Louie Ward Herbert obituary

<span>Fundraising was not enough for Louie Ward Herbert – he wanted to work directly in communities</span><span>Photograph: Family handout</span>
Fundraising was not enough for Louie Ward Herbert – he wanted to work directly in communitiesPhotograph: Family handout

My son Louie Ward Herbert, who has died aged 41 of cancer, was a dedicated activist and community organiser, the co-founder of Acorn community union, an ally to those with little power and an inspiration to many.

Acorn, which began in Bristol in 2013 and now operates in cities across Britain, unites ordinary people who have been left behind by politicians and corporations to pursue a better deal for local communities on the issues that matter to them. The union is particularly known for its work within the rental housing sector.

Louie was born in Leeds, where his father, Mick Ward, and I both worked in social services, and went to the City of Leeds high school before A-levels at Leeds Art College. While still a teenager he started working as a fundraiser in 2002 for various human rights charities, managing and training teams all over Britain. He was with Dialogue Direct when he was recruited to go to Seattle in the US in 2005 to set up a team to fundraise for Amnesty InternationaI.

Despite his success, fundraising was not enough for Louie – he wanted to work more directly in communities. In 2009 he travelled to Tanzania with the charity Village to Village, and, based in Uchira, a small village in the foothills of Kilimanjaro, he helped co-ordinate their volunteers and develop their Straight Talking Aids Awareness Programme. A colleague there described him as “a bridge between cultures, a testament to the power of human connection”, and said that “the song ‘Louie Louie’ will forever echo in the hearts of Uchira”.

On his return to the UK, Louie settled in Bristol, where the understanding of the power of communities he had gained in Tanzania led to him co-founding Acorn. To establish the Acorn community union, Louie spent endless hours on poverty wages knocking on doors in all weathers and recruiting and training many of its key members. Louie was also a member of the International Workers of the World and Unite trade unions, as well as an ally of women facing street harassment and domestic violence, and of the LGBTQ+ community.

He loved to pass on his skills and knowledge as a community organiser to others. This led him to work for Act Build Change, which trains community builders. Stephanie Wong, ABC’s CEO, described how “he elevated our organising and drove an imagination for what we could become”.

Louie was also a cooker of dal, a curator of impeccable playlists, a lover of cider, and a lifelong fan of football – both Leeds United and the Seattle Seahawks. He was a dancer extraordinaire, a cat whisperer and a deft ping pong player.

He is survived by his partner Abi Matthews, his parents and Mick’s partner Gill.