John enjoys the closed roads at the inaugural 'At the Seafront Without My Car' day.

John Holland: An Obituary

With immense regret and sorrow we have to report the untimely death of John Holland. John was diagnosed with leukemia late last summer and appeared to be responding well to his treatment. Unfortunately secondary cancers were identified early in the new year and John moved to the Rowan’s Hospice, where he passed away on Thursday the 24th January.

John was one of the founders of Portsmouth Cycle Forum, which was established as an independent campaigning voice by four committed individuals: John, Mike Dobson, Paul Iggulden and Paul Dawson. A prototype cycle forum had originally been started by the city council, but when it became clear that cyclists were demanding more than bland reassurances the council decided to cut the funding and close it down. However, John, Mike, Paul and Paul had other ideas. Recognising cyclists needed a strong voice to hold the local authority to account the four took responsibility to establish Portsmouth Cycle Forum as a citizen-led campaign.

John chairs the CTC / Cyclenation 'Future Cycling Cities' conference, hosted in Portsmouth in 2010.
John chairs the CTC / Cyclenation ‘Future Cycling Cities’ conference, hosted in Portsmouth in 2010.

As the cycle forum grew John took on the role of chair, which he carried out in his characteristic warm, open and consensual style. Nobody felt they were being dictated to but we all wanted to help. John did politics but only with a big ‘P’ – always focussed on helping the city’s decision makers make the best choices, but never on the petty politics of personal advancement. John was there for the causes he cared about and never out for himself.

When I joined the cycle forum committee around 2008 the committee had grown into a fairly large and vibrant group. John welcomed me into that group and made me feel a part of things from the very first meeting. John gently tutored me in the art of campaigning and lobbying a local authority in the months that followed. John had a wonderful way of guiding people without them even noticing. Never feeling I was being mentored, and certainly never feeling I was being taught to suck eggs, John empowered me and so many others to engage effectively with politicians. It’s only on reflection that I realise how much I learned from John.

I eventually took over as chair of the forum from John, a daunting task but John could not have made it easier for me. He was happy to act in the role of vice chair and continued to provide sage advice, gentle guidance and a huge amount of support.

As time went on and the cycle forum committee was strengthened by some new faces John was able to focus more on some other community causes, like the Community Cycle Centre and the No. 6 Cinema. John was instrumental in turning both of those from ideas to reality, and both have made hundreds and hundreds of people happy.

John understood that the small stuff really matters. That a Community Cycle Centre, giving people access to bikes, one-by-one, really does make a difference. Over the years it’s added up to a huge amount and a great amount of that success is John’s. Person-by-person, bike-by-bike, a massive difference has been made.

John as 'Dr Bike' - fixing bikes and changing lives with the Community Cycle Centre.
John as ‘Dr Bike’ – fixing bikes and changing lives with the Community Cycle Centre.

John’s gentle, caring, determined approach won him the admiration of those who worked with him and respect too from people who opposed his arguments. John was never aggressive but neither could he easily be silenced. With calmness, patience and determination he made sure he got his message across. John was a calm, reasoned voice in a world of empty hyperbole. And he made that count.

It was a delight to learn, a few days ago, about John’s Civic Pride award from Portsmouth City Council. John has given so much to so many and his giving has been truly selfless. He deserves that award and, as just one of the organisations that has benefited so much from his help, we thank him for his dedication to doing the right thing.

John was a wonderful colleague, comrade and friend. Aside from all the causes and campaigning there was time for bike rides and for beer in the King Street Tavern and the Brewhouse, where we set the world to rights on Thursday nights after our open meetings. We’ll all miss those nights and our mate John.

Here’s to you John.