The Big Issue’s Top 100 Changemakers 2019: Literacy
Welcome to The Big Issue's Changemakers Top 100: celebrating the thinkers, creators and agitators. Here's our rundown of individuals and organisations in literacy and publishing that are striving for a better world in 2019
“Great ideas can change the world – so we publish them.” The simple ethos at the heart of this indie publishing house has seen it fly the flag for social justice. Since being founded by Katherine E. Knotts in the south of England in mid 2017, books have included Global: An extraordinary guide for ordinary heroes (an insight into famine, conflict, climate change – and what readers can do to drive change) and Learning Service, a measured critique of volunteering abroad with suggested alternatives.
They raised £8,000 in a crowdfunding campaign last year for next release, The Anatomy of Silence, an anthology exploring what it’s like to speak out about sexual violence.
Crime scene cleaner, barber, labourer, shop worker. All jobs that McQueer had before he appeared on Scotland’s writing scene in 2017 with inescapable social media buzz and mass of followers.
His short story The Moth made it online in 2016 and that summer he published his first short story collection Hings with darker follow up HWFG released late last year by Edinburgh- based alternative publisher 404 ink. He’s now writing his first novel – which is “absolutely frying [his] brain”, he tells The Big Issue – and that should make it to readers this year. Meanwhile his surreal snapshots of life are being brought to the stage with his second play, The Last Can, set to be performed at this year’s Glasgow Comedy Festival.
Books provide refuge and vital tools for rehabilitation in prisons across the country. In 2018, Big Issue founder, John Bird recognised the work of one librarian in particular as part of the Prisoner Learning Alliance’s fourth annual awards. Hodgson from HMP Birmingham was commended for her tireless efforts to restore the prison library following a series of riots. She was praised for going above and beyond to clear glass and fallen debris from the site, and said she was “amazed and gobsmacked” when her nomination came through.
The journalist and novelist stepped in last year to rescue the Quick Reads adult literacy scheme, after the loss of its sponsor, by donating £360,000 and a promise to help charity Reading Agency find further funding. The Me Before You writer is one of many to have written for Quick Reads – which publishes books for adults with reading difficulties. Penned by high-profile authors, the books are sold for £1 and distributed to prisons, libraries and hospitals. Research released in 2016 found that one in 20 adults in the UK have the reading age of a five year-old. Quick Reads boosts the confidence of 95 per cent of readers and thanks to Moyes’ intervention, millions will benefit when the scheme relaunches in 2020.
Hedayat came to the UK from Afghanistan as a refugee in 1994. Her mother, a civil engineer fluent in four languages, struggled to find work in her field after obtaining refugee status.
Hers is not a unique problem. A Deloitte report from 2017 found 38 per cent of Syrian refugees in Britain had a university education, yet the refugee unemployment rate sits at around 70 per cent. Hedayat set up Chatterbox, an organisation connects underutilised talent with a growing demand for language skills by training and employing displaced people to teach their native language using an online platform, transforming their employment prospects.
For grime superstar Stormzy, it’s as much about the mission as the music. Last year he rocked A-Level results day by launching a scholarship for black students to attend Cambridge University – £18,000 in funding will cover both tuition fees and living costs for up to four years. The first two students started in October, with another two to go this year.
But it didn’t stop there. The 25-year-old also launched publishing imprint #MerkyBooks, kicking off with his own story, Rise Up: The #Merky Journey So Far. This year it will publish works of fiction,
non-fiction and poetry from young writers who might otherwise be locked out of the publishing world.
Last year was the year the independent bookshop hit back. A 15 per cent growth brought the total number to 868, riding on the tiny turnaround of just one new shop the year before. At The Big Issue we’ve championed the power of this thriving community. Here are just a few bookshop heroes…
Simon Key, co-owner of The Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, London, is going digital for 2019. After he launched the #buyastrangerabook initiative last year, the idea morphed into #buyShelterabook, raising £2,500 to buy books for the charity’s homelessness hubs. Key will be closing the physical Big Green Bookshop at the end
of January to focus on the online projects. He also aims to step up the Big Issue-backed Independent Bookshop Alliance, which helps indie sellers compete with
Shaun Bythell, owner of Wigtown’s The Bookshop, enjoys eavesdropping on customers. The Diary of a Bookseller was published in 2017 and has shed light on the life of a struggling shop owner and the people for whom books are an important lifeline.
Little Shop of Heroes, an independent comic store in Dunfermline run by the Grainger family faced a monumental financial battle in 2018 when the Beast from the East forced the cancellation of the local comic con – an event which attracts over 4,000 people each year. But the community raised £12,500 meaning the Grainger family are back with Comic Con 2019. The event is integral to the not-for-profit Books For Schools, which distributes graphic novels in all secondary school libraries in Fife.
Other heroes are Adam and Guy Makey. Both on the autistic spectrum, the brothers were looking for work when Adam had the idea of turning his passion for comics into a career. They restored a quaint shop in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire in 2011 and, arranged with autism in mind, the store is filled with nooks that provide shelter from sensory stimulation. They invite young people in the same boat as them for work experience, proving that just like superheroes, it’s OK to be different.