Barbara Waterman

Jewish Care volunteer who gave a lifetime of service to the East End community


For over 45 years, Barbara Waterman, who has died aged 84, was one of Stepney Jewish Community Centre’s most dedicated volunteers. Her unstinting support of the East End’s declining Jewish community gained her numerous awards and accolades.

Born in 1932, to parents Abigail and Alexander Samuels, Barbara was an only child. Her father built up a large fleet of taxi cabs in the East End and became involved in local politics. In the early sixties he was appointed honorary chief adviser on London traffic management to the Minister of Transport, becoming known as “Mr Traffic”, and was knighted in 1963.

Barbara attended Henrietta Barnett School in Hampstead Garden Suburb, afterwards working for her father’s company in Shoreditch. In October 1955 she married Ashley Waterman, who ran a long-established box-making company in the East End. She was thrilled when the company was awarded a Royal Warrant in 2005.

She followed in her mother’s footsteps as a volunteer when, in 1970, she visited Stepney Jewish Community Centre. Seeing the centre needed more helpers, Barbara decided to offer her time. It was the start of a relationship which lasted until her death.

After Ashley passed away in 2000, she devoted more of her time to the centre, travelling by Tube twice a week from Hendon to Stepney, undaunted by bad weather or other setbacks – she regarded the members as her extended family.

As volunteer coordinator, Barbara supervised other volunteers, provided mentoring and advice, organised days out for the members and was involved in all aspects of the centre, from catering to entertainment. Small in stature but with a larger than life personality, her joyous spirit and sense of humour lit up the lives of all who knew her. For many members who were increasingly isolated through old age, she became, through her work, a welcome link to a Jewish community which was slowly shrinking.  

2015 was a year to remember for Barbara. She was listed in the top ten of the JC’s “Mensch of the Year” – her daughter Sharon also made the shortlist.  That summer, Barbara was presented to HRH Prince William, at Jewish Care’s 25th anniversary fundraising dinner. She took the opportunity to show him a photo of her with his great-grandmother, HM The Queen Mother, who had visited Stepney in 1987.  

In the same year, Barbara was the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Point of Light award, which recognises outstanding volunteers who make a difference to their community. The then Prime Minister, David Cameron, called her “a caring and generous woman, who for over 45 years, has provided emotional and social support for so many.”

She was also an active fundraiser for Hendon Synagogue and volunteered with Crisis at Christmas. Despite her years she retained an incredibly youthful outlook on life, and loved discussing the merits of the latest music on Capital Radio with her grandchildren.

She remained steadfast in her support of the Stepney Centre and its members until the very end. Her final illness was mercifully short and even in her last days, she ensured that the catering for an event at the centre was organised to her satisfaction.

Barbara Waterman is survived by her daughter Sharon, son David, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Barbara Waterman: born September 2, 1932. Died June 23, 2017.

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