By Barbara Goulden
AN imaginative pioneer who founded a recycling centre in Coventry, long before the idea of saving the planet was taken so seriously, has died at her home in Earlsdon.
Barbara Cowling combined improving the environment with providing work for people with learning difficulties when she set up the charity CROW – Coventry Recycling of Waste – in Hillfields in 1985.
Earlier this month, Barbara passed away while playing a game of Patience at her kitchen table. She was aged 77 and still helping out at the charity three days a week despite officially retiring as manager in 2014.
Over the 34 years of her involvement she helped hundreds of disadvantaged people to learn new skills.
Long-time family friend John Coleman, who became one of the trustees of CROW, said: “We trustees, along with staff, volunteers and members of Barbara’s family are determined to ensure this charity will continue its valuable work for the foreseeable future.”
Born in Manchester, Barbara came to Coventry in the 1960s with her late husband, the Warwick University economics professor, Keith Cowling. The couple had three children: Marc, Lee and Lucy.
Mr Coleman said that together, and in different ways, the pair made an enormous contribution to the life and reputation of the city.
As a young mother Barbara became a mature student at Coventry University and was soon a well-known figure in the city with her strong political views, warm smile and John Lennon-style glasses.. It wasn’t long before she was at the forefront of the wholefood movement, cooking and serving meals at the former Wedge cafe and bookshop in High Street.
Barbara was still working there in 1979 when she helped set up an alternative newspaper, the Coventry News, which reported on a wide range of issues but focused particularly on people’s experiences of social injustice in the city.
The monthly newspaper continued to be sold until 1985 when she founded CROW.
Mr Coleman added: “As everyone knows, Barbara was a very kind and thoughtful person – her knowledge and expertise at CROW will be greatly missed.”
Bruce Walker, another close friend and Earlsdon neighbour to both Barbara and Keith said: “Barbara was a dear, dear friend for nearly forty years. She was a woman of strong political views and active in both campaigning and in putting those views, those ideas, into practice.
“Her work with CROW will stand as a lasting testimony to her determination to try and change the world in whatever way she could.
“But it is not these things which will remain uppermost in our minds as we think about Barbara. For she was also an incredibly kind and caring person, as witnessed by her devotion to her family and the love and dedication with which she cared for her husband Keith – who she described as her ‘best and closest friend’ – in the final stages of his life.
“In end, though, it’s Barbara’s sense of humour – her often quite wicked sense of humour – that most of us will remember. She was great company.
“It is very rare to know someone who can be quite steely and steadfast in their views, and yet so caring and funny at the same time. Very rare – but that’s because Barbara Cowling was one of a kind.”
Barbara’s funeral will take place at 12.45pm on April 2nd at the Cannon Hill Chapel, Canley Crematorium. She leaves three children and three grandchildren.