Home is where the heart is, Helena Kennedy QC

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC is one of the UK’s most distinguished lawyers. A frequent broadcaster, author and journalist on law and women’s rights, Helena is currently Director of the Institute of Human Rights at the global lawyers' organisation, The International Bar Association.

I have the great luck of living in Belsize Park in London in a white stucco Victorian family house which was once the Rectory for St Saviour’s church. This is my home, the place to which I returned after trials at the Old Bailey and where I now find solace after trips to refugee camps. It is the place my husband and I bought from the psychiatrist, RD Laing, in 1986 when we married. It is a place of love where our children grew up and where we enjoy gatherings with our family, and with our friends. It has been the scene of many special events over thirty-odd years and is now the store of our lives’ possessions; mainly books and photographs and pieces of art we love. It is worn at the edges, as real homes usually are.

It is a far cry from the place I called home as a child. I was brought up in a tenement in the Southside of Glasgow; a two-room & kitchen with no bathroom. Four children somehow crammed in this tiny place. We were gloriously happy and unaware how tough this must have been on our parents. My mother went to the Public Washhouse to do her weekly wash, where we were also taken to be bathed, sitting on the floor reading or playing in the cubicle, while she soaked in the luxury of hot steaming water before she dunked us all in, one at a time. That small apartment was home until, when I was ten, we moved to the council house which was home until I flew the nest to study.

I like home building, creating a sanctuary as well as a welcoming space. During forty years of practice at the Criminal Bar, I visited many prisons and saw how longing for home and the loss of that special place, and all it stands for, was a terrible punishment. People yearned for home. They waited, counted the years and days. Sometimes, it was no longer waiting for them.

Now most of my work involves travel to places of conflict and war. I see the impact of gross inhumanity on those who have seen their families slaughtered and who have themselves suffered unimaginable tortures. They are displaced from home. They wonder if they will ever be able to return to the places of their memories and happiness.

Home is less a place of bricks and mortar, than a space of memory and feelings, of freedom and contentment. It is the place to which our hearts will always return. It is where we feel safe.