BACK in 1970s, after pioneering community worker, Bob Holman, had thrown himself into living and working in Bath's Southdown council estate, he received 1,596 knocks at the door within the first three years. They were mostly from kids looking for help. In the Glasgow home he now shares with his wife Annette, the knocks keep coming. But these days they are from people who want to help him. Bob Holman, the much-loved socialist, has been learning what it’s like to receive, rather than give. Annette tells me she is trying to keep some of those folk "at bay” since it’s tiring for him. But it's hard. It’s a sign of how loved Holman is that now the sad news of his illness is out, people keep wanting to help. People from the Easterhouse Baptist Church, where he worships. People from Family Action in Rogerfield And Easterhouse, the community hub he helped establish.

When we last met, during the General Election campaign in May, Holman didn't yet know that the reason he was having difficulty speaking and swallowing, and seemed to have with a cold that went “on and on”, was motor neurone disease. Even then, the former social studies professor who, in 1987, planted himself at the heart of the Easterhouse community in order to help families get out of poverty, and who famously introduced Iain Duncan Smith to the reality of social hardship, still seemed to buzz with energy. Though some of the symptoms were there, he was still serving teas in the Easterhouse Baptist Church cafe, wearing a shining, broad smile and a homely apron. We talked then of doing an interview to commemorate the centenary of the death of Labour leader Keir Hardie, his hero, whose biography Holman has written.

That anniversary falls next Saturday. By the time our interview takes place, Holman's conversation, inspiring is ever, is noticeably slurred. “My voice. My voice,” he says when I ask about symptoms. “But I carry on,” he adds chirpily. “Every day is a bonus."

The doctors say he won't get better, he says. “I have a year or two years. It will get worse, and I will die. But I’m not frightened of death. I’m a Christian. I believe in life after death.”

Holman had felt in good health until last October. “Then it hit me,” he says. He began to having problems with speaking. A very bad cold seemed to go on and on. He went for an ear, nose and throat appointment and was sent to see a speech therapist. They wondered if he might have had a slight stroke. The speech therapist recommended a neurological investigation, but before that occurred the breathing started to get worse, a hospital visit was required, and a diagnosis came.

We meet at his home, a former council house with a blooming front garden. After 16 years living in Easterhouse, the Holmans, moved here around a decade ago to be nearer to their grandchildren and daughter, Ruth, a gynaecologist. “My 17-year-old grandson is very upset,” says Holman. “He was due to go to New Zealand next month to play cricket. He won’t go. He wants to stay with me.”

Annette, the woman he first met when they were both social studies students on work placement, is the person who will see him through this tough time – and is, he tells me several times, marvellous, a “miracle”. “One thing I think is almost good is that I’ll die before she does, and I couldn’t manage without her.” It's the leaving of their children that he dreads most. “I don’t want to leave my family,” he says. “They’re marvellous. But it will happen in the end. So, I say every day is a new day. I’m living. I can move around. I can go to the shops. But at some point I won’t be able to. I won’t. At some point I will be nursed.” He does fear physical deterioration. “My voice will go,” he says, and it seems to melt away even as he says it.

“But I’m quite looking forward to dying,” he adds. Holman is 78. When he was 64, the age at which his own father died, he had a dream in which his dad appeared, welcoming him into the next life. “I’m looking forward to dying. Be with my God. I have a belief in an afterlife. I’ve no idea what that is. But God is merciful ... I don’t know. I’ve had a great life.”

Born in 1936, Holman's life was shaped by his Second World War childhood, “though I could not talk about it for years. I saw people killed. It never left me”. Being evacuated was another formative experience from which grew his sense of “belief in family unity, sympathy for those who felt alienated, and a longing for some sort of spirituality”. He never forgot “the isolation, even fear in being a “vacuee” outsider”.

That feeling for the outsider, that compassion for children forced to live apart from family members, would later inform his work trying to keep families together by combating poverty.

He joined the Labour Party in 1961.” Very important was my dad being an air raid warden during the war,” he recalls. “He was part of a working-class team which rescued the bombed and dug the dead. His colleagues became friends for life. They demonstrated that the working class were important and I still recall the 1945 [Labour] victory. May the next one come soon.”

But, it was reading an essay by Peter Townsend that shaped the type of socialist he would become – one who would apply his beliefs to his own behaviour. “You cannot live like a lord and preach as a socialist,” was Townsend’s clarion call.

Holman has never lived like a lord, though there were times he flirted with a more comfortable life. As a professor of social administration at Bath university, he lived in a detached house, and recalls he had ideas of himself as a “young professor”. But he soon began to question this, and become uncomfortable with the way it contradicted his belief in the need to work within community. A Christian since his teens, he began thinking about the example of Jesus Christ. “I went back to the Bible,” he recalls.

If there has been a key year in Holman’s life, it was 1976, the year he decided to quit the university and follow his convictions by setting up a community project, and his family home, in Bath's Southdown estate. From then on it was always about community.

But it was a dive into the deep end. When he first went around knocking on doors, and talking to groups of teenagers in the evenings, he was sometimes scared and a little nervous. As for the effects on his own secondary school age children, he had occasional moments of doubt. At one point, the family took into their home a woman who was seeking refuge, with her children, from a violent partner, and the man came round bashing at the door and shouting. After he had turned the man away, Holman recalls: "I turned round and Ruth was just standing there white as a sheet and she was right in the middle of her O level exams. I thought: 'What have I done?' But she was fine.”

Indeed, he says, his children now appreciate that the experience gave them more than they lost. Both went on to excel academically – Ruth as gynaecologist, David as a lecturer in occupational psychology – while sharing their father's commitment to helping within the community.

Holman’s politics belongs to a tradition of Christian socialism and Jesus is at the centre of much of what he talks about, as a figure and role model. When I ask him about his support of refugees, he says: “Jesus Christ was a refugee.” Does he believe he has led a Christly life? “No,” he says. “I’ve tried to.”

This attempt to follow Christ, though, is something he shares with Keir Hardie, who wrote in 1910: “The impetus which drove me first into the Labour movement, and the inspiration which has carried me on in it, has been derived more from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth than from all other sources combined.” Of all the books Holman has written, he's proudest of Keir Hardie: Labour's Greatest Hero?, which explores the Christian element of Hardie's socialism. “I admire him. I relate to him. People like Keir Hardie were in the community. Today’s Labour leaders are not.”

Despite feeling depressed by what has happened to Labour in recent years, he’s never left the party. He once said he wasn’t going to resign because of Tony Blair, because he had joined before Blair, who went on to help found the "New" Labour project. Now, with Jeremy Corbyn as leader, he feels “more encouraged”. “I hope that in the days I have left I will see Labour revived. People say that Jeremy Corbyn is too old to be leader or prime minister; they forget that George Lansbury, one of my great heroes, became leader at the age of 71. And he revived Labour in the 1930s.”

Bob and Annette both voted for Corbyn. "I joined the party in 1962 because I wanted a more equal society which served working-class people. I also want one which is in touch with Keir Hardie who saw trade unions as an essential part of the party although not dominating it. Corbyn and his followers put us on the right track. The danger will come from the Blairite MPs who want a Labour Party that is not too different from the Tories. If I look round the east end of Glasgow, I see many residents who will gain from a government led by the likes of Corbyn.”

“To equality,” is often the sign-off on Holman's emails. And he won't let the principle go. “I believe society should be equal ... and we should move towards a more equal society. Keir Hardie thought that.”

Holman was one of the few significant Labour supporters who came out in favour of independence last year. He now feels very much part of Scotland, the country he has lived in for the last 27 years. When he first moved to Easterhouse, someone said to him: "We don’t like English people here, but it’s better than being from Edinburgh.” But it was "a laugh, a joke", he says, adding that he's rarely thought his Englishness was a problem, though perhaps, he adds, "the fact that I’m working-class English" made a difference.

He plans now to be buried in Scotland. "I’ve lived here. I will die here,” he says – and he already knows where. A few weeks ago, Holman, Annette and their son David went out to visit a field in Fenwick Moor. A friend had been thinking of a woodland burial there, and they had decided to “take a look”. “It was actually very nice," recalls Annette. "We sat in the sun. We thought, ‘Yeah. You could plant a tree.’ It was a nice afternoon. It might seem very strange to say that. I think Bob felt, that’s fine. I’m quite happy with that."

Meanwhile the knocks at the door keep coming. As do the letters. Annette tells me that shortly after her husband's diagnosis, two visitors turned up unexpectedly, both people he had helped in the past. On the day of our interview a family, mother and son, are staying at their house on their way north for a holiday. Holman's brother and sister arrive later in the day. “We are getting many offers of support,” Annette says. “Loads of Christians pray and I value that. Sometimes you do feel, yeah, I’m being carried through this ... What lies ahead for Bob is a lot harder than it is for me.”

Meanwhile, Holman's plans for the time left to him seem completely in character. “I want to be close to the family,” he says. “I want to see Labour revitalised. And I want to be with my friends in Easterhouse.” Those friends visit often. “I used to help them and now they help me. It’s a great experience,” he says.

Holman has felt this flooding of love from church and community before. “I recovered from cancer in 2010,” he recalls. “While under it, I who used to visit the needy became the visited.” At the time, while undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkins Lymphoma, he described, in this newspaper, how his friends in the church had overwhelmed him with their visits, prayers and love. “I feel," he wrote, "part of a social collective which will not let me go."

The collective, of course, will some day have to let him go. When that happens it will be a great loss ... not just for them, but for all of us. Until then, their support is a testament. It is the community Holman has always believed in.

Bob Holman's book, Keir Hardie: Labour's Greatest Hero? is published by Lion Hudson