Big Issue Vendor

Big Issue Changemakers 2021: Health and the NHS

The National Health Service is facing the biggest challenge in its 73-year history. These selfless Changemakers stood up to help the NHS throughout the Covid-19 pandemic
Jay Flynn's Facebook quiz accident raised thousands for the NHS. Credit: Supplied

The Covid-19 pandemic has put the NHS under incredible strain unlike any other challenge seen in its 73-year history and catapulted health to the top of the news agenda.

Since the global health crisis began in March, the pleas from Boris Johnson have been consistent: “Protect the NHS“. Going into 2021 and a new surge in Covid-19 cases, that message has been repeated in the strongest possible terms.

But plenty of people around the UK have done more than just protect the NHS. They have gone out of their way to support it, raising cash, making masks and more to help the health service to keep everyone safe from the virus. More will be needed throughout the health challenges to come in 2021.

Lockdowns have taken income away from hundreds of Big Issue sellers. Support The Big Issue and our vendors by signing up for a subscription.

84. Jay Flynn

When pubs were closed at the start of lockdown, Jay Flynn set up a virtual pub quiz to keep his friends entertained.

Not realising he had accidentally made the Facebook event page public, the quiz quickly went viral and Jay, from Lancashire, found himself with an audience of hundreds of thousands of quizzers.

Making the most of this massive following, he started streaming weekly quizzes and encouraged participants to donate to the NHS or another charity of their choice. Having hosted more than 150 quizzes since March last year, Jay has raised over £750,000.

85. Theo Woods

Think back to April, when you might have been clapping in support of the NHS on your street. It probably felt strange at first to clap for that much time at once, but it’s nothing compared to what 13-year-old Theo Woods did to raise money for our key workers. On April 23, Theo, from Hartlepool, clapped continuously from 8am to 8pm to bring attention to the long shifts that frontline staff were working. The marathon clap raised over £7,500, which deserves a long, long round of applause.

Lockdowns have taken income away from hundreds of Big Issue sellers. Support The Big Issue and our vendors by signing up for a subscription.

Health Changemaker Olivia Strong's Run for Heroes saw more than one million people don running shoes during lockdown
olivia strong health Changemakers 2021
Olivia Strong's Run for Heroes saw more than one million people don running shoes during lockdown

86. Olivia Strong

The Run for Heroes campaign, founded in March by Olivia Strong, saw over one million participants – including celebrities like Ellie Goulding and Mo Farah – run 5km, donate £5 to NHS charities and nominate five others to do the same. The initiative raised more than £8m, and Olivia was awarded an MBE.

The Big Issue: Can you tell us how Run for Heroes came about?
Olivia: I thought of the idea while I was running around Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh during the first week of lockdown. I noticed how many people were out doing the same, even though it was pouring with rain. I thought: ‘Could we pay to go on our daily form of exercise?’ At the time, 5km was within the exercise guidelines, and £5 seemed like a reasonable amount of money to ask for. Also, I figured if you nominated five others it would spread quickly. As soon as I got back from my run I started working on the campaign. In four days, it reached the original £5,000 target. A month later we reached £5m.

How does it feel knowing that a challenge that began with your friends and family snowballed into a global phenomenon?
It was amazing to see it grow around the world. The point of this challenge was always to raise money for the NHS charities and the people that were working really hard, and still do, to keep us safe. To see it also being used to raise money globally in countries like Egypt, Australia, Japan and the United States for pandemic-related causes was absolutely incredible.

What have you learned since launching the campaign and what’s next for Run for Heroes?

I think I’ve learned more in the past six months than I have in the last six years. The biggest takeaway is that if everybody does a small bit, we can make a huge difference. As for what’s next, we’re working on getting Run for Heroes set up as a charity body, which is exciting, and will continue to raise money for health and wellbeing causes throughout the UK.

87. Masks for NHS Heroes

Knowing more than anyone the importance of PPE, a group of doctors and NHS staff set up a charity with the goal of providing frontline healthcare workers with face masks, visors, surgical gowns and gloves. Raising over £1.5m in just one week of crowdfunding, Masks for NHS Heroes has supplied over a million pieces of certified PPE to hospitals across the UK since March.

Tonny Hudgell's fundraising walks saw him named a Changemaker
5 year old Tony Hudgell finishes 10 km walk to raise 1 million pounds for Evelina Hospital, UK - 30 Jun 2020
Brave Tony Hudgell's walks raised more than one million pounds for Evelina Hospital. Credit: Invicta Kent Media/Shutterstock

88. Tony Hudgell

Inspiring six-year-old Tony Hudgell managed to raise over £1m in June for the NHS hospital that saved his life. Tony received his first pair of prosthetic legs in early 2020 after suffering injuries as a baby that resulted in both limbs having to be amputated. Adapting to the prosthetics remarkably quickly, Tony challenged himself to walk every day for a month. Receiving support from famous faces including David Walliams, César Azpilicueta and Alesha Dixon, by the end of the 30 days he’d walked an extraordinary 10km.

89. Oli Coles

Hospitality for Heroes is a not-for-profit campaign aimed at supplying NHS staff with healthy, restaurant-quality meals prepared by local chefs. Since launching in April the initiative has delivered over 80,000 dishes to 15 NHS hospitals. Hospitality for Heroes also organised a surprise concert for International Nurses Day in May, which was streamed in hospitals across the country and featured performances by Mel C, Clean Bandit and James Blunt. For his work on the initiative, Oli, from Chipping Norton, was recognised with a British Empire Medal.

90. Secret Drug Addict

The Secret Drug Addict offers support on Instagram and Twitter for those battling addiction. Though he’s grown in profile, he keeps his messages open late at night for those who need it. The Big Issue was contacted by someone he has helped, who nominated the Secret Drug Addict as a Changemaker so more people might seek help. “He shares advice and accounts of beating addiction. For personal reasons, I never engaged. However, I would read. This drip-drip reading of the Secret Addict helped me overcome and beat my addiction. It has now been over two years – I would never have thought this was possible.”

Siena Castellon couldn't see autism represented in literature so wrote her own book
Siena Castellon health changemaker 2021 (Sept 18, 2020)
Siena Castellon couldn't see autism represented in literature so wrote her own book and founded Neurodiversity Celebration Week (Credit: Supplied)

91. Siena Castellon

When 18-year-old Siena Castellon was diagnosed with autism, she struggled to find a  book written by someone who had shared her experiences. So she decided to write one herself. She is also the founder of Neurodiversity Celebration Week.

The Big Issue: What has been the most surprising part of the process of sharing your experiences?
Siena: I was also viciously bullied at school and was blamed for not trying harder to ‘fit in’ and be like everyone else. I used to believe that this experience was unique to me. But hundreds of people worldwide have reached out to share their stories, and they all mirror mine.

What is one major thing that you’d like to see change across our culture?
I would like to see genuine and authentic acceptance, equality, and inclusion. My concern is that there is a vast disconnect between what is marketed on the slick websites and glossy brochures and the actions being taken at the core of an organisation. There is a lot of hypocrisy and disconnect between what is publicly said and what is actually done.

The next Neurodiversity Celebration Week will be from March 15-21

92. Ramses Underhill-Smith and Alternative Care Services

Ramses Underhill-Smith is the director of Alternative Care Services, the UK’s first LGBTQ-focused domiciliary care provider. As a trans man who came out later in life, he also campaigns for the rights of older queer people as a board member of Spectra. Alternative Care provides support for queer people that is free from the threat of bigotry. “It was heartbreaking seeing people I know, who lived happy, comfortable and proud lives, having to go back into the closet to get dignified care and support in later life,” he says.

93. Alliance For Choice

Alliance for Choice was a key pressure-group in the legalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland. But the group hasn’t stopped fighting after this milestone. The past few months has seen the NHS left with limited resources, training, staff allocation, and public health campaigns to enact the new laws, due to inaction from the Department of Health. This has left groups such as Alliance for Choice responsible for providing essential guidance and resources for women and young girls seeking an abortion, in a year where the process has been more difficult due to Covid-19.

94. ADHD Action

ADHD Action was founded by Michelle Beckett after she was diagnosed as an adult and public health services failed to provide her with adequate support. The organisation aims to change public perception and outdated health practices which leave those with ADHD in the dark. The pandemic and lockdowns present particular challenges for people with the condition, meaning ADHD Action’s efforts were vital in 2020 and will continue to offer hope for people in 2021. It is estimated that 21,000 adults are on NHS waiting lists, with wait times exceeding five years for a diagnosis.

95. BalikBayani

Filipino workers make up around two per cent of healthcare staff, yet more than 20 per cent of the NHS workers lost to Covid-19 have been Filipino. This disparity is why the BalikBayani fundraiser was launched. Aimed at supporting their families left behind – both in the UK and the Philippines – the campaign saw a group of 100 Filipinos, Britons, Canadians, Singaporeans, Italians, and Americans collectively walk and run a total of 7,000 miles, representing the journey from the UK back home to the Philippines. To date the campaign has raised over £20,000.

You can read Changemakers 1-18, the people leading the fight against poverty, here. Find out about Changemakers 19-44, the people meeting the challenges of Covid-19, here. For Changemakers, 45-54, the people tackling homelessness, head here.