Founder of Norwich Peace Camp dies aged 68

Sean Barclay at his final Peace Camp on September 25 last year (2021) at The Forum, Norwich

Sean Barclay at his final Peace Camp on September 25 last year (2021) at The Forum, Norwich - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

He was known as the man who handed out pins emblazoned with the words "peace is achievable". 

One of the founding organisers of the Norwich Peace Camp and Peace Cycle has died, leaving behind a legacy of goodwill.

Born into a family of pacifists, it is no surprise that Sean Barclay, known as Shan by friends, became passionate about helping those around him. 

His paternal grandfather, John Barclay, became an outspoken pacifist after serving as a captain in the First World War and witnessing his entire platoon shot down. 

And his paternal grandmother, Irene Barclay OBE, was the author of People Need Roots and became the first female surveyor in the UK.

Described as a man who “lived his life with high ideals”, Mr Barclay would go on to fight for the causes he believed in. 

Sean Barclay at his final Peace Camp on September 25 last year (2021) at The Forum, Norwich

Sean Barclay at his final Peace Camp on September 25 last year (2021) at The Forum, Norwich - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

Born on February 24, 1953, in Nigeria, Africa, he was the son of civil engineer Michael Barclay.

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Growing up during the Cold War Mr Barclay grew up aware of the issues of war and peace. 

Aged three, the family returned to England and settled in a cottage in Hampstead, London, later moving to Islington. 

He attended boarding school in Devon and went on to study philosophy and English literature at Sussex University, Brighton.

It was a love of sailing which brought him back to Nelson’s County over the years, but he would eventually make it his home following a pivotal moment in his life.   

His youngest son, Ahmad Barclay, explained: “Although he had a fairly secular upbringing, Dad would go on to convert to Islam and become a Sufi Muslim. 

“During the mid-1970s, he hitchhiked to Jerusalem. Here he embraced Islam.

“He also met our mother at this time, as a follower of the same Sufi teacher in Palestine. 

“This was a time in his life which he carried for the remainder of his. His religion was the most important thing to him.” 

Mr Barclay met his wife, Renee Belqees, on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, where they studied with Sufi Sheikh, Mouhamned Al Jemal Ar Rifai Ash Shadhulli. 

Mrs Barclay added: "Previously, I was Jewish and Sean was Christian. We embraced Islam, but this was not a rejection of our previous religions."

The couple were married by their Sheikh in July 1978, Jerusalem. Soon after, they hitchhiked back to England while expecting their first child, and arrived in the UK in the October of the same year.

Their legal marriage took place on November 11, Armistice Day, at Lambeth Borough Council registry office. 

They lived for a short time in Clapham, but moved in March 1979 to Norwich.

Their eldest son, Ibrahim, was born in 1979, followed by Ahmad (1982), and their daughter Rahma (1985). 

Mr Barclay found employment as a painter with chocolate manufacturers Rowntree Mackintosh before completing his Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE).

As well as working with children with special educational needs at Bowthorpe High School and Earlham High School, he also worked as a supply teacher as well as a carpenter. 

He was involved over the years in the city’s Muslim community as well as many other causes, including as an advisor for the Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE).

He also created art installations including a piece at Hellesdon Hospital, north Norwich. 

Mrs Barclay added: “Sean lived his life with high ideals. 

“Sean’s motivation and work campaigning for peace and social justice is what made him such a remarkable individual. 

“He was a modest person and now, after his passing, have I begun to realise the extent of people and campaigns that he worked with during his life."

His daughter, Rahma, added: “He always had time for me.

“His tagline was ‘peace is achievable’ and he never wavered from this belief. 

“He was an ear for people. People loved him.” 

Mr Barclay was involved with his last Peace Camp in September 2021 outside The Forum in the city. He had been the lead organiser for 16 years since its founding. 

His last wish was to have an olive peace tree planted in Chapelfield Gardens to commemorate Norwich as one of many cities across the world with a Mayor for Peace.   

He died from cancer on January 26, 2022. As well as his wife and children, he leaves behind three grandsons.