The Big Issue's Top 100 Changemakers 2019: Campaigns and Campaigners

Welcome to The Big Issue's Changemakers Top 100: celebrating the thinkers, creators and agitators. Here's our rundown of individuals and organisations campaigning for a better world in 2019

Top 100 Changemakers: Campaigns & Campaigners

The Advocacy Academy

The Advocacy Academy provides young people with the tools they need to change the world. Following the success of the pilot set up in London by CEO Amelia Viney in 2014, a group of young advocates (aged 16-19) spent eight months working with campaigners, academics, politicians and experts to learn how to organise and grow grassroots campaigns. One of the groups the work with, Legally Black, made a splash in 2018 with their self-titled film and TV poster campaign, which reimagined hits including Titanic, Harry Potter and Doctor Who with people of colour in leading roles.

The Advocacy Academy launches the UK’s first campus for youth activists in Brixton in February, where nightly meals, community meetings and a round-the-clock youth programme will connect a new generation of changemakers.

Michael Sheen, actor and activist

Sheen made his name playing roles like David Frost and Brian Clough – but there is no pretence when it comes to his social activism. He’s the real deal.

The big screen star and friend of The Big Issue is a patron of a UNICEF UK and a passionate advocate of social enterprise. And in 2018 he became a founder of the End High Cost Credit Alliance, bringing together fair credit firms, social change organisations and debt charities to help turn the tide against high-cost lenders, holding roundtable discussions and funding investigative work into making borrowing fairer for Britain’s poorest.

He was a visible presence as Wonga collapsed – and his fight for fairer credit will continue in 2019.

And he also won the battle to bring the Homeless World Cup to Wales – a Street Football Wales patron, Sheen was instrumental in securing the tournament for Cardiff, where it will take place later this year.


Hédi Fried, Holocaust educator

Fried was 19 when the Nazis transported her family from their home in Eastern Europe to Auschwitz. Her parents were killed and she and her sister were forced into hard labour until the end of the war. Now aged 94, Fried has spent her life educating young people about the Holocaust.

This year, she publishes a new book, Questions I Am Asked About the Holocaust, which at a key moment in history reminds us all why we need to heed the lessons of the past. What was it like to live in the camps? Did you dream at night? Can you forgive? “There are no stupid questions, nor any forbidden ones,” she says, “But there are some questions that have no answer.” Her wise words are acutely timely.

Hédi Fried

Neville Southall, former goalkeeper and campaigner

Southall was one of the great pre-Premier League goalkeepers, winning 92 caps for Wales and playing more than 700 times for Everton – winning the First Division, two FA Cups and the Cup-Winners Cup during the 1980s. Now aged 60, he is hugely active and influential on social media – using his fame to amplify the voices of a range of marginalised groups and charitable causes.

Having used his Twitter platform first to ask questions, educate himself and listen to experts and voices from the margins, Southall has become a fierce ally. He regularly opens up his account to groups including a sex-workers collective, voices from the LGBTQ+ community, a drugs helpline, pro-NHS campaigns, mental health awareness campaigners and drugs helplines, reaching a crowd of 146,000 with his positivity and open-heartedness.



WASPI women are furious – and rightly so. Having worked hard their whole careers investing in their futures and planning towards the point in their lives they would get their state pension, they were stiffed when the pension age that had been hiked upward from 60 to 65 in line with men’s – which was announced in 1995 – was brought forward further in 2011.

Justifiably outraged, in 2015 the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign started the fight for women born between 1950-1955 who were given too short notice of the changes to re-plan for retirement – some claim they received no notice at all – and facing financial hardship.

After a 100,000 signature-strong petition saw the issue debated in Parliament, WASPI’s work paid off – their maladministration complaints reached authorities
and are now the subject of a preliminary enquiry. The organisation is confident it will be found in their favour this year, as they continue their work amplifying older women’s voices.

Joshua Coombes, founder of #DoSomethingForNothing

There’s more to the #DoSomethingForNothing movement than a millennial-friendly social media campaign.

A barber by trade, Coombes began the movement in 2015, roaming the streets of London on his days off and offering free haircuts to rough sleepers. Joined by friends Matt and Dave and the now notable hashtag, the movement has spread globally. A knitter creating shawls to donate to a local nursing home, a mobile laundry service washing clothes for rough sleepers and vets out on the streets checking over pets – just a few of the thousands of initiatives using #DoSomethingForNothing.

This year, the 30-year-old has teamed up with high-street bath bomb behemoth Lush to document the stories behind the heads of hair he cuts on the streets of London, Manchester and Bournemouth.

Shanti Das, hip-hope heroine

After giving the world hip-hop sensations OutKast in her role as a music industry mover and shaker, most people would have been happy with their achievements in life – not Das. The music biz mogul changed her tune to spearhead a raft of social innovations through her Hip-Hop Professional Foundation.

The 47-year-old philanthropist has fed homeless people in her native Atlanta with No Reservations Needed; collected back-to-school supplies for hard-up local mothers with her Backpack Blessings project; oranised shoebox appeals to collect toiletries for homeless mothers and children; relief for earthquake-hit Haiti; and Turn the Page – a reading programme for schools. And her Silence The Shame project attempts to break the stigma around mental health.


Who Cares? Scotland

February 15 has been designated Care Day, a time to recognise the challenges and successes of care experienced people. And leading the way is Who Cares? Scotland. From their beginnings in 1978, the organisation has been supporting and amplifying the voices of care experienced people.

With an innovative approach to campaigning, the charity empowers care experienced young people to shape changes to laws and holds government to account. They also work with the creative community to tackle lazy or inaccurate media representations of people in care. Look out for their Rally for Love in October.

Amika George, founder of #FreePeriods

George started the #FreePeriods movement in 2017 aged 18 after learning that her peers were skipping school because of period poverty. Success came in a 165,500-strong petition and thousands protesting outside Downing Street, sparking a domino effect countrywide. High street giants shouldered the VAT cost, and brands like Always and Bodyform launched campaigns to tackle the crisis.

George’s next battle for 2019 has just been announced. Together with community project the Red Box Project, #FreePeriods will take on Westminster in a legal battle to follow in the footsteps of Scotland, where the Holyrood government has supported the Big Issue Invest-backed Hey Girls! period poverty campaign to help 18,800 women access free products.

If George’s campaign is successful, it will see Westminster working with Red Box Project to put free period products in all schools and colleges across England. A campaign to raise £10k in 30 days to cover legal fees has begun.

Jade Anouka, actor

Currently starring alongside Sheridan Smith in ITV drama Cleaning Up, Anouka is best known as one of the leading lights in Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female Shakespeare trilogy at Donmar Warehouse and Broadway.

But in 2019 it is her work as an activist, which began last year, that Anouka will come in to her own. She set up Black Panther Peckham in 2018 inspired by the movie Black Panther. “I heard Viola Davis and others were hiring cinemas in the States to get young people who couldn’t normally afford it to see the film because they thought it was important. I felt that exact way, that young black people particularly needed to see this film.

She set up a GoFundMe page and hired a screen at Peckhamplex cinema and brought 200 kids to see the film, with free smoothies, popcorn and merchandise.

“It was such a special day,” she says. “I got friends on board – actor Paapa Essiedu and one of the stunt girls from the film to answer questions about the industry.”

Look out this year for more from Anouka, putting activism at the heart of Peckham.


Meg Neilan, Golden Years

It was first-hand experience of the impact of swingeing funding cuts on the elderly care system that sparked Neilan into action.

A former nurse, she saw how many elderly people were isolated from much of society and the detrimental effect that had on their health and wellbeing. So she launched Golden Years – a community group tackling poor health and isolation in the elderly population of Wellingborough, Northamptonshire.

Encouraging good health and mental wellbeing in the ageing community, Neilan is a force of nature, organising confidence-boosting day trips and events from skydiving to ice skating, always with local independent businesses. “It’s such a simple concept, but it works,” Neilan tells The Big Issue. “It’s been a real life ine to so many people, they’ve finally found themselves again.”

In 2019 Golden Years aims to achieve charity status, as well as working with supported housing to offer their residents day trips, in exchange for space to host lunches and dances.

The group will be busking outside St Pancras on February 11. So look out Ed Sheeran!

Friends of Dorothy

“I met my partner in 1955. I was 24 and he was 36. There was no coming out in those days, we could have gone to prison. Even in our families, it was never discussed.” Eric Mountain, a sprightly 88, is part of a generation of gay men for whom being true to themselves in their youth was a crime. They are also the survivors of the 1980s, when so many saw friends, peers and loved ones die during the Aids epidemic. These days, many older LGBT people face a new challenge – loneliness.

Not only are older LGBT people 50 per cent more likely to be living alone than their straight peers, but they are more likely to be estranged from their families and less likely to have children.

Friends of Dorothy launched in Leeds in 2017 with the specific aim to combat isolation among older LGBT people. There are monthly gatherings at the Ruby Slipper Café for a natter and a platter – where friendships are made and inter-generational links forged with younger gay men and women.

“It is about respect to that forgotten generation,” says local business leader Craig Burton, who set up the group. “Social isolation is invisible and difficult to diagnose because most of us will never admit to it.”

Eric’s partner died in 2014. “When they brought in civil partnerships I asked if he wanted to take it up and he said no, because he never wanted to do anything to embarrass his family. I found out when he died that they all knew anyway. If he had lived another six months it would have been 60 years. We never lived together.”

Junior Solomons, 28, was one of the first younger people to join Friends of Dorothy. His reason for joining is simple: “I have been really lucky. I don’t have any stories. I have not had to go through any hardship. I have found life really easy and never had any issue with coming out or being accepted. I have had the easiest ride. I found it so easy because generations ago they went through such hardships. I’m now trying to support them to make sure they don’t live in isolation, they are not forgotten about. It is paying back.”



This organisation is no relic of the past – policy decisions made by Girlguiding UK show it’s planted firmly in the present. The charity opened its groups to transgender girls and women last year and stands by its commitment to inclusivity, despite controversy among some members. The rollout of the charity’s new programme will kick into full gear in the months ahead, handing out badges in contemporary issues like period poverty and online safety.

It’s an organisation in the business of producing changemakers, too: such as 21-year-old Ashleigh Boden from Birkenhead. She’s working towards her Queen’s Guide award, the highest accolade, and decided to link up with homelessness charity Wirral Ark as she puts together care packages for the town’s homeless population. As part of her community work, she created an unofficial badge for girl guides working with local charities.

STAG (Sheffield Trees Action Group)

The roots of the Sheffield urban trees row may have been planted in 2012 but in 2019 it could blossom into new rules for the rest of the nation.

Sheffield City Council signed a 30-year £2bn deal with private contractor Amey to replace what they insisted were dangerous, dead, diseased, dying, damaging or discriminatory” trees seven years ago. That saw more than 5,000 of the city’s 36,000 trees felled and opposition grew with protestors organising to form STAG to save them from the chop.

And from tiny acorns mighty oaks have grown – work was halted in March following heated clashes while the council offered an olive branch last month, promising to draw up a new tree strategy in which no healthy tree would be felled unless there is no other solution. It could now spread across the UK with Environment Secretary Michael Gove announcing a consultation on protecting urban trees over Christmas.

Lily Madigan, Labour Party Women’s Officer

Madigan wants to be the Labour Party’s first transgender MP. When the 20-year-old was elected in November 2017 as the first trans woman to hold the party’s position of Women’s Officer she faced a very public backlash. She later stood down from the Kent-based post after moving to attend university. Speaking at the Teen Vogue summit in LA in December, alongside model and supporter Cara Delevigne, she spoke of her fight with solidarity against transphobia and hopes to become the Women’s Officer in her new constituency, Lewisham and Deptford.

Amid proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act and the tidal wave of media critics about trans issues, she could be a key voice in the fight.

Lily Madigan


Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commission for Wales

Howe became the first Future Generations Commissioner in 2016 with the introduction of Wales’ Future Generations Act the year previously. The Act means public bodies in Wales are now required to think about the long-term impact of decisions and how it contributes to the social, cultural, environmental and economic well-being of communities, with the aim of developing long-term solutions to poverty, poor air quality and unemployment. Last year Howe called on the Welsh Government to be more ambitious with its transport investments.

Big Issue founder Lord John Bird has called for the Act to be introduced in the rest of the UK as he delivered the annual Well-being of Future Generations lecture at Cardiff University in December, calling Howe’s role “gold dust”. She told The Big Issue she hoped her visit to Westminster with Lord Bird would show that she is “striving for a better future”.

Thuto Mali, broadcaster and campaigner

In October, Mali gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee, telling MPs that the benefits system is a “women’s human rights issue”. The former BBC broadcaster said that single mothers shouldn’t have to choose between work, childcare and putting food on the table, which was exactly the position she found herself in after being put on Universal Credit.

With the controversial programme due to be rolled out to three million by the end of the year, campaigners like Mali are keen to make sure it doesn’t hurt more than it helps. Her petition ‘Stop failing our children: I’m a #MumOnAMission to make childcare work’ is well on its way to getting the number of signatures required to get it debated in parliament.


Jem Stein, The Bike Project

While studying at London School of Economics, Stein mentored a Darfuri refugee called Adam. With £36 per week to live on while waiting for the outcome of his asylum application, unable to work while waiting, and living in a city as expensive and vast as London, many struggle. Jem gave Adam an unwanted bike and saw its impact; independence, access to healthcare and other services, even socialising.

He launched The Bike Project, which collects unwanted or abandoned bikes, fixes them up and donates them to vulnerable people. Now, with 11 staff, Jem has donated more than 3,000 bikes, given bike repair training to refugees and run free cycle training for refugee women in South London.

This year for their Bike Buddies project The Bike Project needs volunteers to link up with a refugee or asylum seeker cyclist this year, to share safe routes and green spaces.

Sylvia Douglas

Douglas is the founding director of MsMissMrs: a social enterprise running Get SET (Self-Empowerment Tools) programmes for women who have suffered trauma and need the practical and emotion skills to take care of themselves.

Sylvia saw first-hand how few resources there are for women who need help learning the tricks to wellbeing.  Everything from keeping GP appointments to financial responsibility are things lost along the path of a chaotic life, and Douglas tackles a loss of self-esteem as the root cause.

MsMissMrs is supported by the sale of ‘empowerment pants’, ethically-produced novelty underwear that Douglas hopes add a bit of fun to what is a demonstrably super-effective service set for further expansion in the months ahead.

The 37-year-old grew up in care herself and this year will be making change as a co-chair of the Independent Care Review’s Edges of Care group, a working group formed to properly understand and improve what happens at each end of the care system.

Justine Greening MP

While the Tories are pulling themselves apart over Brexit, former education secretary Greening has been quietly building platforms to allow many of society’s most marginalised people to thrive.

Early in 2018 came the Social Mobility Pledge – a call for businesses to commit to level the playing field and offer disadvantaged young people the same life and job chances as their better-off peers. In September, she introduced John Bird’s Creditworthiness Assessment Bill to the Commons – a bill to make life better for the poorest who are hammered for expensive credit. She secured cross party backing.

Greening gets Big Issue thinking in ways many MPs just don’t. Did somebody say 2019 leadership bid?

Jameela Jamil

Social media powerhouse Jamil recently found global fame as star of is The Good Place. But she was first known for her tweets and interview clips eviscerating celebrity culture. She denounced the paid promotion of appetite suppression products by influential celebrities like Kim Kardashian, citing the harmful impact such rhetoric has on girls and women.

Jamil also speaks out regularly against airbrushing and over-editing of women in the public eye, having launched online movement I Weigh last year, encouraging submissions of unedited selfies. As an activist she has also covered #MeToo and the whitewashing of people of colour. Stay tuned as she launches I Weigh as a foundation doing outreach with schools and continues forcing big names to wise up.

Jameela Jamil


South West London Law Centres

South West London Law Centres is a charity plugging the gap left by legal aid cuts. It provides specialist legal advice on social welfare issues such as benefits, housing, employment, immigration, and debt. The organisation helps people understand and enforce their legal rights and in turn, addresses the root causes of social injustice.

The organisation’s services are many, like their Housing Court Duty Scheme which provides last-minute help to people facing eviction or repossession, including free legal advice and representation if necessary. Their North Kensington hub is located just yards from Grenfell Tower, and since the tragedy they’ve been fighting tirelessly for housing and migrant justice. They run a daily drop-in advice centre for local residents affected by the disaster who need help accessing the support and justice they deserve.

SWLLC is campaigning against Universal Credit, its staff seeing first-hand just how severely the scheme’s rollout is affecting people, and this year will continue their work to empower the UK’s vulnerable who can’t afford the advice they need.

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