We are delighted and honoured to have our Founder, Nisha Kotecha, included in The Independent’s Happy List 2017, alongside such inspirational people and organisations – many of whom might be familiar to you as we have previously featured them on Good News Shared.
The Independent has revealed the ninth iteration of its Happy List, celebrating 50 inspirational heroes and heroines whose extraordinary selfless acts have made our country a better place.
This year’s list, in partnership with JustGiving and nominated by the general public, highlights the moving stories of individuals demonstrating their kindness and courage through astonishing acts. It includes Matthew and Steph Neville, a couple from Birmingham, who saved up for years to buy a house for refugees; 14-year old Abbi White who raised £50,000 by selling her artworks for a hospice that helps care for her brother, and Sianne Morgan, a foster mum who has spent 17 years supporting young people into employment.
The Happy List was founded in 2008 as an antidote to the lists that celebrate money or fame. Instead it honours people doing altruistic things for others, who often go largely unnoticed and unrewarded.
Christian Broughton, Editor of The Independent, said, “The current climate of fear, mistrust and negativity makes the Happy List arguably more important than ever as a way to celebrate the inspirational people whose kindness, ingenuity and bravery make the UK a better place.”
The final list was whittled down from hundreds of nominations and is listed in alphabetical order:
Shamash Alidina, Rosa Connor and Victoria Johnson
London’s Museum of Happiness believes in a happier, kinder and more playful world. It’s a not-for-profit social enterprise run by Shamash, Rosa and Victoria to provide experiences that offer people of all backgrounds the chance to learn about living happier, more fulfilling lives. They organise interactive exhibitions, workshops and events to bring the science of happiness alive.
“Without volunteers like Joe we simply could not do what we do,” says one member of the North London Hospice, where Joe has helped out for over 10 years. “Not only does he raise thousands of pounds for us every year, he also tirelessly provides emotional support to those who need it most. Joe’s compassion and patience is truly outstanding and he has an amazing affect on our patients. He is a very special individual.”
As a volunteer at The Kindness Offensive, Joanna is devoted to improving life for those in need across London and further afield. Some of her achievements include running Foundation Speak Street which offers free weekly English language lessons for refugees, helping to create a sensory garden for special needs children, and organising free day trips for the elderly to museums and places of interest. Joanna is described as a ‘selfless character who is always working towards building better communities.’
Max Brennan – Child of Courage
Max, from Brixworth, Northampton, has Ehlers Danlos Syndrome which means he tires easily and gets severe pain in his bones and joints. Some days he finds holding himself up too hard and suffers multiple falls. But five-year-old Max is determined to help other children, He set up Max’s Marvellous Mission which saw him take part in a Superhero Run to raise over £4,000 for the Newlife Foundation, a charity which supports families across the UK to purchase equipment for disabled children.
Sarah, from Oxfordshire, was inspired to set up Children Heard and Seen after she learnt that 65% of boys who have a parent with a conviction go on to offend themselves. The charity provides support to children of prisoners in one-to-one and group settings to help reduce the likelihood of generational offending, mental health issues and family breakdown. Activities includes creating songs to express their feelings about having a parent in prison and making scrapbooks for their loves one.
Matt’s project We Make Good Happen will see him do 403 good deeds, and he hopes to inspire others to do a million more. So far, Matt, from Cardiff, has put on a party for 100 year old lady in care home and hidden twenty £10 notes around his home city (with two rules – don’t spend it on yourself and do some good with it), an idea which went viral. Matt was inspired to do all this as a way of continuing his late father’s good deeds.
John runs a weekly skate club on the Isle of Wight, teaching over 200 people of all ages to skateboard. But, according to his pupils, he does much more than that. One of the many who nominated John says: “He teaches you to be brave, tackle your fears, trust people and have fun.” John gives extra free sessions for those who need extra help, including children with anger issues who find it hard to learn with others.
Emily Chalke and Rachel Price
This duo created Ella’s Home (www.ellas-home.co.uk), Emily had the vision and Rachel helped make it happen. Ella’s Home is a safe house in London where women can recover from trafficking and sexual exploitation. Named after Ella whom Emily met and helped nearly 5 years ago, the project offers long term recovery support. Emily and team work hard to ensure the home is a welcoming place for women to live and recover until they are ready for independent living. The team also provide essential outreach and long term support to women across London who have experienced sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Ann Marie Cockburn
Since losing her 15 year old daughter Martha in 2013 to an accidental overdose, Anne-Marie has relentlessly campaigned throughout the UK (and internationally) for drug laws to be reviewed. Originally from Ayrshire, Scotland, and now living in Oxford, Anne-Marie regularly tells her story in order to raise awareness and to save anyone else from losing another Martha. She has written a book (5,742 Days) and a play called What Martha Did Next. She tells her story to prisoners with The Forgiveness Project’s ‘Restore’ Programme and campaigns with the charity ‘Anyone’s Child: Families for Safer Drug Control’.
Chef Jamie has been a volunteer cooking tutor with Cyrenians Good Food social enterprise for many years, helping to nurture a passion for good food in people who experience mental and physical ill health. One person who nominated Jamie says: “He embodies the concept of cooking being about love, kindness and caring about others. In Jamie’s own business he has taken on people who are long term unemployed and given them a sense of purpose. His passionate teaching puts a smile on so many faces, and quite simply he has helped many turn their lives around.”
Hairdresser Josh has an enormous salon; the streets of London. For the past year this 29-year-old has been giving free haircuts to homeless people, posting photos of his scissor-work on Instagram. It’s part of Josh’s campaign #DoSomethingforNothing which has encouraged people around the globe to help others any way they can and give a voice to society’s marginalised.
Andy founded organisation Brilliant Communities to bring happiness projects into schools across the country. Using three-week positive psychology workshops he places students at the centre of his work to help spread kindness and wellbeing, transforming cultures in the process. Students design their own projects, which have included an induction scheme for new pupils and a record- breaking 21,000 random acts of kindness across Derby, empowering them to think about making positive changes in their own communities.
Karen Cully and Dale Parker
This inspiring pair from Norwich started making and delivering sandwiches to the homeless in Norwich city centre four years ago, taking the bus from their hometown of Dereham, Norfolk. Now they provide a twice weekly service, called The People’s Picnic, feeding more than 70 homeless or disadvantaged people. Managed and staffed completely by volunteers, The People’s Picnic offers three hot food options, three desserts and sandwiches to take away, along with clothing, sleeping bag, blanket and toiletries donations.
Wayne Dixon – Planet-saving Tsar
Former soldier Wayne from Blackburn led a campaign to clean up rubbish from Britain’s countryside. Accompanied by his dog Koda and carrying a 50lb canvas backpack of kit, Wayne undertook a 7,000 mile litter sweep with Keep Britain Tidy to raise awareness of the importance of disposing of your rubbish responsibly. Wayne spent every day of his walk across Britain cleaning verges and hedgerows and using social media to spread his message.
Sister Peggy Ennis
Sister Peggy has supported hundreds of people to build new lives away from addiction and crime during her 22 years as a volunteer for RAPt. Her work includes running workshops for people recovering from drug addiction, and she’s motivated by her unwavering belief that everyone has the capacity to change their lives for the better.
Samantha set up The Samee Project to support people who face barriers to work in Dorset, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Devon and Somerset. The project ‘handholds’ people who want to be self-employed or need support, and Samantha works tirelessly to help them with boost confidence, learn skills and develop self-belief. Often those in need of support are disabled, have long term illness or have fallen on bad times, and so far the project has helped more than 200 people.
What if your morning coffee could change lives? With the support of The Big Issue, Cemal founded social enterprise Change Please to help reduce homelessness through coffee. The scheme trains people who are homeless to be baristas on a London Living Wage, and also provides housing, a bank account and therapy. Currently operating in London, Manchester and Newcastle, and soon New York, Cemal is responsible for lifting eight people per month out of homelessness and into long-term employment.
Sally Field – Animal Saviour
This dog-mad 97-year-old has volunteered at the RSPCA’s Millbrook Animal Centre in Chobham, Surrey for more than 40 years – since the centre first opened it’s doors. Sally has done everything from dog walking to cleaning and cooking dinners for the rescue residents. She volunteers twice a week and has walked at least 1,000 dogs during her time, and has adopted a seemingly restrained total of seven hounds in that time.
A hip replacement five years ago hasn’t slowed down marathon runner Pete, from Rothley, Leicestershire, who clocks up the miles in aid of learning disability charity Mencap. Now aged 64, this year’s London Marathon was Pete’s 100th. He has also run around the world, in Singapore, Dublin, Hong Kong and New York, and has raised over £54,000 so far. His sons James and Rory have both taken up running as well, and they both joined Peter to complete their first marathons.
Rev Canon Sally Fogden – Loneliness Buster
In a bid to foster community spirit and tackle loneliness and isolation in rural communities retired vicar Sally Fogden set up The Rural Coffee Caravan. This mobile community café and information centre offers a place for people of all ages to socialise or access services over a free cup of tea or coffee. It provides everything from blood pressure checks to financial advice, and last year it welcomed over 5,800 Suffolk residents. Sally also volunteers for the Farming Community Network, and set up The Addington Fund to is help farmers financially in times of crisis.
Laura Gleadell – Cancer-fighting Hero
When Laura’s sister Louise, 37, was diagnosed with cervical cancer Laura began an almighty fundraising journey. While juggling two jobs, looking after her son and helping to care for her sister’s three children, Laura motivated her whole community to hold events, donate and spread the word to reach her target. She raised over £100,000 using JustGiving Crowdfunding to pay for Louise to have groundbreaking Immunotherapy in Germany, and Louise has now begun the treatment.
Louise is a dedicated volunteer at Ronald McDonald House Arrowe Park, a charity which provides free ‘home away from home’ accommodation for families while their child is being treated at Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral. From training new volunteers to thinking up innovative ways to fundraise, Louise is an integral part of the team. She even kept volunteering last year whilst receiving a harsh course of radiotherapy treatment for breast cancer.
Brian Heath – Community Champion
Aged 95, Brian still runs a community group called Strictly Tea Dancers at the Allendale Centre in Wimborne, Dorset, which encourages people of any age or ability to come together and learn to dance. This completely volunteer-run initiative helps to address social isolation, which especially affects older members of the local rural community. Brian met his partner Margaret at the Centre, and they now volunteer there together.
The Wizzybug Loan Scheme provides free, powered wheelchairs to disabled children across the UK. Rita, who lives near Burnham-on-Sea, travels all over the country to tell people who might benefit from the idea and help raise money for it to continue. In one year alone she raised over £28,000.
Three years ago Nisha, from London, founded Good News Shared, a website celebrating the positive stories that too often the public don’t hear about. Nisha has volunteered for charities for over 10 years, and it’s her mission to highlight their amazing and diverse work. After experiencing a bereavement last year she went on to create The Moments Journal, a positivity journal to help people see and appreciate the good things – big or small – from their day.
Dr Margaret Lobo
Since qualifying as a music therapist in 1987, Margaret has dedicated her life to providing therapy for people of all ages with learning disabilities, autism, neurological difficulties or mental health problems. After building a music studio in her back garden, Margaret set up the Otakar Kraus Music Trust, putting together a small team of volunteers. Today the Trust helps over 250 people annually and provides over 3,000 therapy sessions. Now in her 70s, Margaret still works to help the most vulnerable people in her community and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Middlesex.
When this Essex performance poet and mental health campaigner won the chance to go into space he decided to use it as a platform to raise awareness of the number of people who live with mental illness. Hussain, from Ilford, says: “I want to dedicate the trip to every single person who has suffered from mental health, every young boy, girl, man, woman who cries and doesn’t know why.” Hussain also speaks out on behalf of the “two billion sane Muslims on the planet”, saying he stands in support of the war on terror.
Paddie began volunteering as a handyperson with charity Volunteering Matters, visiting vulnerable people where he lives in Alloa, Scotland, to help them with odd jobs around the house that they couldn’t manage. Soon Paddie also took on the responsibility of organising other volunteers – arranging visits to ensure even more people benefit from the service and helping to train new starters. Today he is also part of the befriending project, visiting older, isolated people in the local community.
Jane has been working for charity The Sick Children’s Trust for 17 years, starting out as a part time Assistant and now running ‘Home from Home’, which supports families with seriously ill children. The house, which is part of Leeds General Infirmary, almost always has a waiting list, and staff say Jane goes ‘above and beyond’ to care for every single person. In Jane’s spare time she also fundraises, doing everything from an aeroplane wing walk to knitting Christmas stockings to sell.
This beer-loving 47-year-old from Cleator Moor in Cumbria ran 100 marathons on 100 successive days to fundraise for Macmillan Cancer Support. Gary’s life changed two decades ago when his father was diagnosed with cancer. Nurses from Macmillan Cancer Support became a cherished part of the McKee family during that dark time, and now Gary has run approaching 2,700 miles to support them. What has kept him going, he says, has been the thought of those who need the same support his family received.
This 69-year-old volunteer is described as a ‘mainstay’ of girl guiding in South Derbyshire. Ann has given almost 50 years of service, giving up her time to work with children of all ages, from Rainbows, Brownies, Guides and the senior section. One person who nominated her says “Ann has devoted so much of her time to the Guide Association, she does a phenomenal job, has incredible knowledge and is well known and respected throughout the whole of the Midlands.”
When her daughter developed anorexia six years ago Helen began working to improve the support available for everyone affected by the illness. She secured £500,000 extra funding for care from the Welsh Government and founded an Eating Disorder Forum for carers and sufferers. Helen, from Llanfyllin in Powys, is also is a Managing Trustee of Charlotte’s Helix, a charity exploring the genetics behind the illness, and despite being diagnosed with Lupus in 2013 she continues to fight for better treatment for eating disorders.
As well as being a foster carer of two children, Sianne has been a dedicated youth worker for over 17 years, supporting young people across Gwent who are not in education or employment. Whether it’s being a shoulder to cry on or taking them to job interviews, Sianne helps disadvantaged people achieve their best possible future.
Matthew and Steph Neville
This couple from Birmingham had been saving to buy a house for years. However, when they finally had enough money they decided the funds would be better spent providing a home for 50,000 who had to flee from their own. Matthew works for Catholic aid agency CAFOD and Steph works at St Chad’s Sanctuary, providing practical support and English classes to people seeking sanctuary. They bought a house and gave it to homelessness charity Hope Projects to fill.
Tech entrepreneur Oliver built anti-Tinder meet-up app Meet’n’Eat to help people make friends in post-Brexit London. It encourages people who want to get to know others to eat together, matching them using GPS location data alongside filters such as age, food choice, time and date. Oliver, a master’s student at the London School of Economics, thought up the idea while struggling to find English-speaking dining companions in Asia and hopes it will help combat loneliness.
After beating heroin addiction, Paul built a garden in the concrete courtyard of the hostel he was living in. Determined to help other people whose lives are affected by homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, Paul founded Grounded Ecotherapy, a project to help volunteer gardeners learn and work together to create urban sanctuaries. Through Paul’s leadership and enthusiasm members of Grounded Ecotherapy have worked with The Eden Project, Chelsea Flower Show and created a rooftop garden at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.
After she lost her fiancé to sarcoma, Leona, from Belfast, founded a charity in April 2013 to support people living with the disease. The Boom Foundation is now the main referral charity supporting people living with sarcoma in Northern Ireland, and runs support groups and patient information days. Leona has raised over £435,000 to raise awareness and fund specialist care, splitting the money across her own initiatives in Northern Ireland and funding vital research projects alongside the charity Sarcoma UK.
Onjali Q Raúf
“The most selfless and caring person I know,” is how one person described Onjali. She launched Making Herstory in 2011 to tackle violence against women and girls following the murder of her aunt when she was aged just 28. The organisation works in diverse ways to help society’s most vulnerable females; supporting survivors of violence and abuse; assisting refugees; campaigning and lobbying to give voice to disempowered women; and running education programmes in schools and colleges.
Kim Reuter and Russ Elias
Inspirational musicians and self-confessed eccentrics Russ Elias and Kim Reuter run Shabang!, an organisation committed to creating accessible arts for children, young people and adults with additional learning needs in Huddersfield. Russ and Kim combine traditional teaching skills with their own ‘peculiar educational tomfoolery’ to encourage their audience to participate in a special, unique shared experience.
Sam Rowe – Positivity Coach
Founder, Director and CEO of The Academy of Hard Knocks, Sam was inspired to set up the initiative to break the cycle of youth offending by providing the youth community with guidance or role models. The organisation implements values of respect, safety, confidence, professionalism and the importance of positive community involvement.
Mandy is a human rights activist who has spent the last 26 years campaigning locally and nationally to campaign against forced marriages, FGM and honour violence, as well as supporting victims and survivors of violence and cultural abuse. As a motivational speaker Mandy, from Coventry, helps to empower power to rebuild their lives after abuse, and she was also involved in writing the guidelines on disability and HBV for the forced marriages unit.
As a volunteer for Humanists UK, David helped set up a training programme for non-religious pastoral carers, changing the way in which care is delivered in hospitals, prisons, and universities. Before this, non-religious people were unable to access like-minded support at times of crisis, meaning many often went without. For over a decade David has worked hard to ensure that this initiative has been accepted as part of chaplaincy teams all over England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The network has grown to over 150 members and has supported tens of thousands of people. David, from Farnham, still volunteers weekly as a non-religious pastoral carer at London’s Guys’ and St Thomas hospital.
Gemma and Craig Scott – Outstanding Fundraiser
After losing seven family members to cancer, this young couple from Scunthorpe decided to devote all their free time to running marathons to raise money for Worldwide Cancer Research. This year sees them running 10 marathons on two continents, and they always train and run side by side. The Scotts even had their wedding themed around the London Marathon, which they ran together in 2012.
Josephine Segal and Vanessa Crocker
Josephine and Vanessa, aka the “angels of kindness”, co-founded charity Spread a Smile in 2013 after seeing the positive impact a magician’s visit had on Josephine’s nephew who was receiving cancer treatment at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Spread a Smile now organise over 10 events a month at four London hospitals, including art workshops and VIP trips to concerts
For the last 50 years, Dial has given up his time to help reduce isolation in the Asian community in North London and to help members of that community to integrate more with the wider society. As well as organising weekly get-togethers and trips to the seaside or abroad, he also organises practical help with issues such as tax, bills, English speaking, housing and immigration issues. Now aged 85, Dial recently helped Asian women with no voice in the home to gain more independence by attending coffee mornings.
In 2009 Michelle self-funded and set up Mpower People to empower people across Liverpool by helping them live healthier and more independent lives. Today the social enterprise offers a range of sports and healthy living education programmes, as well as training for employment opportunities, enterprise development or personal development. Initially aimed at those from disadvantaged groups, it is now open to anyone who might benefit.
Katherine Sparkes – Innovative Star
Frustrated at the lack of inclusive opportunities for disabled children, Katherine founded Flamingo Chicks, a ballet school where disabled children can explore movement with friends. Over 2000 children take part each year across 14 different cities. Katherine also founded Styleability which provides body confidence workshops for young disabled adults, teaching them how to adapt clothing to suit their needs.
Steve makes mini gardens in potholes around cities, to the delight of passers-by. Each miniature creation tells a little story – from picnics to royal weddings – and one fan said; “seeing a little flower bed randomly in the pavement is just amazing, and he puts little props with them depending on the season or event.” Steve’s ‘holes of happiness’ project has taken on a life of it’s own, with copycat pothole gardeners popping up around the world to create joy.
Rainbows Hospice for Children and Young People in the East Midlands helps care for Abbi’s brother Ryan, who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy – a condition that causes all muscles to weaken. Determined to fundraise for them Abbi, 14, began creating brightly coloured pictures made from buttons to sell. So far she has raised almost £50,000.
This postman from South London goes out of his way to be friendly and cheer up everyone he meets. One person who nominated Cliff says he knows everyone’s name, their children’s names and even what football team they support. “He always stops to chat and takes the time to ask how everyone is, and is a very positive influence on us all. He really is part of the community, a real one in a million.”