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Memorial bench for rough sleeper unveiled
A MEMORIAL bench for a homeless man described as Hayes town's "Santa Claus" has been installed at a spot where he sat daily.
About 25 people who knew John Dickinson gathered outside Natwest bank in Coldharbour Lane, Hayes, on Thursday to see the unveiling of the new seat, inscribed with the message: "In memory of John 1959-2011 from his many friends in Hayes."
Mr Dickinson died of a heart attack, aged 52, in December. Dozens attended his funeral in February.
An intensely private man, his early life remains a mystery, although stories have surfaced since his death.
It is believed that he had links to Canada and other accounts suggest he once worked at Pangs Cottage Chinese restaurant, in Yeading.
What is known is that he slept rough in Hayes town for about 15 years, bedding down behind Iceland in Station Road in his last months.
Janet Foyle, 63, says she first met Mr Dickinson in the late 90s. "The first time I saw him, he was behind Hayes station with a shopping trolley filled with all his bits and pieces.
"I would always keep an eye on him. I would give him sandwiches, and let him into the launderette in the winter when it was cold.
"I found out about his death in the Gazette, and I was in shock. Even now, I expect to see him coming around the corner when I'm in the town."
Mrs Foyle took a photo (right) of John during her time working at a launderette on Station Approach, which has since closed. It is the only shot of Mr Dickinson to have come to light since his death.
He regularly dropped into Jenny's Burgers, in East Avenue, and also lent a hand at Paramount Fruit and Veg, run by Alan Daley.
Mr Dickinson struck up strong friendships with people who he passed by each day; traders, shoppers, and people who share the opinion that he was a generous man who often went out of his way to help others, despite his situation. Like Mr Dickinson, Janina George lived on the street before being housed a year ago. She says he helped kit out her flat with discarded furniture and crockery.
"He would pick up things that people had chucked out and recycle them. He would have gifts for the children.
"He was like a big Santa Claus, with his big white beard. He was very guarded. John was quite content as he was, and he would never accept anything for free."
Following Mr Dickinson's heart attack and death in December, Hayes Town Partnership chairman David Brough started a money collection to get something permanent put in the town to remember him by.
More than £600 was raised, £400 of which went towards the bench. The remaining cash has been donated to London Street Rescue.
Mr Brough said: "When we first put the idea to the council, they were bemused as to why we would want to mark the life of a tramp.
"He was not a tramp. He was respected by hundreds of people, and this is an appropriate lasting tribute to him."
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