater, chair of the College Bank Support Group, spoke of his ‘great sadness’ over his passing, in a touching tribute.
He said: “The campaign to Save the Seven Sisters and many of us, especially myself, owe so much to Robin’s determination to fight for our homes.
“Robin, along with his partner Ann, was instrumental in the formation of our group to oppose the demolition of our estate. His work in the community as a councillor and also as Mayor is well recorded, a champion of the vulnerable and minority groups there was no stronger or louder voice than Robin’s.
“I grew to value his counsel and friendship very much and will miss him. Rest in Peace Robin, your fight goes on.”
Robin was ‘proud and honoured’ to be sworn in as the Mayor of Rochdale for the 2008/09 municipal year – with long-term partner, Ann, supporting him as his consort and Mayoress.
Ann recalls he had ‘great respect’ for the different faith communities and their beliefs, and in his Mayoral year he had four chaplains, to reflect the faith make-up of the borough.
More recently he was chair of Rochdale Multi-Faith Partnership and played an highly influential role in ensuring Holocaust Memorial Day is commemorated every January in each Township on a rotational basis.
As a councillor, Robin was adamant about the importance of maintaining the individual identities of the different parts of the borough, always remembering it was home to diverse townships and communities.
He was also in charge of leisure during his time as an elected member. This was something said to be very close to his heart as he deeply valued the contribution the arts and leisure makes to the community. He also knew many people within local charity, community and arts organisations.
He retired from the council in 2010 after serving his last year as an Independent, having torn up his Labour membership card in support of ‘The Rochdale Seven’.
However, he rejoined some years later and maintained links with his political colleagues, keeping his finger on the pulse of local politics.
Rochdale Labour group has paid tribute to Robin following his passing.
A spokesperson said: “Robin was very passionate about what he believed in and always fought for what he believed in, particularly when it came to the Seven Sisters campaign.
“He was also a very valued member of the Labour group when he was on the council. It is a sad loss of a friend and a colleague.”
The council also tweeted that it was ‘saddened’ by his death, adding ‘our thoughts are with Robin’s family and friends’.
Originally from West London, Robin had called Rochdale home since the 1970s, spending a large part of that time living at the Seven Sisters.
In his personal life, Robin adored and was immensely proud of his two adult children from his first marriage to Elaine. At Christmas 2004, he was sadly widowed when his second wife, Linda, passed away.
Robin and his current partner, Ann got together when they met at church in Langley, during his time representing West Middleton ward.
He enjoyed a varied career – at one time working as a travelling salesman selling fashion clothes to retailers, while in his younger days he also sold plumbing equipment.
The former Mayor had a degree in theology and qualified as a social worker – a role in which Ann says he felt a ‘vast responsibility’ for the people whose lives he came into contact with.
A lifelong Queens Park Rangers fan – his local football team as a boy – he kept in touch with friends from his student days in Birmingham, and would regularly meet with them for a meal and catch up.
A keen reader, enjoying novels from the local library, Robin was also a writer and poet. Ann recalls how he had an ‘easy ability to compose sonnets and loved the art of poetic and song parody as well as writing more poignant works.
He was also involved with many of the creative writing groups across the borough and enjoyed reading or singing his work at local open mic events – some of which he helped to organise.
In his younger days, Robin was a runner and proud of his participation in the London Marathon. He always continued to watch on TV and was moved emotionally when the theme tune came on.
The former mayor had undergone a heart valve transplant in 2004 but recently another heart issue was diagnosed.
He was hoping for treatment at Wythenshawe Hospital but his condition deteriorated recently and he passed away at Rochdale Infirmary with Ann by his side.
Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporting Service
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