Every year here at The Big Issue we look back on the last 12 months and thank all the people who are campaigning to help creative positive change. We want to thank the Changemakers that make this change come about.
With all that the pandemic has thrown at us in the last couple of years, never has public health been so prominent in political dialogue.
Here are the Changemakers in health and sport that are doing their bit.
UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) epidemiologist Meaghan Kall has been instrumental in sharing crucial but often complex information about Covid with the public. As concerns around the virus grew, Kall started to break down reports from the UKHSA (formerly Public Health England) and provide people with accessible information via her Twitter account.
Some of her most popular tweets have criticised the UK government’s response to the pandemic, including the ‘huge oversight’ of not drafting in NHS sexual health contact tracers into the test and trace programme. She also invited people who were worried about Covid vaccines to message her privately. Kall’s posts have earned her a reputation as a reliable source of the latest information on the virus.
Before Covid, Kall had spent 10 years at Public Health England monitoring HIV infections for UK government agencies.
Dr Ronx Ikharia is a trans non-binary A&E doctor who presented three important documentaries in 2021: The Truth About Boosting Your Immune System featured on BBC One, and two Channel 4 documentaries, Is Covid Racist? and Are Women the Fitter Sex?, which questioned why more men than women are affected by Covid-19.
Dr Ronx also presents Operation Ouch on CBBC. They live and work in Hackney, London and volunteer their time to mentor young people who want to attend medical school. Their motto is “You cannot be what you do not see”.
Dr Guddi Singh
The pandemic has seen Dr Guddi Singh co-hosting two BBC Two Horizon coronavirus specials as well as the documentary Why is Covid Killing People of Colour?
A paediatric doctor in London, Singh is also a social justice and health campaigner who is keen to humanise healthcare. She is currently researching the social dimensions of disease and illness in her PhD. She is also a presenter on BBC Two’s Trust Me I’m a Doctor, and will play a crucial role in highlighting inequalities in health as the pandemic continues.
The Respite Association
Throughout the pandemic, The Respite Association has been helping unpaid carers in the UK take the time they need to rest and recharge. The charity has been running since 2001, providing grants to help fund caring support and breaks for carers who are on limited income. Short-term assistance is available to those caring for people with disabilities, long-term physical or mental health issues or terminal illness.
In 2021 the team purchased their first bricks-and-mortar respite facility – a purpose-built holiday bungalow in Cornwall – where carers can take a respite break for free. They also have a caravan in North Wales.
The Respite Association is supported in its endeavours by Big Issue Invest.
Charlie Dark, founder of Run Dem Crew
“We are not a running club and we do not jog,” says Brixton-based Run Dem Crew. “First and foremost we are family and a community who run hard, run fast and run strong.”
DJ and poet Charlie Dark founded Run Dem Crew in 2007 as an alternative to traditional running clubs. Since then, it has grown from a group of friends running to a multifaceted organisation committed to change. Dark and his team work with young people across London providing mentoring and advice, inclusive runs for people of all abilities, workshops, films and events.
In January, Run Dem Crew is starting a couch to 5k for absolute beginners as well as a yoga and mindfulness programme. Tuesdays, 7pm at Brixton Street Gym.
Hackney Wick Football Club is no ordinary club. With an ethos based on community engagement, the semi-professional club aims to unite diverse groups, battle peer pressure and tackle gang influences. Founder Bobby Kasanga used to be a semi-professional footballer but he went to prison after being influenced by a gang and succumbing to a life of crime.
Two months after his release, he began using his experience for good by setting up the football club. It now has 16 youth teams and actively engages with those involved in gangs or on the brink of gang life. Adult players at Hackney do a range of volunteer work and the team is often featured in the media.
In 2021, the club was forced to change grounds and now trains at Witham in Essex. Kasanga is fundraising £1 million to build the club its own ground by 2025.
Long Covid SOS
This group of long-term sufferers of Covid are campaigning the government for a working group to be set up and for health policy to properly support people affected. In 2021, the campaign wrote to Health Secretary Sajid Javid saying: “Long Covid has not only been ignored in policymaking decisions, it has been almost completely absent from the government’s messaging.”
In September the group submitted evidence to the Health and Social Care Select Committee’s inquiry. Watch this group continue to be part of the conversation in 2022.
This campaign is at the forefront in developing our understanding of loneliness; both in the detrimental effects and how we can cure it in our society. The Be More Us campaign focuses on encouraging small moments of connection. The ideas shared have given people the confidence to feel more connected to those around them, inspiring small acts of kindness that make a difference to those feeling isolated and alone.
Their work was essential in the depths of lockdown, and will be vital in 2022 as the pandemic rolls on.
Community Dental Services
Many of us are nervous about a trip to the dentist, but for some the stress is so debilitating they don’t go at all. Community Dental Services is an employee-owned social enterprise. They provide at-home treatment and also focus on hard-to-reach communities. Last October they partnered with Change Please, in association with Big Issue Invest, to repurpose a London bus as a mobile dental clinic for homeless people.
“Girls drop out of sport when they reach their teenage years, compared to boys,” says MissAdventures co-founder Aneela McKenna, “so this is a real opportunity to get them together and to see what cycling and fresh air can do for them.” The volunteer-led project aims to encourage girls at high school in the Scottish Borders to take part in more physical activity. By getting girls involved in biking when they’re young, they hope to increase the gender diversity of the sport. The group also helps build confidence through a series of training videos.
Men Matter Scotland
In the UK, 2.6 million adults feel lonely “often” or “always”, according to a 2021 survey by the Office for National Statistics. Loneliness is associated with an increased risk of death by suicide for men – the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. Men Matter Scotland aims to prevent suicide in men by improving their quality of life and expanding their connections. They run talking groups, art classes and bike clubs, as well as connecting people to expert help where needed.
Dr Radha Modgil
Practising GP Dr Radha Modgil’s Twitter and Instagram are good places to look if you want to feel uplifted in the often dreary feeds of bad news. The broadcaster and wellbeing campaigner offers creative and fun ideas to help people stay healthy, including through the more challenging times of 2021. Modgil’s debut book Know Your Own Power, billed as a toolkit “to find balance, create healthy habits and build solid foundations to create the life that you were born to live”, is out now.
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