As Donna Heuerman looks out of her window every morning, she sees row upon row of bricks lined up in her garden. They’ve been left there by her son Jonjo – but while most mothers would be frustrated, Donna couldn’t be prouder. The bricks are evidence of her son’s determination to help other people.
“He gets involved in all sorts of weird and wonderful things,” Donna says. “He’s been fundraising since he was eight years old, when his nan died of bowel cancer.”
The loss of his grandmother prompted Jonjo to raise £350,000 for the Bobby Moore Fund, a cancer charity linked to his favourite football club, West Ham United.
So when West Ham announced that their old stadium, the Boleyn Ground at Upton Park, was about to be demolished, Jonjo was already a veteran charity fundraiser.
For him, the demolition was an opportunity.
“He asked for a couple of seats or something that could be auctioned for the charity,” Donna says.
The demolition company answered his request and provided some seats. But they also pointed out they were due to knock down a commemorative wall made up of bricks paid for by fans, and they didn’t want them to end up in a skip.
“The builders supported Arsenal but ultimately they were football fans and they couldn’t take a wrecking ball to the wall,” Donna says.
“They said, ‘If we can knock down these walls one by one, brick by brick, would you take them?’ And Jonjo said, ‘I think we should do something mum.'”
Donna and Jonjo were expecting a few hundred bricks, but in the end the builders managed to save 1,000 of the 1,400 in the wall.
At first they stored them in the West Ham supporters’ club but when that was shut down in 2017, a new home was needed. The only option was to move them to the family’s back garden.
“They were safe, that’s all that mattered,” Donna says.
Each of the bricks is unique. Some are marked only with initials, some have names and messages like “Super Dad” and “Life Hammer” (as West Ham supporters are known as Hammers).
“These bricks all had different stories behind them, some were for people who have passed on, some were for people who wanted to mark their first game,” Jonjo says.
Jonjo and Donna weren’t sure they would hear back from anyone but soon a trickle of messages began to arrive.
One of them was from 65-year-old Cathy Finlayson.
Cathy asked if they had a brick with her grandson’s name on it – Jake Russell.
She explained that six-year-old Jake had played for the West Ham Juniors team and loved watching the senior team play.
“He had that special little character and everyone who met him said how lovely he was,” his grandmother says.
“He had a cheeky little way that made him sparkle. He had a special way with him that you couldn’t help but love.”
But one day, 19 years ago, as he was on his way to show a friend some autographs he’d collected from West Ham players, he was tragically run over by a car and died.
The family then dedicated a brick to Jake’s memory.
Jonjo quickly found it, having laid out all the bricks in alphabetical order, and he and Donna personally delivered it to Cathy.
“When I got the brick in my hands, I was bouncing about and it was like they had given a bit of him back to me,” says Cathy.
“It’s a part of West Ham and part of Jake and it brings back so many wonderful memories.”
Jonjo doesn’t deliver every brick by hand – instead he organises a brick-collection day every few months.
There is a set routine. He and Donna get up early, at their home in Kent, and pick out the bricks that are due to be collected. Then they load them into a van and drive them to a pre-arranged pick-up point. Usually about 50 people come to collect them.
“It’s always a good mood but sometimes it does get a bit sad when people come and get them and explain some of the stories,” Jonjo says.
At a collection day held this summer, Jim Ody, 64, came to pick up a brick dedicated to his father, who had died suddenly in front of his family at a West Ham game.
“Dad passed away in the area where the commemorative wall was built,” Jim says.
“It was all a bit of a shock.
“I was pleased to get the brick back but now I’ve got to decide what to do with it to make sure it gets the prominence it deserves.”
Donna says this is a common dilemma.
“I’ve had a few pictures where they put them in their back gardens. They’ve actually cemented them back into their walls,” she says.
Many of the recipients have been West Ham supporters for decades.
Marion Maloney, 78, came to pick up a brick that had been paid for by her husband, Alan, shortly before he died – and she had a remarkable story about his childhood.
As a youngster, Alan had played football in the park with Bobby Moore, she explained, the legendary player who would go on to captain both West Ham and the England team that won the 1966 World Cup.
“Bobby Moore was always a very immaculately turned out person,” Marion says.
“His mum used to boil his football laces. He’d go there to play and they were pure white and he was the only one. My husband thought the world of him.
“Now when we (West Ham) win a game, I look up at the ceiling and say to Alan, ‘We’ve won,’ and I imagine my husband giving me the thumbs up.”
Among the hundreds of bricks lying in the garden, the team found one belonging to Jim Fitzpatrick, MP for Poplar and Limehouse.
When Jonjo got in touch, he was invited by the MP to deliver it in person to the Houses of Parliament.
“Security were a bit confused. But once we explained the story and Jim came round they let us through,” he says.
To make it back to their owners, some of the bricks have travelled much further – to the US, Australia and New Zealand, for example.
But one brick brought the project closer to home than Donna and Jonjo had expected – they discovered it had been dedicated to Donna’s cousin, Dean, after his death.
“We were looking at these bricks thinking, ‘Is that the same Dean?’ and it was,” Donna says.
“It was weird that we had this connection among all these other bricks and stories.”
West Ham United say they haven’t forgotten about their longstanding supporters.
The inscriptions on the bricks from the Boleyn ground are now stamped on a commemorative walkway at the club’s new stadium in the Olympic Park.
“It is great that they can be reunited with the original bricks while still being able to see their messages (on the walkway),” says Jake Heath, a spokesman for the club.
To date, Jonjo and his mother have managed to reunite around a third of the bricks with their owners. They say they will continue until the job is done.
“My husband has threatened to build a barbecue out of the bricks but that isn’t happening because they are really, really meaningful to a lot of people,” Donna says.
“I was absolutely thrilled to get my grandson’s brick back,” Cathy Finlayson says.
“People will think I’m crazy but I still talk to Jake.
“I have his photo next to where I sit and on the day I got the brick back, I said, ‘Look, we’ve got it!'”
If you had a commemorative brick at the Boleyn Ground, please visit fornannyandbobby.com/boleyn-brick-project
You may also be interested in:
Few things mean as much to soldiers as their medals. But if the medals get lost, how do they find their way home? That’s where Major Zachariah Fike comes in.