Sir Geoff Palmer. Image: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Every year The Big Issue celebrates the people giving back to society. Changemakers put their hearts and souls into making positive change for vulnerable people. We want to thank them for the tireless hard work that goes into making the world a better place.
The Big Issue believes in social justice. Unfortunately, there are still marginalised groups in society that are subject to prejudice, ridicule and even abuse. Disabled people, minority ethnic groups and religious minorities are still affected by discrimination in the UK, but there are people who are dedicating their time to fighting inequalities and promoting social justice.
Here are some of the Changemakers who are working towards social justice.
For top screenwriter Jack Thorne, words matter. And so does representation. Thorne is one of the most prolific writers in film, television and theatre. In 2021, his drama Help – starring Jodie Comer and Stephen Graham – was both a story of love and community and a furious exposé of the calamitous handling of the Covid crisis in care homes. It will win awards. Thorne also delivered the MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival and used the prestigious platform to champion greater access and representation for disabled people in the television industry.
In a powerful speech he said: “TV has failed disabled people. Totally and utterly”, and announced the creation of Underlying Health Condition, a disabled-led collective movement for change in the UK TV industry.
Next year, Then Barbara met Alan, written by Thorne and UHC co-founder Genevieve Barr, charts the founding of disability activist group Direct Action Network in the 1980s. So, as he has done throughout his career, Thorne continues to put disability front and centre.
In 2021 you shone a light on the care home Covid scandal in Help then used your MacTaggart Lecture to focus on the way the television industry fails disabled people. Do you see links between both issues?
I would hope so. Making a distinction between those who get care and those who don’t was so damaging to our country. It led to horrible statistics: of the first 100,000 Covid deaths in the UK, 60,000 were disabled. It was social and governmental negligence, and it woke something in me.
What are you hoping for in 2022?
The Social Model of Disability states that disabled people aren’t disabled by their impairments but rather by the inability of the world to accommodate them. We want an industry that is inclusive. We’re fighting for a new future for TV, where disabled people aren’t excluded because the space isn’t capable of housing them. The numbers of disabled people involved in TV is pitiful. By joining with a collective of disabled people, the TV world can signal that TV is for disabled people too.
Is Then Barbara Met Alan an important moment in terms of the positive change you are making?
I hope it’s part of that change. I’m really proud of what we’ve made. The cast are extraordinary, and everyone remarked how nice it was to be in a situation where disabled people were the majority not the minority. Ruth Madeley is well on her way to being a superstar and I think Amit Sharma (who co-directed) and Genevieve Barr (who wrote with me) are disabled voices that are going to change the industry forever. But we consistently ran into problems as to the availability of accessible facilities. And that’s our point – things can’t be solved quickly, it’s going to take a long, long time and a lot of work.
Help is streaming on All4 now.
Abigail Thorn came out as a trans woman via her YouTube channel Philosophy Tube in January 2021. Since then, the actor and creator has been using her platform to be a leading voice for trans healthcare and equal rights. Philosophy Tube, which she has built to more than one million subscribers since 2013, focuses on politics and philosophy and tackles important subjects from Islamophobia to social constructs. She also co-presents a podcast called Kill James Bond.
She was nominated in the category Online Influencer for a 2021 British LGBT Award. In 2022 Thorn plans to do more acting, including in a play The Prince she has written about transness and political radicalisation, which is due to show in London in autumn.
Feminist protest group Sisters Uncut have been at the forefront of civil resistance this year. In the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard, Sisters Uncut helped organise the vigil against police violence on Clapham Common in South London. The vigil infamously ended up being the subject of a heavy-handed police crackdown.
As Wayne Couzens was sentenced for Everard’s murder, Sisters Uncut led protests outside the Old Bailey, letting off smoke flares. And activists stormed the Royal Courts of Justice in November, drowning the Strand in the wails of rape alarms.
As the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill continues its journey through parliament, efforts to protect our right to protest will continue. Sisters Uncut’s resistance to the Bill was vocal and distinctive – expect to see more of it in 2022.
Sir Geoff Palmer
Windrush generation member Sir Geoff Palmer, a leading voice in race and history, does not advocate removing statues of controversial figures such as Edward Colston in Bristol. “If you remove the statue, you remove the deed,” he told The Big Issue in June.
Palmer, who was born in Jamaica in 1940 and arrived in Britain aged 14, became Scotland’s first Black professor in 1989. In 2021, he became the country’s first Black university chancellor at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. Palmer continues to promote inclusivity, speak out about human rights and dig into the legacy of slavery in the UK.
Human rights activist Onjali Raúf released her fifth and sixth children’s books in 2021. The Great (Food) Bank Heist, published in July, is a book about a family that can’t afford to feed itself.
Raúf, who grew up on a council estate and had free school meals when she was younger, told The Big Issue: “The main reason I wanted to write it was to make any kid going through what Nelson is going through – of experiencing that endless pit of real, deep hunger – to feel less alone.
The Lion Above the Door, released in October and one of The Big Issue’s books of the year, is a powerful story of friendship and hope. Raúf is also the founder and CEO of two NGOs: Making Herstory, an organisation working to end all forms of domestic violence, abuse and trafficking crimes against women and children and O’s Refugee Aid Team, which arranges convoys to refugees across northern France and beyond.
In 2021, the longest-serving Somali women-run food co-op in the UK, a project by Coffee Afrique, achieved the incredible feat of surpassing 30,000 food parcels given away alongside The Felix Project. Coffee Afrique is a community-based organisation working in Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham in East London.
Abdi Hassan co-founded the group, which offers an advice service, mental health support, crisis cafes and lobbies MPs on housing. During the pandemic, it delivered food parcels, medicine parcels and befriending. According to Coffee Afrique, “We see the value in everyone. We want to be a catalyst for positive change and since our birth in 2018 we’ve been driven by core values centred on support, empowerment and equality for all.”
The Three Hijabis
When shocking levels of racism were directed at England footballers Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka after they missed their penalties at the UEFA Euro 2020 final in July, three women took action. ‘The Three Hijabis’, whose petition ‘Ban racists for life from all football matches in England’ got more than a million signatures within 48 hours, is made up of journalist, comedian and politician Shaista Aziz and her friends Amna Abdullatif and Huda Jawad.
The women said: “As multiracial football fans, we finally feel represented by this anti-racist and inclusive England team… Our England team stood up for all of us – now we must stand up for them.” Their petition is still open and growing as the trio call for action from the government, social media companies and the FA.
Fans for Diversity
Racism in sports has been inescapable in 2021, from the abuse suffered by England players after the Euro 2020 penalty shootout, to the damning revelations from Azeem Rafiq on racism in elite cricket.
Anwar Uddin, the first British-Bangladeshi to play professional football in England, is the campaign manager of Fans for Diversity, a campaign making sure football can be enjoyed by everyone, and opening up the sport to people who might think it’s not for them.
The campaign recognises groups making the sport more accessible, and awarded Punjabi Rams, a supporters group of Derby FC, winners of the Fans for Diversity award at the Football Supporters’ Association Awards in November. Former Bristol Rovers player Uddin is also a member of the FA Council, making him the first British South Asian player to join the body.
As on-pitch campaigns like Rainbow Laces gather prominence, and the 2022 Qatar World Cup raises uncomfortable questions about inclusivity in the sport, work to diversify football at all levels will take on a new significance next year.
Ebadur Rahman, Nujum Sports
Premier League clubs in June 2021 endorsed a “first of its kind” Muslim athletes’ charter, devised by Ebadur Rahman, founder and chief executive of Nujum Sports, to address Islamophobia in sport. The 10-point charter seeks to encourage organisations to support Muslim sportsmen and women to “flourish and fulfil their potential”. The 10 points include creating an environment to support the non-consumption of alcohol, providing places to pray, halal food and allowing for fasting during Ramadan.
Nujum officially launched in August 2020 and since then has supported more than 100 Muslim athletes from a range of disciplines. Rahman tells The Big Issue: “Our underlying ‘golden thread’ has been to educate and portray the positive message of Islam and to work towards building tolerance, peace and mutual understanding for all.”
When Stephanie Wheen of Bristol opened a specialist physio practice for disabled children and young adults, she was shocked to discover the staggering lack of disability-friendly play and leisure facilities available for her clients. After hearing story after story from children and parents who felt frustrated with so few options for exercise and play, she decided to do something about it. In 2017, she set up Gympanzees, a company with a mission to make sure young disabled people can live lives full of exercise, play and friendship.
Gympanzees began an equipment-lending service for families, produced online resources and ran pop-up centres for children to play in – attracting nearly 8,000 visits over 58 days. This year, they decided it was time to set up a permanent play centre for disabled kids, launching a fundraiser to find a home in Bristol. In 2022, they’ve got big plans to raise the £2.2 million needed for what will be the UK’s first leisure centre dedicated to disabled kids, and will continue offering pop-ups to families and children across the area.
Annie Ashton’s husband Luke developed a gambling addiction after receiving ‘free bets’ while on furlough from his job and spending time alone at home. He began funding his addiction by taking out loans, leading to the problem getting out of hand. Luke tragically took his own life four months later.
In memory of him, and to try to prevent other people going through what her family experienced, Ashton is campaigning for Luke’s Law, which would ban free bets and the emails that entice gamblers to place them. Ashton’s petition has prompted the government to say it would look at gambling advertising, including marketing and inducements, in the Gambling Act Review.
Hope instead of Handcuffs campaign
The campaign set up by Emily Aklan has sought to bring attention to the little-known use of restraining children with handcuffs and placing them in caged vehicles when moving them between places. These are often children who are in care, who are at risk of self-harm or who have been exploited by gangs, and being handcuffed only adds to their trauma. The practice is widely condemned by the UK Children’s Commissioner and the UN.
Aklan has brought attention to the campaign after getting backing from more than 20 MPs and peers.
The campaign is calling on the government to require organisations involved in the transportation of children to be legally obliged to report any use of restraint.
GINA is a social enterprise named after founder Lisa Thompson’s grandmother, who was a survivor of a rape she kept secret for nearly 70 years. GINA has played an important role in supporting those affected by sexual violence and abuse. The organisation puts survivors’ voices at the forefront of its work, collaborating with them to produce resources and put on events that support people in the way they need.
It offers tailored counselling and highlights issues in the criminal justice system that make it extremely difficult for survivors to get justice, while also encouraging survivors to consider what justice looks like for them. There are no waiting lists for GINA’s services; support is provided as soon as it is needed. GINA is supported by Big Issue Invest.
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