It’s exceptionally hard to write this tribute about Simon, someone who gave so much of himself for others, yet he never sought recognition for the tens of thousands of hours he gave to Bolton over the years. Simon volunteered with Bolton NEWT, volunteered with Bolton College to help young people struggling with staying in College, and shared his love of wildlife photography online and through the Bolton News.
I met Simon while volunteering at the Gravel Pits, myself Natalie and Simon decided that between us, we could do the same volunteering with our own community group for Leverhulme Park. Between the three of us we formed ‘Bolton North East Wildlife Trail’, it covered the love of wildlife and nature but also highlighted a trail, that one day we hoped would stretch from Jumbles to Moses Gate. As NEWT grew, so did the committee members with Jasmine, Adele, Gavin, Leanne and Stuart joining our close-knit group. In our NEWT chat, every day, always a “Good morning” from each of us. When it came to conservation, Simon was always there for every task, stood in the rain with a rake or on a hillside planting heather in the burning sun while being bit by horse-fly’s. NEWT was a great opportunity for Simon to share his photography with thousands of people on a daily basis, NEWT’s daily photography, was almost always Simon’s photography, it brought a lot of enjoyment for Simon and the countless thousands of people who see and engage with them.
At our planned events, Simon was always the reasonable one to try and reel myself and Adele from getting carried away, often shrugging annoyed as I changed the event concept for the twelve time. In 2019, when we began managing a piece of land owned by Bolton At Home to turn it into a community allotment, it was some of the most content times I’d seen Simon. Happy with a brew, sat in our hobo shack, yet it was the cold of winter as the rain fell and the wind blew. As the allotment grew into a hub, Simon and I developed a code on site, I’d often say “where’s that thingy”, to which this became so frequent, he knew what ‘thingy’ I was on about and where’d I’d most likely left it in one of my ten drop-off points.
Anyone who knew Simon, will have heard him utter the line “I hate kids”. Yet he was known as Uncle Simon to Ariana and Alexander, every time the kids saw Simon, they’d run straight past me to mob him because they knew him as fun ‘Uncle Simon’. He’d join with me to organize tree planting with schools, plan events, he spent three weeks straight with me making a Halloween board game for children. Simon gave years of his life in volunteering to make Bolton a better place to live.
As Simon became ill, we would all regularly visit him in Hospital, on Tuesday we didn’t receive a chat message from Simon saying his usual “Good Morning”, when we visited him that day his health had noticeably deteriorated. On Wednesday Simon was surrounded by friends and family at his hospital bed, on Thursday morning he passed away with his brother Alan by his side.
Simon was a dearly beloved friend, uncle and brother, the legacy he leaves behind is one of a better world for others, every Spring the thousands of daffodils along Long Lane and Somerton will flower, the Orchard he helped plant on Leverhulme Park will bear fruit, the meadows where he sowed wildflower seeds will provide for tens of thousands of insects, Simon has left us, but his legacy will remain.
"Simon Gilkes, he gave so much to the community of Breightmet. He has been involved with and was a chairman of a group that gets very little recognition in Bolton, especially within the council and voluntary organisations that work in Bolton but his work and the group (full disclosure that I am involved with) has received an MBE for voluntary service because of the work that has been done in Breightmet." - Adele Warren
"I first connected with Simon through his photos on Facebook. I was drawn to their beauty and celebration of nature. We exchanged a few messages about photography and he was very welcoming. It was through this link that I turned up at a litter pick organized by Chris, Simon and Natalie. Both Simon and Chris helped with an exhibition I was doing and they came to support me and from there I heard about Bolton NEWT and thought how I’d love to be involved in that.
"We shared many innermost thoughts with each other on the multitude of walks we went on. Simon really opened up the local area we lived, and I discovered wonders around Bolton that I never knew existed. Simon was so generous with his time and his experience, and I loved him dearly. His contributions to Bolton and to our group will live on in all the people who benefited from his generosity." - Jasmine Renold
"Simon was a true friend, dependable. I was introduced to Simon, Chris, Jasmine and the gang by Adele. Since the first time to the last time, he always made me feel welcome. He made me a brew every single time I stepped foot on the allotment. Everyone knows I love brews.
Simon was a dependable rock of a guy, always able to rely on him. We put in some gruelling conservation work. I made up for the moaning Simon didn’t do. Simon was very ill, but he largely kept this to himself, he got on with the job and didn’t complain.
When I see the orchards grow, the daffodils, the ponds, the wildflowers, the paths we dug out, I will think of him. Simon may be gone early, he won’t be able to take up his invite to Buckingham Palace for the Queen's Award. But, he’s made a positive change, and this change will live on for many years." Stuart Hartigan