The Big Issue’s Top 100 Changemakers 2019: Health

Welcome to The Big Issue’s Changemakers Top 100: celebrating the thinkers, creators and agitators. Here’s our rundown of individuals and organisations in the health sector that are striving for a better world in 2019

Blindboy Boatclub, podcaster

One half of comedy rap duo the Rubber Bandits, Blindboy (real name Dave Chambers) racks up 150,000 weekly listeners on his weekly podcast. His is a satirical, at times absurd listen laced together by the host’s anti-establishment leanings.

He shines light on social injustices in a way that’s free from jargon, appealing to compassion only. He was a vocal campaigner in the fight for Ireland to overturn its abortion ban and addresses men’s mental health (men were found to account for eight in 10 suicides in Ireland in 2017). Blindboy confronts mental illness on the podcast, drawing on his own experience to reject the stigma they face when opening up about their mental wellbeing. Importantly, he’s also very funny.

Christine Hill, Medicinema

Having access to something as simple as a movie screening while in hospital has been proven to increase patient wellbeing, reduce their anxiety and isolation and restore a sense of normality for those enduring an otherwise stressful time. It’s something that Christine Hill, founder of Medicinema, recognised first-hand while working as a hospital volunteer. With a background in film, she could see the powerful effect that it could have on people.

The organisation builds, installs and manages state-of-the-art cinemas in hospitals and health facilities across the UK, screening the latest movie releases – and offering respite from the difficult reality of days, weeks and months in hospital.


They run 21 showings a week at their screens from London to Glasgow, totalling nearly 24,000 film experiences for patients a year.

This year chief executive Kat Mason and Hill, who is now honorary president, will lead Medicinema on nationwide expansion, aiming to reach 28,000 patients, plus more special film partnerships like that which saw advanced screenings of Christopher Robin raise more than £133,000 for the cause. Not only that, but the end of the year will mark the 20th anniversary of the charity’s conception – expect big plans and big screens.

Anna Kennedy, autism advocate

Middlesbrough-based Kennedy is a fierce, fun and fabulous advocate for people living with autism in the UK. She was awarded an OBE in 2012 and has continued to support and share information with families and adults affected by autism, campaigning for improved educational resources, and raising awareness via the Anna Kennedy Online charity – which she began after seeing the lack of facilities and support available in the UK for her own boys.

She is also the brains behind the annual Autism’s Got Talent event, which showcases performances by autistic kids and adults.

Sara Harvey, ‘Agony Autie’

Meet the brilliant, blue-haired YouTuber sparking debate and smashing stigmas by starting the conversation about autism. Harvey, or ‘Agony Autie’, makes informative and engaging social media videos to educate people about her condition, and isn’t afraid of tackling big issues head-on.

“What is normal anyway?”, “You don’t look autistic” and “Autism and meltdowns” are just a few of her most watched videos, and there’s a lot more where that came from. Harvey is holding Autistic Pride in June, following a successful event in Chester last year.


Veronica McBurnie GP 

Two paracetamol, ibuprofen, bed rest, Lemsip, oh and two-to-five hours of singing a week. Confused? Meet the doc determined to put choral singing on prescription. Scottish GP, vocalist and mother McBurnie has seen first-hand the medicinal merits of ‘singing health’ and says modern practices are often too quick to overlook the healing properties of music. Having sung with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Chorus for over 15 years, McBurnie now directs three choirs in Scotland.

Her classes focus on music as well as energy work, breathing, relaxation and freedom of expression. Veronica says the ‘happy hormones’ released via singing are infectious, and with almost 100 people attending her sessions she might be on to something.

She has big plans for 2019: promoting choral singing as healer for not only mental health conditions but for physical aches and pains and chronic conditions through her wellbeing choirs.

Projekt 42 Gym

This not-for-profit community gym and wellness centre in Edinburgh – backed by The Big Issue’s investment arm Big Issue Invest – is all about accessibility, affordability and inclusivity. Projekt 42 looks to strengthen the connection between mental health and physical fitness, particularly for the LGBT+ community, which means helping people build healthy relationships with their bodies through exercise.

They are kicking off the year off by launching fitness classes specifically for transgender and non-binary people. The weight training and high-intensity classes will provide a safe environment for them to work on physical and mental wellbeing.

This year the centre also wants to change the way people think about mental health, with life coaching, counselling and nutrition lessons. Profits are reinvested to provide free memberships and sessions for those who need them most, with nearly 500 hours of free fitness and yoga delivered in the last year alone.

Beauty Banks

Beauty Banks was launched by journalist Sali Hughes last year, a charity running on a foodbank model. Donations of essential care and cosmetic products are collected, repackaged and redistributed to charities who can ensure they end up in the hands of people who will benefit most.

Frustrated by seeing increasing waste and excessive luxury within the industry, Hughes and PR worker Jo Jones set up the organisation, fighting hygiene poverty while many hit by austerity and Universal Credit have to choose between cleanliness and food.

Beauty Banks has also linked up with online cash-and-carry Easho to allow people to donate remotely – by buying products online to be sent straight to the charity. This year they want to encourage others to set up similar projects in their communities, meanwhile expanding their network of ‘beauty spot’ donation drop-off points across the country.

Saima Thompson, blogger

People say it all the time: you never think cancer could happen to you until it does. Thompson turned numb when a doctor diagnosed her with stage four lung cancer at the age of just 29.

She was overcome with shame, and not just because of the disease’s link to smoking or because the majority of those diagnosed with it are aged 70 to 74. But her reaction made sense when she reflected on the culture surrounding illness in her South Asian family, which she said is entirely avoidant and secretive. It was only in the aftermath of her own diagnosis that she learned of family members who had been quietly treated for their own cancers, plus others who had died from it.

Given five years to live, Thompson decided to force a cultural shift and blasted the taboo surrounding illness in her community. Taking a step back from the Pakistani restaurant she and her mother own in South London, she turned to exercise, meditation and crucially, blogging. Now, as she approaches a year since her diagnosis, she’s using her blog Curry and Cancer to demystify cancer diagnoses and highlight that a life with cancer is still a life worth living.

Nishkam SWAT Project Recovery

Nishkam SWAT Project is setting out to dramatically change lives
this year, with the new Project Recovery initiative. The Sikh Welfare and Awareness Team, based in West London since 2008, began as a youth club and has expanded into a charitable organisation that helps unite and transform financially disadvantaged communities, working across homelessness, addiction, gang culture and unemployment.

Run solely by volunteers, Project Recovery will provide support and guidance to anyone whose life is impacted by alcohol or substance addiction. In many
communities addiction remains a taboo subject – reaching out for support can appear impossible. So Nishkam SWAT Project Recovery will offer education, a confidential space to talk and a helpline too, with the goal of eventually providing treatment centres as well.

Don’t Screen Us Out

The group has been campaigning since 2016 against DNA screening implementation. This controversial procedure tests for Down’s syndrome in prenatal babies and is available privately in the UK. Don’t Screen Us Out founder and mother to a daughter with Down’s syndrome, Lynn Murray, says it shouldn’t be; and her community is backing her.

Back in 2016, these activists marched their way to Westminster demanding that the government withdraw its support for the test, even penning an open letter to Jeremy Hunt signed by 900 people. This year Murray plans to mobilise her army of campaigners to change people’s perception of Down’s syndrome entirely, and she’s hopeful that 23-year-old activist Heidi Crowter will be a crucial figure in making this happen.

Crowter lives independently, works in a hair salon, has a vibrant social life, a fiancé and speaks passionately about her disability never holding her back. Last year she even delivered a speech at the World Down’s syndrome Congress in Glasgow.


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