'A champion of Handsworth' - Tributes to 'dedicated' housing activist immortalised in iconic photo

Dave was a well-loved housing activist from Handsworth.
-Credit: (Image: Family Handout)

Tributes have been paid to a 'passionate' housing activist from Handsworth who dedicated his life to fighting homelessness in his community. Dave Butcher, a founding member of the Handsworth Single Homeless Action Group, died in April at the age of 80.

Born in Trinidad, Dave arrived in Birmingham during the 1960s and worked with various local groups around Handsworth and Lozells to support young people from marginalised backgrounds find suitable housing. Dave was also a trade union activist who supported political groups fighting against Thatcherism during the 1980s.

During a protest organised by the Indian Workers Association in Saltley, Dave was accosted and threatened by police in a famous image now stored in the Library of Birmingham. He was described as a 'quiet' but 'charismatic' figure who was a 'mentor' to many young people. His death prompted a flood of tributes on social media.

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Dave was a key figure in the Handsworth Single Homeless Action Group (HSHAG). The group worked with housing associations to get young people at risk of homelessness into housing.

Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, the group supported young, single homeless black men and women, primarily within the African-Caribbean community. It was at HSHAG when Dave met Margarete Wilson, a friend and carer in his later years.

Margarete spoke to BirminghamLive about her first impressions of Dave when the pair met in 1979. "He looked very serious," she said.

"He was 6ft 4ins so he looked quite imposing - but he was very passionate about what he was trying to do within the community. He didn't just fight for people of colour, he also supported other groups like the Indian Workers; Association in their fight against discrimination. Anyone who was suffering and not heard, Dave would support them."

Dave Butcher, photographed by Vanley Burke, at a IWA demonstration in Saltley.
Dave Butcher, photographed by Vanley Burke, at a IWA demonstration in Saltley. -Credit:Vanley Burke

It was at a rally held by the Indian Workers Association where Dave's legacy as a Birmingham activist was cemented. In a famous photograph taken by Vanley Burke, Dave can be seen being confronted by two police officers after getting removed from the demonstration.

Despite this altercation, and various other charges issued to him by police which were never held in court, Dave remained passionate about helping those in need. "He loved Handsworth," Margarete added.

"It was a very important place to him - that was his community. Dave didn't suffer fools, but he had a great sense of humour too. He loved music, cars and motorbikes - he used to ride one in his youth. He was quiet but he liked having people around him."

Dave came to Birmingham in the 1960s after emigrating to the country from the Caribbean.
Dave came to Birmingham in the 1960s after emigrating to the country from the Caribbean. -Credit:Family Handout

Colin Walters was a former colleague of Dave's at the Handsworth Law Centre. He called for a blue plaque in the Handsworth area to commemorate Dave’s life and legacy.

He said: "A lot of the time, Dave was very quietly spoken - but he was a very charismatic public speaker. He was a guide to a lot of people, especially young people, who looked up to him.

"Dave got them into work and proper housing when they'd fallen off the straight and narrow. He was part of a movement in Birmingham that believed that if you gave people the help they needed to empower themselves, then they could get on with their lives.

"He very rarely lost his temper and was always willing to speak to anyone. He gave a voice to so many young people."

When Dave's death was announced on Facebook, hundreds of people left comments sharing their memories of the Handsworth 'champion.' Shane Ward commented: "I remember Dave, condolences to you and the family. He was a vocal activist and after the uprisings concentrated on creating solutions on the homelessness project, which was his legacy."

Susan Fallon added: "This sad news. I worked with Dave and he was my friend in the 70's and 80's. I have only fond memories of him as a good and kind friend to me and my son. In life he was fearless when he needed to be. He made a difference in a lot of people's lives."