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Tributes paid to social investment pioneer and valued member of the Big Issue family James Fairweather

James Fairweather will be remembered for his contribution to social business and his tireless campaigning on behalf of people with brain cancer.

James Fairweather on a boat

James on a previous trip to Mallorca. Photo: Courtesy of James Fairweather and family

We are saddened to report that social investment pioneer, brain cancer awareness campaigner and valued member of the Big Issue family James Fairweather has died at the age of 61.

As CEO of Big Issue Invest – the social investment arm of Big Issue Group – Fairweather supported social businesses and charities to deliver social, economic, and environmental impact across the United Kingdom.

Fairweather was shocked in May this year when he received a diagnosis of glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer with an average life expectancy of 12 months. Shortly after, the disease saw him confined to a wheelchair.

He died peacefully at home on November 23, just six months after he was diagnosed.

“It was frighteningly short,” his wife Mary told The Big Issue. “He was such a fit guy. To go from running and golfing in Majorca and hiking up mountains to not be in here anymore within six months is astonishing. It’s been like watching somebody being dismantled.”

Fairweather was determined to fight the cancer, both for himself and for others. In August, he movingly told his story to The Big Issue, with the aim of raising awareness around an under-researched and under-funded disease.

“I want to raise awareness of brain cancer. Pharmaceutical companies don’t focus on it because they can’t make any money,” he said. “In the UK, 12,000 people are diagnosed with a brain tumour every year. It’s the largest cancer killer in the under 40s. It’s the biggest cause of preventable blindness in children. It takes 500 children a year. Are those numbers really irrelevant?”

Though he was paralysed from the neck down, in September this year Fairweather completed a microlight flight in aid of the Brain Tumour Charity. The fundraiser brought in more than £46,000.

He also managed to secure coverage for his story – and therefore of the challenges faced by people with glioblastoma – in more than 170 regional and national newspapers including the Times and the Independent.

Fairweather’s contribution to social investment will be honoured with a new internship programme at Big Issue Invest.

Chair of the Big Issue Group Nigel Kershaw and current Big Issue Invest chief executive Danyal Sattar said the James Fairweather Internship Programme will offer access to the financial service industry for people who may not otherwise get a chance.

“Nigel and I are united in giving a chance for people who the mainstream struggle to reach to be part of the Big Issue, in Jamie’s name,” Sattar added.

The programme will take one applicant from the 10,000 Black Interns programme, which works to transform the horizons of young Black talent. The second candidate will come from the 10,000 Able Interns programme, which exists to unlock career opportunities for students with disabilities.

Giving a chance to people that the mainstream struggles to reach is fitting. Jamie left school at 16 and entered the City by chance, via a role stacking shelves at a supermarket. He started as a clerk on the stock exchange market floor and finished as a main board director of an investment house. As his wife Mary said: “as far as his career is concerned, he is most proud of his time in social investment”.

Kershaw told Fairweather of the plans for the internship programme shortly before his death.

“Jamie was just amazed and thrilled,” said Mary. “He was a very nurturing person. He had coached young people all the way through his career. When he retired, he started coaching for the Prince’s Trust, and he obviously did his work with Big Issue with all the nurturing that that involved. He also worked for the Social Enterprise Academy, which is all about leadership and empowerment within schools and workplaces.”

James Fairweather and his family
With his family, from left, Rebecca, Struan and granddaughter Ailsa, James, Mhairi, Rory and Mary Photo: Courtesy of James Fairweather and family

James Fairweather is survived by his wife Mary, his two sons Struan and Rory, and his granddaughter Ailsa.

Despite having received a terminal diagnosis, Mary said James remained a “a glass half full person” in his final months.

“Jamie died last Wednesday. But on Sunday, we had a happy day. He had woken up in the morning and he said to me, I’m really excited about the future,” she added.

“I knew what he meant. He was excited about the Big Issue scheme. He was excited because Struan and Rebecca are expecting another baby. Rory and Mary have just got engaged.

“Jamie was excited about potential and the future. And he was still excited about it a couple of days before he died, even though it was highly unlikely that he would be part of it. And that’s quite a special person, I think.”

Donations in James Fairweather’s memory can be made to thebraintumourcharity.org

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