Activism

The Big Issue Changemakers of 2024: Health and disability

The charities, organisations and individuals working in the best interests of the marginalised

Diarmaid McDonald (right) with parents of cystic fibrosis patients

When people are pushed to the margins by a lack of accessibility, these are the Changemakers fighting their corner.

Thomas Howard

Twenty seven-year-old Thomas Howard organised free screenings at his local cinema in Bury St Edmunds to create inclusive spaces for individuals facing financial challenges and those with sensory difficulties. As well as organising screenings at a local level, Howard initiated a petition for mandatory neurodiversity training in higher education which garnered over 15,000 signatures and was featured in a parliamentary debate in November 2023. Howard also created Halloween treat bags for people who couldn’t go trick-or-treating or who couldn’t afford costumes. The bags were filled with sensory toys, which he says was to “recognise that traditional celebrations may not be accessible to everyone. In an era where diversity is a cornerstone of progress, these initiatives bridge gaps and foster a sense of belonging.” 

What are you most proud of achieving in 2023? 

“Despite being involved in different projects and campaigns, I am most proud of the successful cinema screenings I hosted in 2023. I’ll never forget one lady who approached me after the first event. She told me that this had been the first time she had been able to go to the cinema in over a decade. This comment shows that day-to-day activities are still not accessible, but minor adjustments and a little support can have a profound impact.” 

Why is the work you do important? 

“The cost of living crisis has had a devastating impact on the social lives of so many across the country. It has also had a profound impact on the services available to disabled people in the UK. Hence, these events play an important role as they are free and accessible to the local community. I also hope that my work encourages others to get more involved.” 

How does it feel to be a Big Issue Changemaker? 

“I feel truly honoured to be named a Big Issue Changemaker. It’s a privilege to be alongside all these amazing people and organisations. Thank you so much for this recognition.” 

Bede House

Bede House is a charity helping disadvantaged people play their part in society. It multiple projects, such as the Bede Centre, where they enable adults with learning disabilities to be active and volunteer – for example, to help elderly people with household chores or as travel buddies. At the Starfish Project, they support survivors of domestic abuse. Their nominator wrote: “Bede does so much – an allotment, a cafe, employment training. What unites their activities is a desire, like Big Issue, to ‘provide a hand up not a hand out’ and enable people pushed to the edge.” 

Find the rest of the Changemakers series on the links below and pick up the magazine from your local Big Issue vendor

Ability Bow gym

Ability Bow Gym

Ability Bow is a charity that provides specialist exercise for people with disabilities or complex health conditions. People living with ill health can experience multiple barriers to exercise, and Ability Bow tries to remove these by working with its members in individual one-to-one sessions. The East London-based gym has a waiting list of over 100 people from Tower Hamlets and neighbouring boroughs. Their nominator said: “This small team does amazing care for those people coming to them.” 

Young Changemaker Keisha Holmes, 19

Keisha Holmes, who lives with multiple sclerosis, was forced to use food banks because a government policy leaves disabled and severely ill people waiting months for their full universal credit payments. She is fighting for change so that others get the support they need, rather than being plunged into poverty. Holmes started a petition calling on the government to scrap the three-month “relevant period” for the limited capacity for work related activity (LCWRA) element of universal credit. In an interview with Big Issue reporter Isabella McRae in 2023 Holmes said: “I know I’m not the only person [this is happening to]. I’m just the only person that’s tough enough to fight it. It could happen to anyone. At any point in life, someone can become disabled. No one is an exception. I didn’t expect to become disabled at 15. I had my whole life ahead of me.” 

Sign the petition here

Helen Charters

Helen Charters

Dementia Friendly Keighley is a charity that provides advice and information for people affected by dementia in the Keighley area of West Yorkshire. Charters is the organisation’s information and support centre co-ordinator. The centre is located inside a shopping centre and welcomes everyone in need of help and support during weekdays. Both Charters and the charity were championed at a Downing Street reception in May 2023. Her nominator told Big Issue: “Dementia affects many people and does not discriminate! Helen is a brilliant listener and supporter and has time for everyone.” 

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NODA Ayrshire (No-one Dies Alone)

NODA is a charity made up of companions who volunteer to sit with people in their final hours of life. Based in Ayrshire, Scotland, the project has been running since 2018. Their nominator wrote: “The wonderful volunteers are at the heart of NODA Ayrshire and give generously of their time and support to help people who are dying and alone, and those who have families that need a break. They also provide training for the general public, and other organisations, to help inform them of how to care for the dying.” 

Be Caring

Sharon Lowrie is CEO of Be Caring, one of the largest employee-owned providers of elderly care services in the country. She has turned Be Caring into a thriving employee-owned business delivering government-funded healthcare across the North of England. Be Caring was previously a Big Issue Invest portfolio enterprise. Their nominator said: “Modern-day Britain is an unequal world with the population ageing and in need of increasing social care. Be Caring is well placed to deliver this without private equity backing but through an employee-owned structure is providing best-in-class care, free at the point of access for all who need it.” 

S.E.N.D Socials Birmingham CIC

Many SEND children (those with special education needs and disabilities) are excluded from school and holiday provision. S.E.N.D Socials organises groups and events that allow kids to connect with their peers in a supportive environment and have fun. It also helps parents who have little access to resources. Their nominator wrote: “Because the organisers are SEND parents themselves they understand the needs of the community and there’s nothing belittling or patronising in what they do or how they do it. It’s so valuable.” 

Emily Griffiths

Young Changemaker Emily Griffiths, 24

Griffiths has been campaigning for the past five years for meaningful change in improving women’s health. She raises awareness on living with chronic health conditions, has volunteered at charities, raised funds, campaigned on a political level and contributed to the UN as a delegate for Women, Youth and Human Rights. Her nominator wrote: “Emily’s work is relevant as we need to see changes in health equity, youth opportunities, inclusion for disabled people and striving for gender equality. Emily will always campaign for those who face oppression.” 

Diarmaid McDonald

McDonald campaigns on behalf of patients against the exploitative behaviour of major pharmaceutical companies that price-gouge and force the NHS into agreements that lead to negative outcomes. His organisation, Just Treatment, works to ensure patients’ interests are placed above those of profiteering Big Pharma. McDonald’s nominator wrote: “With the NHS on its knees, waiting times higher than ever and more patients finding themselves at the mercy of pharmaceutical companies, Diarmaid’s campaign work is vital. He is working to redress the fundamental imbalance in a discourse that refuses to acknowledge that corporate profiteering  has gone too far.” 

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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