11 award winners share their campaign tips for achieving change

Looking for inspiration? 11 award-winning campaigners share how you can change the world

Jason Evans, with Andy Burnham, is one of 11 winners at this year's Sheila McKechnie Foundation awards. Image: Supplied

What if you want to actually change the world? It’s a bit grandiose, yes. But it’s doable – as proved by a host of successful campaigns and campaigners that have managed to achieve progress.

Winners of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation’s National Campaigner awards from across society have told The Big Issue their tips for winning change.

Whether you’re thinking of starting a campaign, or looking to make an existing one successful, their advice comes from experience of seeing the job through. So here are some tips and tricks from award-winning campaigners to give you the best shot at success.

Have a clear and timely ask for your supporters

“Having a specific legislative ask has been key to getting to where we are now,” said Corinna Miller of Power For People, whose campaign has called for a law allowing communities to generate their own renewable energy.

Power for People drafted the Local Electricity Bill, allowing communities to band together and sell locally-generated electricity to residents. The bill now has cross-party support from a majority of MPs.

“We have spent the last few years gathering a coalition of support for the Bill across the UK. We have then asked that support, which is now tens of thousands of people and well over a thousand local and national organisations and councils, to regularly call on their local MPs to support it,” said Miller.

Having a clear and timely ask for supporters, and working persistently on a cross-party basis are important, Miller said. Progress can be slow – until it isn’t.

“You must therefore be ready to capitalise on any opportunity.or example, when we heard last year that the Government was going to introduce a major new piece of energy legislation – the Energy Bill – we worked with a group of peers in the House of Lords to ensure our proposals were included in it as amendments,” Miller said.

Listen to communities and those affected by your campaign issue

Faustine Petron’s campaign with Refuge, Make it Mandatory, is calling on the government to introduce compulsory relationships and sex education for pupils over 16.

“I think our success as a very new campaign has been primarily down to the fact that we have consulted and collaborated with our communities and other survivors and amplified our youth voices. It is we as young people who are most affected by education policies, so when the people in power make decisions without consulting us, it can be harmful,” Petron said.

This has been key to increasing the campaign’s support both in parliament and among the public.

On a day-to-day basis, taking care of yourself is key to sustaining a campaign over a marathon distance.

Faustine Petron
Taking care of yourself is key, said Faustine Petron. Image: Supplied

“I put the majority of our success honestly down to our community-oriented approach and teamwork between my friends and I who run the campaign on an entirely voluntary basis,” Petron said.

“Without effective communication, self-care breaks and a good support circle, it can be hard to keep going and achieve long-term change because campaigning can be very exhausting, especially when it is around lived experience like mine,” said Petron.

For anybody looking to achieve change, Petron’s message is simple: “As cliche as it may sound, to not give up.” 

Achieving change can take a long time

Baby loss charity Sands achieved its campaign goal when the government announced an inquiry into the deaths of Asian and British Asian babies in March 2022. The findings are set to be published in March 2023. 

The key to our campaign was that it gave a voice to bereaved Asian families to share their experiences and concerns. We made sure we kept them at the heart of the campaign and used our networks and our amazing ambassador, Shetal Joshi, to engage and empower them to get involved. For any media work we did to raise the profile of the campaign, we made sure to keep human stories as the focus, giving bereaved parents a platform to tell their stories. The campaign wouldn’t have been such a success if it wasn’t for our supporters writing to their MPs and offering to meet with them. They really drove it,” says Megan Ball, Sands’ public affairs officer.

Putting human stories at the forefront of your campaign is key, said Megan Ball. Image: Sheila McKechnie Foundation

Sands’ campaign also showed the importance of getting decision-makers involved and working a variety of angles, such as MPs and stakeholders who have affected change in similar issues.

“Achieving change can take a long time and you don’t always see instant results. It can feel disheartening when you don’t see immediate progress but keep on pushing for change and keep on going,” said Ball.

“It’s also really important that you remain authentic. Make sure you are amplifying the voices of those that are affected by the issue you’re wanting to change – give them an opportunity to share their experiences.”

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Set a primary goal and stick to it

“Off the bat, persistence and a thick skin,” helped Jason Evans secure a public inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal, which affected thousands who were given contaminated blood in the 1970s and 1980s. But doggedness alone wasn’t enough.

“In order to finally make a public inquiry happen we required three things to occur at almost precisely the same time. Those three things were, one, high-level media attention – by high-level, I mean front-page articles in the big papers and programmes on the national broadcasters,” Evans said.

“Two, serious legal action – in our case this was a group litigation involving hundreds of claimants. We needed more than judicial reviews in our experience.

“Three, political will and support. This is helped by media attention but you need people on the ground lobbying politicians consistently. Key to our inquiry campaign was a cross-party letter signed by all major opposition parties.”

Along with this, Evans advised leaving the arguing to social media users. “Set a primary goal and stick to it. Don’t get distracted, and don’t waste time getting caught up in social media arguments; that’s not a good use of your time and almost certainly won’t help you reach your primary goal,” he said.

“Beyond that, prioritise marketing basics. Build targeted mailing lists. Above all else, don’t work to anybody else’s clock, don’t sit around waiting for something to happen or for a reply to the email you’ve pinned all your hopes on. You must keep taking actions every day.”

Be solution-focused and concentrate on what change can be created

“My advice to others would be to keep telling your stories, and try and encourage as many people as you can to tell your stories,” said Sarah Burrows, Children Heard and Seen, a charity supporting children affected by parental imprisonment.

Formerly a Big Issue Changemaker, Burrows said concrete, evidenced solutions help to make a campaign a success.

“It’s important to be solution-focused and concentrate on what change can be created, looking for any opportunities to get your message out there to inform and educate the public,” said Burrows.

Build a collaborative coalition by getting different groups together

By getting as many groups together as possible, you can show how wide-reaching the subject of your campaign is, explained Sam Grant, the advocacy director of Liberty.

“Protest is a really important and valued right, and it benefits all of us. By having so many different voices demonstrate how much it’s needed – whether that’s Sisters Uncut leading the ‘Kill the Bill’ movement, whether it’s a community group talking about their protest to save their local library, or the Gurkhas going on hunger strikes for equal pensions – the campaign was able to speak to all parts of the public and show how protest creates positive change which shouldn’t be clamped down on,” said Grant.

Liberty led the Police Bill Alliance to oppose the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts act, which raised awareness of the bill and put pressure on the House of Lords to strip out anti-protest measures in the law.

“There will be tough moments, but there are things that make the tough times easier – find allies to campaign with, identify the audience you want, and speak to them compassionately with the right values at the heart of everything you say,” Grant said.

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Be bold and don’t succumb to pressure

“Be bold. There are so many battles to fight, on your own if necessary. Most of them you will lose. But be always prepared to celebrate the ones you win well. Don’t forget to thank all those that made it happen,” said Ahmed Alhindi.

After he was told he wouldn’t receive university tuition fee payment thanks to his visa conditions, Alhindi started the Our Grades, Not Visas campaign, which led to a ruling that the current rules breached human rights, and a Scottish government consultation on a change to the law.

Never hesitate to take what’s rightfully yours, said Ahmed Alhindi. Image: Sheila McKechnie Foundation

The campaign saw Alhindi travel up and down Scotland, reach out to organisations, create surveys and websites, and lobby politicians.

“Never hesitate to take what’s rightfully yours, do it, and don’t ever succumb to the pressure created from those who are denying you it,” he said.

“There will be moments you will doubt yourself, and everything you’re fighting for – don’t give these much thought. Best of luck getting out there. The journey will be tough, but the reward is absolutely worth it.”

See it through

British Sign Language now has legal status thanks to the BSL Act Now campaign, led by the British Deaf Association (BDA) and backed by MPs Rosie Cooper and Chloe Smith,

“Attitudes changed because the BSL Act Now campaign team and Rosie Cooper met with Chloe Smith and it went from there. We also had the backing of our members who wrote to their MPs to support the campaign and it reached 88% of MPs,” said BDA chief executive Rebecca Mansell

But the passage of the bill is not the end, and now the BDA is working to ensure the bill leads to lasting change.

“We can’t do this alone so we have set up an independent BSL Alliance which consists of 40 local, regional and national Deaf organisations to track the implementation of the BSL Act, provide case studies and report to the government’s newly established BSL Advisory Board.”

Change comes when you organise and build long-lasting power in communities

If you’re a renter in Scotland benefitting from the current rent freeze, you can thank Living Rent’s rent freeze campaign. Aditi Jehangir of Living Rent puts the success down to highlighting the impact of rent increases in the midst of the cost of living crisis.

“Change comes when we organise and build long-lasting power in our communities. The fight for the rent freeze was not just won over the course of the year. It was a result of thousands of conversations about the grim state of our housing, about unaffordability and disrepair with people at their doors or on the streets,” Jehangir said. 

“Through this, we have built a mass membership organisation that has the power to take on issues and win. Rent controls in Scotland will be next! If you are in England and Wales, join our sister union Acorn, and in Scotland, join Living Rent.”

Don’t let a lack of experience stop you

“Don’t let a lack of previous campaigning experience stop you. If you are personally affected by an issue then you are already an expert, and you can collaborate and work with others to make your voice stronger and give you the confidence to drive for justice,” said Jennifer Frame of End our Cladding Scandal.

The strength of the cladding campaign came from drawing on the different skill sets of those involved in the campaign, and external partners.

“Along the way you may feel frustrated by the slow pace of change. Our advice is to stay focused on the end goal, but flexible on the path; you have to keep finding new tactics to get you closer to the goal. If you’re fighting for significant change, it may come slowly – and then all at once. So don’t give up! Persistence will become your superpower,” Frame added.

If you believe what is going on is unjust, keep pushing

“Timbuktu wasn’t built in a day,” said Katrina Ffrench, founding director of Unjust UK, whose legal challenge led to the Met agreeing to “wholesale change” of the Gangs Matrix – a secretive database filled with those designated as “gang nominals”.

“We were told it was an unwinnable case” by a lot of people, Ffrench added.

“Actually if you have a belief that what’s going on is unjust then you should keep pushing.”

A broad coalition helped Ffrench achieve change, and she cited Temi Mwale, Stafford Scott, Dr Patrick Williams, Amnesty International, and Doughty Street Chambers as some of those instrumental in the effort.

“One hand can’t clap but it can click,” she said.

She credited the Sheila McKechnie award with helping to raise the profile of the campaign, but after the legal victory said her focus was now on a campaign to erase the Gangs Matrix database.

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