Let Toys Be Toys

It’s January and the last thing you want to think about is buying more toys. But this campaign aims to keep toys at the top of the agenda, challenging the gender stereotypes reinforced by books, education and, of course, toys. If you have ever questioned why girls get pink stuff and Barbie dolls and everything for boys is blue or an Action Man, this is the campaign for you. Instead of peddling tradition, Let Toys Be Toys believes in giving children the right to choose what they play with. In 2019 they created a Christmas gift guide to help parents and kids smash stereotypes. This year you can look out for the Toymark sign, given to retailers who respect the right of children to follow their instinct, as judged by Let Toys Be Toys.

Brighton and Hove Housing Coalition

All too often human rights  are not upheld when it comes to homeless people. Campaigners Brighton and Hove Housing Coalition are trying to change that by making the seaside resort the first place in the UK to adopt a homeless bill of rights. Backed by a 2,600-strong petition, the campaign aims to get the local authority to back 13 rights covering simple yet essential things such as access to emergency accommodation, the right to use public spaces, the right to vote and the right to privacy. It’s all common-sense stuff – and Brighton and Hove City Council has agreed. They voted to adopt the bill of rights in September, although discussions are ongoing to figure out how it can be introduced. FEANTSA, the European homelessness NGO, has worked to ensure a homeless bill of rights is in place in a handful of cities across the continent – but the Brighton and Hove campaigners could set the tone for more across the UK to follow in 2020.

Sabrina Cohen-Hatton 

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Trailblazer: Sabrina Cohen-Hatton at work as a firefighter

Cohen-Hatton is chief fire officer of the West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service. She is also a Big Issue ambassador, having revealed in 2019 that she sold The Big Issue as a teenager when she experienced homelessness for two years from the age of 15. 

Cohen-Hatton’s journey since working her way out of extreme poverty and homelessness – with a hand up along the way from The Big Issue – is inspirational. She challenges stereotypes, encouraging us to take a second look at people experiencing homelessness. 

“I’m just chuffed to bits – I had no idea that I was going to be a Changemaker. So I’m a bit like a grinning Cheshire Cat,” she says, when we meet to congratulate her. “This means the world to me. I haven’t done any of this for any kind of recognition. It’s been the most difficult thing that I’ve ever done in my life. I would rather walk into a burning inferno any day of the week. 

“But I did it because if I’m feeling like this there must be so many other people who’ve had a similar experience and don’t feel they can talk about it. I want to encourage people not to feel ashamed of their backgrounds or where they’ve come from. It was something I suffered with for a long time. I don’t want anyone else to feel like they have to hide part of their history, because it makes you who you are. 

“And there are so many people in that position now who are not able to access the opportunities – either because they’re self-limiting, because of what being homeless can do to your self-esteem or because people make judgments about them. I want people to know that this is your starting position, but it doesn’t define where you end up. Nothing is out of your reach. 

“Breaking down the stigma is so important. There are 14 million people living in poverty today. So poverty is going to be there for a long time. But if we can change the access to opportunities so more people can fulfil their potential, then for me that would be the top prize. Social mobility is so important. And if we could see those statistics changing – because behind every single one of those numbers is a real person with a beating heart. These are the changes I want to help bring about.

“We can’t change the world in a day, but we can change how we respond to people. And that can also make a really big difference. Don’t underestimate the impact you can have.”  

Craze 24

Craze 24, real name Jay Miller, is a South London grime emcee committed to cutting knife crime in his community. The rapper is set to have an impact with his new youth diversionary project, set up with his brother Big Ven, that offers 13 to 21-year-olds free time to learn and create in a Croydon recording studio. In exchange they must attend a mentoring workshop, where the pair deal with knife crime and other issues of violence in the community. The brothers also visit youth clubs, after-school clubs and outreach programmes to teach young people to be vigilant on grooming gangs as well as the long and short-term effects of violence on the people around them. Craze is on a mission to secure funding so that the project can open up to even more youngsters in 2020.

The Big Issue: Why did you decide to use your platform to make changes in your community?

Craze 24: We had been reflecting on when we were growing up, music was the only constructive thing in our lives but we had to pay for £30 an hour studio time. I had a tough life growing up – I was on survival mode for most of my teens. Before I was 10 I saw two people killed, it made me rebellious, didn’t really want to fit into society, and I know a lot of young people nowadays feel that too and are dealing with a lot of difficult experiences on their own. I understand growing up without much hope of achieving or being successful. So I wanted to reach out and give them an outlet.

Craze 24

How have young people responded to the project?

The kids just want to keep coming back, they never want to leave. We want to find a way to free up more space for other teenagers. The trend has been that once someone’s through the door, they’re committed, which is really encouraging. They’re getting to create what they want to create, have people to help and motivate them, pat their backs as they go. Lots of them won’t get that very often.

What are your plans for 2020?

So far the whole thing has been voluntary, so we’d like to find some funding so we can put more time into it and expand the project. When we got into this industry, we had no clue about it and we had to make a lot of mistakes to get where we are now. I want to change that for today’s young people and give them something good to channel their energies into. I also have a mixtape coming out soon which will keep me very busy.

DID YOU KNOW…

Our vendors buy every copy of the magazine from us for £1.25 and sell it on to you for £2.50. Which is why we ask you to ALWAYS take your copy of the magazine. We believe in trade not aid.

Malachi Justin

If you gave a 10-year-old a fiver, what do you think they would spend it on? Sweets? Video games? If you’re Malachi Justin then you lay the foundations for a pop-up hostel. The youngster sent £5 he got from the tooth fairy to the Salvation Army alongside a letter asking them to buy homes for people who are homeless. He could scarcely imagine that it would be the springboard for the £5m Project Malachi, a collection of modular homes in Ilford, East London, to house rough sleepers, asylum seekers and refugees, who have no access to benefits. The project will also house the charity’s bike upscaling social enterprise Recycles. The finishing touches are being put to the building, which will be welcome news to Justin – last year Ilford Salvation Army captain John Clifton told The Big Issue: “He’s been asking his mum if we have built anything yet!” That wait will be over in 2020.

Ella and Caitlin McEwan 

Sisters Ella and Caitlin McEwan were less than happy about the toys handed out with kids’ meals from McDonald’s and Burger King, fearing the environmental impact of the plastic waste generated. The girls launched a petition to call on the fast-food giants to replace the toys with sustainable options such as books or cardboard games. They also staged a protest at McDonald’s HQ, showing up with a trailer full of Happy Meal toys.  “We like to eat at Burger King and McDonald’s, but children only play with the plastic toys for a few minutes before they get thrown away and harm animals and pollute the sea,” said the pair, who live in Southampton. Their petition has attracted more than half a million signatures so far. Both fast-food companies have since pledged to reduce the number of plastic toys they give away.

Luke and Ryan Hart 

Brothers Luke and Ryan Hart knew their father Lance was controlling, but they didn’t fear for the physical safety of their mother Claire and 19-year-old sister Charlotte. Then, on July 19 2016, Lance Hart shot and killed Claire and Charlotte in broad daylight before killing himself. It was just five days since Luke and Ryan had helped their mother and sister leave the family home. In the aftermath they have become powerful voices in the campaign to recognise coercive control as a dangerous and destructive form of domestic violence. They battle to stop a repeat of the press coverage of their mother and sister’s murders, which described their father as a “nice guy” whose actions might be “understandable”. Their campaign of re-education continued last year with the launch of their memoir, Remembered Forever.

DID YOU KNOW…

In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.

Sally and David Challen

In August 2010, Sally Challen killed Richard, her husband of 31 years, in a hammer attack in their Surrey home. The trial heard it was a “textbook case” of murder by a jealous housewife. She was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. In the midst of processing his grief for his father, Sally’s son David began a long campaign for justice for his mother. While his parents’ marriage was outwardly happy, David knew the way his father treated his mum was “horrible”. He realised she had been a victim of extreme coercive control. On June 7 last year, Sally’s conviction was altered to manslaughter after the courts recognised the psychological violence she had endured, and she was released after nine years in prison. She used the press conference that followed to speak up for other victims of abuse who have been failed by the justice system. Alongside David, she continues the fight to help other women have their sentences lifted.

The Clewer Initiative

With rough sleeping on the rise, some national and global gangs have seen an opportunity to con vulnerable people into forced labour. There is little hard data on the link between homelessness and modern slavery, but anecdotal evidence is growing. In the last two years, the Modern Slavery Helpline has received reports of 353 potential victims who were homeless and had been exploited. Through church networks The Clewer Initiative works to detect modern slavery in the community. This year it launched the Safe Car Wash app, which helps motorists identify situations that should be causes for concern. Users of the app have flagged up fearful workers, lack of protective clothing and staff living on site – all signs that people might be working in conditions of slavery. The organisation also recently teamed up with The Big Issue in the West Midlands to raise awareness of the risks posed to vendors. 

Fair by Design

Many people across the UK are struggling to get by. Paradoxically, they are the ones who are forced to pay the most for life’s essentials. From the premium on metered electricity to the higher costs of loans, the poverty premium costs the average low-income household £490 a year. Fair by Design (FBD) was set up to battle those extra charges. Collaborating with regulators, government, businesses and the social justice sector, the organisation seeks out solutions to end the poverty premium and get providers to take a more compassionate approach to how they bill customers. FBD’s Venture Fund looks to invest in creative ideas and products that reduce the inequality in how we pay our bills, while the group campaigns to end the systems that make the poor pay more. This, they say, will require changes in social policy and business, and for industry regulators to start making different decisions – soon.

Lighthouse Children’s Homes

Care leavers in the UK face a massively increased risk of homelessness, and are many times more likely to end up in the criminal justice system. They experience a higher incidence of mental ill health and have a lower rate of educational achievement than their peers. Concerned by these facts, former teacher Emmanuel Akpan-Inwang founded the charity Lighthouse. Looking to Denmark for inspiration, he’s importing a very different system for children’s homes, focusing on education and what Lighthouse calls social pedagogy – a relationship-based way of working with children that provides the basis for support within the home. Unlike many care leavers who are left on their own when they leave the system, young people leaving Lighthouse homes get ongoing support to help them lead full lives.

Ella Daish

One sanitary pad is estimated to be as bad for the environment as four plastic bags. That’s why in 2018 Cardiff-based Daish launched a campaign to have all tampons and pads made without plastic. The formal postal worker launched a petition which has nearly 197,000 signatures and counting, lobbied supermarkets to stock only plastic-free pads and tampons, and staged demonstrations outside the headquarters of manufacturers to demand they take the plastic out of their products. Her tactics worked. Stores such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s now stock plastic-free period products as well as reusable menstrual cups. And last year the Welsh Government announced it would spend £2.3m on putting free sanitary products in all schools, while asking that councils spend 10 per cent of the cash on reusable products. But after getting wind of Daish’s campaign, Caerphilly Council decided they would spend the whole grant on plastic-free sanitary products. Now she’s campaigning for other local authorities across the UK to follow suit.

Rutger Bregman

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Yes, the bulk of social media was an unrelenting bin fire last year. But alongside The Big Issue’s wonderful posts, there was at least one other reason to celebrate last January when Bregman became an accidental overnight star with his impassioned speech at the World Economic Forum. Bregman spoke for many of us when he told the gathered world leaders, oligarchs and billionaires that all their philanthropy schemes and Bono-related photo ops were “bullshit” if they didn’t start paying tax. The video was viewed millions of times on Twitter alone. The 30-year-old economist had been invited to Davos for the first (and possibly last) time on the strength of his book, Utopia for Realists, and says he was part of a broad movement of young people who had been radicalised by the economic crash. He continues to fight for a basic income for all and a shorter working week.

Simon Sansome

In 2014, when Sansome was 32, an accident left him with a spinal injury and without the use of his legs. The former social care worker subsequently struggled to keep up with his old lifestyle while in a wheelchair as he discovered how many barriers disabled people face, such as not being able to get through the door of their favourite restaurant. Desperate for a space to talk about what he was dealing with, he created Ability Access – a small platform where people could chat and share experiences with each other. Five years later, it’s the UK’s biggest online disability community, reaching more than 10 million people per month. Sansome has even done what few have managed – held Facebook to account. Last year he discovered the Ability Access page was blocked from being shared with new users and, when speaking to a Facebook worker on the phone about the problem, was told other users might find pictures of disabled people “disturbing”. The social media giant was forced to apologise, saying Sansome had been given wrong information. This year he will continue making his podcast While Disabled, interviewing disabled celebrities about their experiences.

Save9Lives

Jim Lynskey organ donation Caters
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Save9Lives is an organ donation campaign with a simple message – just one donor could save the lives of as many as nine people. The campaign was founded in 2015 by Jim Lynskey, who lived with dilated cardiomyopathy all his life and knew he would need a heart transplant one day. Following a bout of pneumonia aged 19, he was diagnosed with heart failure – and told to prepare to make big changes to his way of life until he could get a transplant. The wait for patients in his position was three years, so Lynskey spent time reading up on organ donation, discovering that three people a day die because there are insufficient organs available. Lynskey passed away in May, aged 23, still waiting for a heart. His work is carried on by his family, and his memory continues to inspire tributes – and organ donations. The charity teamed up with the NHS to track how many lives could be saved by the number of people putting their name on the organ donor register through the campaign. In 2019, Save9Lives could have saved nearly 700 lives.

the3million

Thanks to decades of European Union freedom of movement, there are upwards of three million people living in the UK who are citizens of another European country. Many are now concerned for their future as the deadline to “get Brexit done” approaches –  the3million is the leading organisation representing EU citizens and their families. They are preparing to mount legal challenges to protect their rights to live and work in the UK, to access the NHS, to pay and receive their pensions, to access social security rights and to protect themselves from discrimination. Maike Bohn, co-founder of the3million, says that the election campaign had stoked fears. “We now have ministers in power who demonise EU citizens, who have openly said the consequences of not applying [for Settled Status] are detention and deportation. The fight goes on: for a simple registration where those who miss the deadline won’t lose everything.”

Olivia Crellin, PressPad

PressPad is crucial right now: it makes internships and work experience in the media affordable to people who won’t generally find it easy to access job opportunities, such as those living outside main metropolitan centres and from lower socio-economic backgrounds. It was founded by BBC journalist Olivia Crellin when she learned that her own experience of trying to break into journalism outside London was widely shared. Host-mentors are recruited who give accommodation and share their knowledge, supporting people who want to get experience working in media but can’t due to their financial situation (most media internships being demanding and unpaid) or location. While they mainly operate in London, the ambition is to become an ‘AirBnB’ to automate the process and expand round the UK wherever there is a need to open up the media to a much broader and diverse scope of participants, as well as holding events offering careers advice, CV clinics, guest lectures and more.

 Zakia Moulaoui, Invisible Cities

Moulaoui is the founder of Invisible Cities, a social enterprise training homeless people to give walking tours of the streets they know so well. Inspired by a similar project she saw in Athens run by street paper Shedia, she set up the first tour in Edinburgh, with walks connecting the guide’s own interests to aspects of the city. For example, in Edinburgh there are tours focused on strong women, Trainspotting and crime and punishment. Participants, whose self-esteem may start out low, take part in confidence building and train in public speaking and customer service. Later, they’re matched with a volunteer who will help them design and shape their tour before eventually leading groups of the public. Invisible Cities has grown into other cities including York, Manchester and Glasgow, with more expansion on the horizon in 2020 – Invisible Cardiff tours will launch in February.

Our top 100 Changemakers originally appeared in The Big Issue magazine. Buy a copy of the Changemakers special edition from the Big Issue Shop now.