curiosity about the ways of the world

In memory of Kerry Napuk

I am very sad to report the death of a good friend, Kerry Napuk.  He was the inspiration for a community venture in Leith which survives as a testament to his vision, leadership and constant cajoling. This is one of those times when there is no clear dividing line between my private and public worlds so I am recording my memories of a remarkable man.

It is probably no exaggeration to say that the start of Leith Open Space marked a turning point in my life, though it was a very small part of Kerry’s brimmingly eventful life which encompassed politics, business, trade unionism, education, health and the arts along with the disruptive democracy of Open Space.  This maverick Californian was always coming up with a new and challenging way to make things happen, and almost always with an underlying infectious, subversive and mischievous sense of humour. As always happens with old friends there are many aspects of Kerry’s life that I am only just discovering now he has died. For Kerry’s funeral tomorrow my husband Ray has contributed memories of a stimulating relationship with the Business Insider Magazine, sprinkled with choice Napisms such as “Opportunity always knocks at the least opportune moment.”

And Kerry’s son David reveals much more that we wished we had known: Kerry, who campaigned for human rights, was a steward at Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” rally. Somehow that speaks volumes.

My connection is modest. It started when I contacted Kerry for advice in 2005. I had become concerned at the increasing hostility towards ethnic minority communities in the Leith area after the London bombings. At that time I was ethnic minority officer in my local Labour branch but I felt that a party political project would not reach a wide enough audience. I had seen Kerry at work facilitating Open Space events and was particularly impressed by his work with a men’s health day in Glasgow which had reached an extraordinarily wide cross section of the community. It seemed that Open Space would be the ideal way to bring together people who would never normally meet in the course of every day life.

And so it was. Although ill health prevented Kerry from facilitating our first event in November 2005, he guided us through the preparations – firmly outlining the participative principles of Open Space: no top down agenda, no key note speeches and definitely no party political point scoring. To my delight and surprise the comrades agreed wholeheartedly – some of them had also seen Kerry in action. When he was unable to take part, Kerry introduced us to one of his colleagues, Maggie Havergal, who generously assumed the role and has stayed with us ever since. Because, to our surprise, that was just the start of a lasting community venture which grew into Leith Open Space.

Since then we have held Open Space events on the topics of multicultural integration, youth opportunities, women carers, a people’s vision for Leith Walk. We have not changed the world, or even Leith, but we have discovered that when people come together in an Open Space there is a chance to discover common humanity: connections rather than divisions. As each event included a lunch break that somehow led to our team being founder members of the World Kitchen in Leith. And again Kerry supported and applauded our efforts, not just in his characteristically robust emails but by turning up to eat the food with great gusto and responding by taking me out to a slap-up lunch.

Collage of Leith Open Space event posters, flyers and newsletters

Collage of Leith Open Space event posters, flyers and newsletters

There is of course no such thing as a free lunch. Somewhat to my embarrassment, Kerry invited me to represent Leith Open Space at the 20th meeting of the World Open Space on Open Space (WOSONOS), an international two day workshop which was to be held in London in 2012. That was unnerving, to say the least, for someone who dislikes public speaking, has never facilitated a workshop and even harbours some misgivings that Open Space, despite being a truly inspiring process, does not often enough turn words into actions.

But Kerry emailed back: that was exactly why he wanted me to take part…

 Ms. Young stop being so British and self-effacing, take the credit when it is due. 

And please consider just telling the World Open Space Community your story about what one person can do with a concept and process created and used by others across the world.  They will be thrilled, Harrison Owen [the original and equally charismatic founder of Open Space] will be chuffed and you will get to meet some pretty niffy people whom you might see again on your travels on the Continent and other places on our planet.

It was an offer I could not refuse, especially since Kerry generously insisted on paying for my passage south. And it turned out to be an unforgettable and uplifting experience. I am so glad I went because it leaves me with memories of Kerry operating with charm, style and great humour in an environment where he was absolutely at home and widely respected. Quite typically, he was at the door waiting to meet this nervous delegate from Edinburgh, arriving a little late: “I hope you don’t mind,” he said, “I’ve put you down for leading a workshop on Open Space Community.” Perhaps it’s needless to add, Kerry stayed by my side throughout the workshop, adding dry but encouraging observations whenever discussion stalled.

Kerry, who was 73, leaves a wife Angela, son David and grandson Jack, and countless friends.


Front page of first Leith Open Space newsletter: Can we Listen to Each Other?

Front page of first Leith Open Space newsletter: Can we Listen to Each Other?



  1. fay

    Thank you Kate, I was thinking today that Kerry has touched so many lives. the project I’m involved in is very small yet he was always so encouraging and I think maybe he didn’t make a distinction between small and big projects. Today was a great tribute to him from the people who love him.

  2. Kate MacInnes

    Thank you Fay for sharing this as you did today at Kerry’s funeral. Although I felti knew him so well for so many years it is so good to read about the lasting impact he contributed to i- although it always takes more than one person to make things happen as you and obviously everyone in the project have done.
    Kate x

  3. fay

    thank you JIm, really appreciate your comment and do look forward to catching up in real life soon xx

  4. Jim jamieson

    Fay, you’ve revealed a part of your life that I knew so little about- thank you! Looking forward to at least speaking on the phone, better still, getting a chance to meet up for some ‘face time’. Jxx.

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