BOB Wheatley has been cleaning windows in his beloved Waltham Forest for nearly 50 years. CARL BROWN spoke to the former Mayor about how the area has changed and why he still loves doing his window cleaning round.

Passionate politician and friendly window cleaner Bob Wheatley is one of Walthamstow’s most loved characters.

At 82 years young he still ensures, come rain or shine, that his client’s windows are spotless.

He combines his busy daily round, which he is always willing to put on hold for a friendly chat, with representing the people of William Morris ward for the Liberal Democrats.

In the council chamber he is known to speak his mind and always do what he feels is right for those who elected him.

But Bob, who speaks proudly of the year in the mid-90s when he served as Mayor of Waltham Forest, had a difficult start to life.

His mother abandoned him outside a phone box in Islington when he was a baby and he later lived in a Barnado's home, before being taken in by Mrs Boswell.

But as an evacuee in Kent, he learned his guardian had been killed in an air raid.

Bob joined the merchant navy in 1942, travelling all over the world, but developed a drinking problem and, on returning to London, found it difficult to hold down a job

He decided to try his luck in Walthamstow after being won over during a short visit.

He said: “People don't appreciate Walthamstow. There is no part where you cannot get to forest or green areas, whether Epping Forest or Hollow Ponds.”

He started window cleaning in 1962 and Bob eventually kicked the booze. He has been tee total for 40 years.

He has witnessed Walthamstow become increasingly diverse - and attitudes change for the better as a result.

He said: “There are so many more people from ethnic backgrounds now.

“I remember when I was seeking a housemate a man told me on the phone 'you should know that I am black', because he expected it would be a problem, I told him I'm colour blind so it does not matter.

“But it shows that race attitudes have improved beyond all recognition.”

Bob won a seat on the council in 1988 and is passionate about improving the area.

He says he enjoys the fact that, after 50 years, people know who he is when he walks down the street.

He said: “It is a diverse community, you feel free.

“Everybody speaks to me around here - its a nice feeling and that is what I like about Walthamstow.”

Despite his age, Bob is not planning to give up his window cleaning round.

He said: “I had a fall a while back and people tried to talk me into retiring.

“But it is important for someone who is old to keep active because if you don't that's when you start to decline.”

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