The IoS Happy List 2014: All in the name of happiness

Last year's winners inspired us, now we want you to tell us about more people who should be honoured for giving back

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A year ago in our annual Happy List, The Independent on Sunday celebrated 100 inspiring people across Britain who, without thought for personal gain, were helping make Britain a better place.

Now, as we invite fresh nominations for those you believe should be honoured this year, we caught up with some of those previously highlighted to see what had been achieved in the intervening 12 months.

Daphine Aikens was put forward as a "true inspiration" after she established a food bank three years ago to stop local people going hungry as the most vulnerable found themselves hit hardest by the recession.

Unsurprisingly, with austerity continuing to bite and the impact of the economic recovery remaining painfully uneven, the need for her charity's services has continued unabated.

"People come in looking for food not knowing when they last ate," she said. "We had an elderly lady who was unable to work and she arrived sobbing, so distressed at having to 'beg for food'. We told her she was not begging and that it was available to her to have. We gave her the food, spoke to her and when she walked out she shouted, 'I arrived here crying, I leave here singing!' – which had most of us on the verge of crying."

Her story of continued commitment to making Britain a more caring, unselfish place was repeated again and again as last year's nominees were approached. Suzie Birchwood set up ActOne ArtsBase in St Albans, Hertfordshire, to run dance classes and other projects for disabled and vulnerable children. For her, the Happy List provided not only recognition, but a springboard to help more people.

"We got a lot of publicity," she said. "I was nominated as Woman of the Year as a result of the piece, and journalists got in touch wanting to talk to me. Local volunteers got in touch. More children and parents were reading about the possibilities. It's so important that we get the message out there and it's very hard when you're a small charity. It gave us a massive boost."

Continued fundraising remains a challenge for organisations such as ActOne ArtsBase. But, since last year's list was published, Mrs Birchwood has been able to start working with Ballet Cymru and has undertaken an ambitious programme of workshops and performances in schools.

"There is more demand for our work than ever," she reported.

The Happy List – the 2014 list will be published next month – was started as an antidote to the many published lists where those featured are rich or famous. It honours different values: the desire to give back and not to take.

Last year, it included a teenager who sold his treasured football memorabilia to help an ill friend, a pensioner who had volunteered for the Royal British Legion for 66 years, a nun who provided shelter for sex workers in central London, and cousins who saved a man's hand by preserving it in a bag of frozen Brussels sprouts.

Ben Wells gave up training as a doctor to work on a project with the organisation Nightingales set up to combat human trafficking. Since 2002, he has lived in Romania full time to help protect young people at risk. It is just the type of unstinting commitment that can too often be ignored.

For him, inclusion in last year's list meant an opportunity for the charity's work to be celebrated. "It was fantastic," he said. "I'm glad the people working for the charity were given some recognition. It's nice to know the charity's had an effect."

Who makes you happy?

The Independent on Sunday is seeking entries for its seventh annual Happy List. Let us know who you think deserves to be honoured by sending your nominations to: