Tributes paid to long-time Kenilworth volunteer and two-time winner of town's award of merit

Philip Highley was awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) after decades of volunteer work.
Philip Highley was awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) after decades of volunteer work.

Tributes have been paid to a Kenilworth man known for his volunteer work and service to the town's community who died just after Christmas.

Philip 'Phil' Highley died on Friday, December 27, 2019. He was aged 81.

The funeral arrangements include a committal at Oakley Wood Crematorium on Saturday January 25 at 10am for family and those who feel they wish to attend.

This will be followed by a service of celebration of Philip’s life at St Nicholas Church, Kenilworth at 11.30am. Family flowers only. The family has also requested “No Dark Clothing” at the celebration.

Philip, a two-time winner of Kenilworth’s Award of Merit, was honoured in January 2016 with a British Empire Medal (BEM) after decades of volunteer work.

Philip served as a volunteer for several organisations in the town over many years, including Kenilworth Scouts, Kenilworth Rotary, Kenilworth Twinning Association, Talisman Theatre and St Nicholas Church.

Philip, a retired financial adviser, organised the Kenilworth Scout and Guides’ biennial Gang Show for many years, carried the Olympic Torch during its relay across the country in 2012, and is still a prominent member of Kenilworth Rotary.

Philip joined the Kenilworth Rotary Club in 2002. He later went on to serve as the club president from 2016 to 2017. He most recently served as the club's media officer for the last three years.

Roy Shearing, a friend and fellow Rotarian, said: “His loss was sudden and unexpected and has been felt by a wide community of supporters, friends, Rotarians, Scouts, St Nicholas Church and many more, who will miss his influence and dedication to our community.

“His presence will be there for so many of those he knew and his sense of fun and commitment will never be forgotten.”

Neil Roberts, Philip's nephew and the Kenilworth Gang Show chairman and stage director, and Dik Thacker, the vice chairman of the Talisman Theatre, submitted the following combined tribute to the Kenilworth Weekly News.

Philip was approached in 1973 to become involved in the Kenilworth Gang Show which had started in 1971, but needed a director. Philip took on the role and was to direct it for more than 40 years and his involvement continued until his death.

Having been a young scout himself, he knew the potential of the scouting movement in general, and the unique outlet of Gang Show, in particular to bring young people together, to motivate them and to develop their confidence and fulfil their potential beyond what they could have dreamed for themselves.

To this end there were no auditions to find ‘stars’ for Kenilworth Gang Show, Philip decreed that everyone in the scouting movement, regardless of ability, had a right to be involved.

Philip saw it as his role to bring out the very best in everyone who wished to be involved. His success was such that the gang outgrew the local school stage and in 1983 transferred to the professional stage at the University of Warwick Arts Centre with a cast of over 100 young people.

Philip created an incredible virtuous circle touching the lives of thousands of young people over 40 years and which goes from strength to strength in succeeding generations.

By way of example, Neil Roberts joined the Gang in 1979 at the age of 9.

Under Philip’s guidance he progressed from being in the show to being a pianist, and then took over the role of musical director for Kenilworth Gang Show in 1991 at the age of 21.

Neil is now chairman and stage director for the show, continuing under the same principles that Philip taught him all those years ago.

It is the support and guidance from Philip that also saw Neil become musical director for Warwickshire Gang Show from 1996, take on the role of artistic director for the World Scout Jamboree in the UK in 2007, and also co-direct the 80th anniversary of Gang Shows held at the Birmingham Hippodrome in 2012.

Without a doubt and by Neil’s own admission, these are roles that he would never have dreamt of taking on, without the influence and guidance of Philip.

The same story is true for Neil’s brother Stephen, who joined the Gang in 1982 and progressed from being in the cast to being in charge of lighting in 1999 and subsequently technical director.

Stephen now lights shows in many theatres around the Midlands, including the Birmingham Hippodrome for the 80th anniversary Gang Show, and is head of lighting at the Talisman Theatre in Kenilworth. Without a doubt, again roles inspired by the influence and guidance of Philip.

Amongst other initiatives which Philip has created is the concept of Gang Show in a Day (Gang Show from scratch), which he started in 1993. Gangs from all over the UK, involving hundreds of young people, were brought together at the Spa Centre in Leamington to socialise, share and put on a collaborative show.

This proved so successful that not only was it repeated, but it has been replicated in other parts of the country.

Philip’s idea was to record the music of Ralph Reader, the founder of Gang Show, and, with Philip’s drive and determination, resulted in the production of two commercially available CD’s.

One of Philip’s proudest achievements was the appearance of the Gang Show Choir, which together with his nephew Neil, he had built from Kenilworth and Hinckley Gang Shows, performing at the Royal Albert Hall in 1995. Not one of the participants had ever dreamed that they might achieve this before they met Philip.

Philip’s professional skills lay in finance and accountancy and he brought these to bear in his charitable work with the Talisman Theatre, Twinning Association and Kenilworth Town Festival. He was scrupulous and proactive in this work and saved the Talisman thousands of pounds by constantly reviewing fuel and insurance costs and keeping an eye on the VAT.

As well as being treasurer, a position he held for 15 years, he was also a regular performer in plays, musicals and pantomimes. He was bar manager for a number of years, and also helped regularly with front of house and box office duties.

Philip also became a scout leader in 1973 and carried out this role with the 4th Kenilworth Group for more than 30 years.

Gang Show and scouting have taken the biggest share of Philip’s time over the last 40 years, but his participation in many other local causes is also huge.

In many ways he has forged links between the various activities’ sectors of the local community and a notable example is his involvement in the Town Twinning Association.

Philip was responsible for taking the Kenilworth Gang Show to Kenilworth’s French ‘twin’ of Bourg-La-Reine in 2000 and the German ‘twin’ of Eppstein in 2004, forging international friendships that continue to this day.

It is no small wonder that partly because of Philip’s involvement in Gang Show and because of the deep respect that he has earned from so many youngsters and parents alike across a span of 40 years, that he is so well known and loved in Kenilworth.

He is the only person to have received the Kenilworth Award of Merit 'for outstanding service to the community' on two occasions: In 2001 and 2009.

In 2003 Philip became involved with the Emmaus charity which provides homeless people with a home and work.

Whenever he spoke of the Emmaus work, he spoke with such passion and emotion that exemplifies what Philip’s own life had been devoted to: inspiring others to be the best that they can and to feed back into the community.

The sheer breadth and span of Philip’s contributions to local charities and community in general are extensive.

It is a fact that every day he had not one but several charitable appointments and also carried out the background day-to-day accounting and planning work.