Much-loved Sheffield teacher set to deliver message from beyond the grave

A former teacher from Sheffield who inspired a generation to help change the world is bowing out in his own inimitable style - by delivering a message from beyond the grave at a party celebrating his life.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 17 January, 2019, 11:17
John Errington with a mural done by African exchange pupils from Zanzibar as part of the Makunduchi link he set up at Aston Comprehensive School

John Errington lived in Burngreave and taught for many years at Aston Comprehensive School, where his lust for adventure and determination to right  social injustices rubbed off on students.

The father-of-four was made an MBE in 2004 for his work forging links between the school, now Aston Academy, and the seaside village of Makunduchi on the island of Zanzibar, off Africa's east coast.

John Errington in his native Seahouses

That involved exchange trips, raising funds for much-needed facilities from farms to new classrooms - partly through the sale of villagers' handmade crafts in the UK, and much more.

For John, this was a chance not just to help those in need but to open his pupils' eyes to life in the developing world.

He sadly died on December 21 at St Luke's Hospice, aged 65, after a long battle with cancer.

John Errington with some of his many placards

Family and friends are fulfilling his dying wish by organising a party rather than a funeral, at which uplifting banners John designed himself  to bring cheer and comfort to those he loved will be unveiled.

The content of those banners remains a closely guarded secret, but those in the know say anyone hoping for a final dose of his trademark wit and eccentricity will not be disappointed.

John Whitton, a close friends and former colleague, said: 'John was an unorthodox teacher but his methods paid off and he was incredibly well-respected by pupils and staff.

Students from Africa, Hafidh and Zawada, with John Errington at Aston Comprehensive School as part of the Makunduchi exchange programme

'He had a knack for inspiring people, especially his students, and the work he did setting up the Makunduchi link changed lives both over there and here. I think his former students would say they're better people because of it.'

John's commitment to righting what he saw as the world's wrongs was not limited to his work in Zanzibar.

He campaigned tirelessly on issues ranging from preventing fracking to saving Sheffield's trees from the chop, and his distinctive stripy hat, specs and plethora of placards were a familiar sight at demonstrations across the city and beyond.

John Errington and his son Farne

He was also a keen musician, playing guitar and ukulele, most notably with The Dead Easy Band and alongside regular collaborator Dick Clark.

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John's ex-wife Sue Wallis described him as a '˜true eccentric' with '˜boundless energy', who was never one to turn down an adventure or to let things lie if he thought they could be improved, and who had a way of persuading people to back his many causes.

She told how his memoirs, written after his terminal diagnosis, are packed with tales of madcap escapades, often ending with the words '˜I could have died that day' - a reminder to readers not to be afraid to push life to the limits as he did.

Born and raised in Seahouses, John toured the world on a shoestring as a young man, funding his travels by taking on jobs ranging from tobacco farming in Canada to fishing in Belize.

He came to Sheffield to read botany and geology at university, and felt immediately at home in what was then the People's Republic of South Yorkshire, settling down in the city and becoming a biology teacher.

For all John's far-flung adventures, it was a project closer to home which Farne Errington said best summed up his dad.

John Errington with a signpost at the footbridge he lovingly renovated

In 2015, John discovered a disused footbridge near The Riverside pub, just outside the city centre, and made it his pet project to fix up this forgotten crossing.

'We spent a whole summer there, scraping off rust, painting it in bright colours and making signposts,' said Farne.

'It was a very eccentric restoration project, and he even got the lord mayor to officially open it.

'It showed how passionate he became when something took his interest, and how much fun he was to be around.'

The last word is probably best left to the man himself, who signed off his memoirs with the following advice: 'Enjoy your youth and your health. Lots of people die with unfulfilled ambition. I'm not going to, don't you either. If in doubt, always go for it!'

John is survived by his children Lily, Crewe, Daisy and Farne, and his granddaughter Phoebe. The private party in his memory will take place in Sheffield this March.

John Errington with Arafa Haji, aged 19, and Hamida Kija, aged 15, selling batiks as part of the Aston-Makunduchi partnership
John Errington (centre)