My friend Laurie Laken, who has died aged 84, was a table tennis coach and youth worker on the Isle of Dogs, in the East End of London, for 26 years, and was the most patient, organised and sincere man.
I met Laurie in 1991 when I was seven, and he introduced me to table tennis at Christ Church crypt youth club on the Isle of Dogs, where my father was the vicar. Laurie had two tables there and more at George Green school. We played family competitions, competing for fun size boxes of Smarties. Regular events rewarded players of every age with medals and trophies. With no available photocopier, Laurie created tournament sheets on pieces of old cardboard. In school holidays, his training camps with visiting international players such as Grant Solder amazed us.
He was born in Melbourne, Australia, to Elsie (nee Crease), a housewife, and William Laken, a foreman at a cigarette production company. They had emigrated in 1930, returning to London in 1936. Laurie was the second of six siblings. He was evacuated with his brothers during the war to Cheshire.
Laurie attended Ilford County high school and upon leaving became a careers officer in the Youth Employment Office for the council in Ilford. At Cranbrook Baptist church in Ilford he met the social activist Bob Holman, who famously gave up a university professorship to be a community worker on a deprived estate. They became lifelong friends and kindred spirits.
Laurie was a quiet activist, motivated by his Christian values to live simply as a youth worker and coach. After a period as a lay preacher at a Baptist church in Lancashire, he arrived in the Isle of Dogs in 1976 to take up his role as community sports coach.
Laurie was well known and respected by young people, even the locals who shunned youth clubs, because of his authenticity and commitment to the area.
His enthusiasm inspired many table tennis players and his encouragement led people on to all kinds of interesting paths. He believed that a friendly welcome, a warm smile and a bat in the hand could bring out the best out in everyone. I became a secondary school teacher and started Brighton Table Tennis Club 13 years ago. It is now my full-time job and we have more than 1,500 people playing a week. This would never have happened without Laurie’s inspiration.
Laurie never married, and with no children of his own was an adored Uncle Lol to his nieces and nephews, whom he entertained in his Isle of Dogs home with a pianola.
He retired in 2000 and moved to Swanage, where he continued to enjoy an active sporting life, playing table tennis and tennis. He also demonstrated his skills with the grab machine on the pier, eventually being gently barred for winning too often, although he always gave away his prizes to others.
He is survived by his sister Pat and brother Derek and by 15 nephews and nieces.