Rene Poole 1922 - 2017

Monday, 13 November 2017

Irene Poole (Folk name, Woodbine)
December 1922 - November 2017

We were very sad to hear of Rene’s recent death. Rene was a committed and dedicated Woodcraft Folk member for over 83 years.

Rene was born into a working-class north London family who moved to East Ham when she was eight years old. Her parents had found a tiny cottage they could afford to rent which housed them, Rene and her brother and sister, and their grandfather.

Our first meeting with Rene was after we had started a parent-run Woodcraft Folk group in Forest Gate in 1989. We had no idea that Rene’s father (George Rusling) had started a Folk group in 1934 which was still running! Rene came to visit our group; dressed very smartly in Folk costume she was not at all keen on the group model we were adopting, nor of our habit of wearing our shirts untucked. We found her quite intimidating despite her small stature but over the years she softened towards us and we were very proud when she told us she felt the district was safe in our hands.

Rene joined Woodcraft Folk aged 11, after her father came home from a Co-op Party meeting and announced that he was starting a Woodcraft Folk group. It met in the kitchen of their home with half a dozen youngsters, until they were allowed to use Nelson School, East Ham. Rene met her husband Wally Poole (Folk name, Kestrel) at the group when she was 12. He was 16 year-old Leytonstone Folk member who came to help Rene’s dad run the East Ham group. 

The newly founded East Ham group started camping almost immediately. They made links with a Hackney group who had access to the grounds of a house in High Beech, Epping, and often camped, sometimes every weekend. Blankets were taken from beds at home and pinned to make sleeping bags. 

Aged about 14 years Rene took on making group members’ jerkins, then Folk costume, using Riverina cloth from the Co-op which was stocked for that purpose. Fringed on the bottom, jerkins were worn untucked and belted.

While other local groups in Watersmeet Thing (district) folded during the war, the East Ham group managed to keep going as Rene’s father was too old to fight and Wally was a conscientious objector, able to keep his job in a Co-op Wholesale Society milk laboratory. 

Rene and Wally married in August 1942 when Rene was 19. For their first nine years, they lived in Ilford during which time their sons Geoff and Andy were born. In 1951 they all moved to Folk House in Tooting, when new wardens were needed. Wally continued to work for the CWS in Aldgate while Rene looked after Folk House, cleaning, cooking and looking after visitors who sometimes stayed in bunk beds on the top floor. Rene and Wally paid the Folk £1 a week rent.

One of our favourite Rene stories came from the 1951 Festival of Britain international camp held at Debden Green, Essex. Rationing was still in operation and the catering committee of four suddenly reduced to Rene and one other, both with small children and husbands heavily involved in the camp programme. It is astonishing that these two managed to cater for 2000 people using ex army cooking equipment, and very limited resources. She recalled how some of the foreign delegates on clan duty were so hungry that they were eating the eggs they were supposed to peeling for the meal.
“You couldn’t blame them”, said Rene laughing, “but we had to stop that, they couldn’t be trusted not to eat whatever they were preparing!” 

Groups from Newham and other London districts continued to camp on the Debden site, and do to this day still storing their equipment there. When the future of the campsite began be in doubt it was Rene who immediately wrote to the council objecting, stating the importance of the site remaining as a resource for the young people of Newham. 

After five years at Folk House Rene and Wally got the opportunity to buy a house in Stratford. They had planned to lessen their 24/7 involvement with the Folk, but Rene’s father, now in his 70’s, asked Wally to take over the group. So Woodcraft Folk continued to dominate their lives, and many youngsters benefitted from their dedication. When the groups split into age groups Rene and her brother Ted ran Skyline Elfins, and her son Geoff ran Rodsloch Pioneers. She remained an Elfin leader with that group until she was well into her 80’s and the group amalgamated with the Forest Gate parent-run group when she felt she could no longer continue. It was important to the district that the names of the groups lived on, so they were incorporated into Woodgrange Skyline Elfins and Woodgrange Rodsloch Pioneers, Newham Watersmeet District.

In addition to running the group, Rene was secretary of the District for many years, was very involved in London Region (formerly known as London Kin), and for decades regularly attended national annual conferences, where she spoke her mind and gave others the benefit of her experience. Woodcraft Folk has changed greatly since Rene was a child, and she found some of the changes quite difficult. She was particularly sad that people had less commitment to the organisation.
Rene made many friends through the Folk, and many of them stayed in touch with her. She always spoke warmly of her many camps both in the UK and abroad. She was camping with the district until she over 80! 

In addition to the Folk Rene was also involved in the wider community in many ways. Aged 16 she joined the Co-op and was a lifelong member and supporter. She was involved with various local committees and ran a club for the blind until she was over 90. This led to her reading for the Talking Newspaper and she recruited DFs and later Venturers to read for the project too. In her forties Rene trained as a teacher, which she had always longed to be, and taught in Newham schools until she retired.
In 2004 she was awarded the Freedom of the Borough of Newham for her contribution to the community – a fitting tribute for someone who became an inspiration to all who knew her. 

In an interview shortly before her death she said, “I’m just happy to have affected so many youngsters’ lives and hopefully given them a different outlook on life than they might have had”.

She certainly did that, and not only the youngsters lives! Rene will be sadly missed and warmly remembered.

Mary Robinson