Today The Independent publishes its 10th annual Happy List, naming 50 outstanding people whose volunteering, caring, fundraising, mentoring, charity work or selflessness make Britain a happier place to live.
The list, in partnership with JustGiving, highlights inspirational heroes and heroines who deserve to be celebrated for their kindness, courage and selflessness. They include the 86-year-old who raises money for charity by jumping out of planes; a baker who is helping former prisoners avoid a life of crime; the Brighton man who set up the first Happy Cafe to beat loneliness; the 10-year-old who founded his own charity and has since raised more than £750,000; the woman helping to change the way people perceive the refugee crisis; and the Disco Bunny, a free spirit bringing joy to strangers through dance – and glitter.
The Happy List was founded in 2008 as an antidote to the lists that celebrate status and big bank balances. Instead, it honours the Great Britons doing extraordinary things for others with no thought of personal gain; those who often go largely unnoticed and unrewarded. As ever they are unranked, as it would be impossible to measure their successes against each other.
The 50 people here are the result of weeks of research, appeals across social media, and scores of nominations from you, readers of The Independent. A huge thank you to everyone who played a part.
Christian Broughton, editor of The Independent, says: “I’m very happy indeed to celebrate 10 years of the Happy List, and to shine a light once again on remarkable people who may otherwise be underappreciated. In 2018 we need the Happy List more than ever. With our politics dominated by division and confusion, it’s important to recognise people who enrich the lives of others, and to inspire more of us to try to follow their lead.”
In the decade since the Happy List began, much has changed in the world. Society is more fragmented than ever, as economic, social and political changes push and pull us apart. Perhaps it is unsurprising that the Happy List has struck a nerve, inspiring regional lists to be created in both Bristol and Brighton, with more planned elsewhere.
Our world can often feel dominated by fame, cynicism, disgrace and greed. The Happy List offers a welcome chance to celebrate a different set of values, honouring those who help others without thought of enriching themselves – in many cases at considerable personal cost. That’s something we should all feel happy and optimistic about. If you know of someone you think should have been included, then please let us know and we will consider them next year.
In response to Oxford’s homelessness crisis and an increasingly cashless society, Alex used crowdfunding to build Greater Change – a cashless, secure donation app that enables the public to contribute towards a homeless person’s savings goal by scanning a QR code. Once the savings target is reached, funds are released to the landlord or training provider. greaterchange.co.uk
Four years ago Mark, from St Helens, lost much of his vision. The Royal National Institute of Blind People supported him through this challenging time, and to give back to them Mark has run marathons all over the world with the help of his guide. So far he has raised more than £20,000, and he’s about to do the Chicago marathon in October. rnib.org.uk
Brighton’s Action for Happiness volunteer Stan founded the first Happy Cafe in 2014, and now it’s part of a network of more than 100 around the world. Happy Cafes allow people to connect over a cup of coffee and learn skills for enhancing their psychological wellbeing. Stan’s dream is to have a Happy Cafe on every high street. actionforhappiness.org
The lack of services to help local people seeking asylum led Margaret to set up charity Share Knowsley in Merseyside. She has since helped more than 50 asylum seekers through individual support, advocacy and community drop-in sessions. One person who nominated her called her “a beacon of kindness and hope for those most vulnerable in her community”. shareknowsley.org.uk
“Helia helps me, my family and so many others to feel informed and happy in our community,” says one person who nominated this dedicated We Are Cardiff volunteer. The project helps integrate the local community, bring people together and combat loneliness by sharing personal stories and putting on diverse, inclusive events. wearecardiff.co.uk
Jago, from Somerford Keynes, Gloucestershire, and three of his five siblings were born with cystic fibrosis, and from a young age he has worked tirelessly to raise funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and other charities. Now aged 20, he has climbed Everest, and trekked in the Western Himalayas and through jungles in Vietnam to raise thousands of pounds.
No one who sees Pablo, AKA the Disco Bunny, ever forgets him. A free spirit covered in glitter and flowers, he aims to bring positive feelings to Londoners by dancing in the streets. Pablo was adopted from a Brazilian orphanage by an English family, and as well as working as an actor his mission is to take the Disco Bunny to as many different places as possible, giving back by making people smile.
Despite arriving in the UK without being able to speak any English, Yaqoob quickly became fluent and joined the Red Cross as an orientation and interpreter volunteer, inspiring the local community in Rotherham to follow his example. His nominee says: “He has been a warrior from the first day he came to volunteer, always giving 100 per cent and most recently creating a football team. Yaqoob is an inspiring person who brings the best of himself against any challenges that he comes across in his life.”
“A true inspiration” and “the ultimate girl boss” are just two of the ways the founder of Social Pantry was described by those putting her forward for recognition. London catering company Social Pantry has cafes and restaurants across the capital, and 10 per cent of the workforce are ex-offenders. Alex’s goal is to help reduce reoffending rates. www.socialpantry.co.uk
Since recovering from mental illness six years ago, Natasha has dedicated her life to working with children affected by domestic violence and trauma. She started Free Your Mind in 2013, providing support groups that have helped more than 1,000 young people in domestic violence refuges, in schools and in the community. freeyourmindcic.com
Asma is founder and chief executive of You Make It, a charity working with London’s underemployed women of colour. One fan of Asma’s says: “She has taken her life experiences and passion for creating an equal society into her own hands. Her work empowers and enriches those who would fall between the cracks of society.” More than 80 per cent of those involved in the charity’s schemes have gone on to gain full-time paid employment. you-make-it.org
Aged just 10, George started his own charity called Run With George, running a mile for every month his brother James has lived to say thank you to Alder Hey Hospital for saving James’s life when he was a baby. George, from Merseyside, has since raised more than £750,000 and has inspired so many people to start running or fundraising, showing that no matter what your age you can make a real difference to the world. Former Liverpool football star Steven Gerrard and comedians John Bishop and Jason Manford (with George above) have all run a mile with George to raise money. runwithgeorge.com
Jaime singlehandedly started a movement of almost 100,000 people, spreading kindness to those in need. She started a simple Facebook page called 52 Lives, which aims to help change one life a week by spreading kindness, and has since evolved into Kindness Workshops in schools for 4,000 children a year. 52-lives.org
Every year 48,000 children in the UK require emergency care. Karen from Swadlincote, Derbyshire, set up a charity called the Buddy Bag Foundation. The charity supplies bags packed with essential items for children who have fled domestic violence – not only important stuff like pyjamas and toiletries, but also teddies and books – and the bags have now reached 14,000 children in need. buddybagfoundation.co.uk
Emily, from Manchester, is the founder and editor of The Happy Newspaper, a platform to share positive news and promote all things inspiring, motivational and fun. She runs it from a tiny little room in her home, with the support of a handful of volunteers, and has already had a huge and positive impact. thehappynewspaper.com
After volunteering at a London drop-in centre for asylum seekers and refugees in 2016, Gabby learnt sanitary products were classed as “emergency” items and weren’t widely available. Gabby, who grew up in Manchester, began asking friends on Facebook to donate sanitary products, and after just one month she had thousands. She set up the organisation Bloody Good Period to manage and distribute the items, using an Amazon wish list to enable people to donate items, and today she has 70 volunteers. bloodygoodperiod.com
Ian, from Cheadle, Greater Manchester, has worked with Together Trust looking after children for more than 20 years. He supports some of the most vulnerable young people in the UK, working tirelessly to ensure they experience as much joy and happiness as possible. One person who nominated him says: “Ian gives people hope. He always turns up with a smile, and he’s always happy to throw on a Santa suit at Christmas!” togethertrust.org.uk
Rehana’s work through adult education charity, The WEA has had immeasurable impact on the confidence and skills of women living in marginalised communities in Rochdale and Oldham. She has set up courses enabling them to improve their English and build skills in a range of vocational activities, such as sewing, giving them the confidence to set up their own business, as well as enhancing social cohesion and creating economic opportunities. “Many see her as a friend as well as a mentor,” says a colleague. “Rehana is a role model for aspiration and empowerment of the whole community.” Wea.org.uk
This 62-year-old from Herefordshire took up running, after being diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2014, to help keep her positive and manage her symptoms. She decided to run the London marathon in 2018 to prove that someone with dementia could do it, raising money for Alzheimer’s Research UK. She completed the race in seven hours despite the record temperatures, raising more than £13,500, and is now an ambassador for the Dementia Revolution, a partnership of Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Alzheimer’s Society. alzheimersresearchuk.org
Pawprints Dog Rescue rehomes stray dogs which face euthanasia, saving the lives of more than 140 in the past year. The organisation in Rugby was set up by Anita, who is described as “the driving force behind everything the charity does. She cares deeply for each and every dog, and in helping them she also improves the lives of many humans who have found a purpose by rehoming a dog.” pawprintsdogrescue.or
Charlotte is the coordinator of a community garden in Cambridge which started from unwanted allotment grounds back in 2014. Thanks to her vision which has inspired volunteers, the space now boasts bountiful plant life as well as a polytunnel, compost heap and pond area, and has been given funding to build a meeting hut, thanks to the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Cambridge. emptycommongarden.blogspot.co
Jeff, with his daughter above, set up a Big Moose cafe in Cardiff in February which hires and trains homeless people to help them get back on track. He also created a running team that raises thousands each year for local charities. Those who nominated Jeff said “he gives everyone hope”, and “he supports people to achieve their dreams, even funding for a family to take their heavily disabled child to Disney World... he’s an amazingly inspirational guy.
At 86 years old, Dilys became the Guinness World Record’s oldest female sky diver and has completed over a 1,000 jumps, raisings tens of thousands for charity. “Daredevil Dilys” receieved an OBE recently and is well known in her hometown of Cardiff for her colourful outfits and lifelong dedication to helping young people with disabilities. skydiverdilys.co.uk
Following the loss of both his grandmother to bowel cancer in 2010, and his footballing hero Bobby Moore to the same disease, Jonjo decided he was not going to rest until all cancers are cured. Now aged 16, Jonjo, from Wilmington, Kent, has raised more than £274,000 for Cancer Research UK through gruelling challenges, including walking and cycling hundreds of miles across Britain. Jonjo, who was nominated by his school, received a Jack Petchey Award from the mayor of Bexley, councillor Brian Bishop (above). fornannyandbobby.co
In a culture saturated with images of perfection, alopecia sufferer Elisha is teaching people to embrace imperfections. Last year Elisha discovered a bald patch, and overcame her fear to shave her hair in a bid to cope with the condition, posting photos of herself on social media to raise awareness. Now Elisha, 16, of Sunderland, is an ambassador of wig company Panache, inspiring others living with hair loss to go public. wearpanachegroup.co
Longstanding Rethink Mental Illness campaigner Trina runs a support in braintree, Essex, group for people caring for people with mental heath issues. She also provides a weekly an art group. One of those who nominated her said: “Trina’s dedication to helping all those affected by mental ill health is awe inspiring. The art group’s annual exhibition shows that people with mental illness can create something spectacular.” rethink.org
Father-of-two Karl (above left) ran 5km every day for a month to raise funds for Leukaemia and Lymphoma NI as a tribute to his friend Gavin McNaney (above right), who died of the illness in 2017. Within five days of launching his appeal on JustGiving, Karl had exceeded his fundraising target and he had been inundated with people offering to join him on his final run in Gavin's hometown of Armagh. leukaemiaandlymphomani.org
As a survivor himself, Alex knew how damaging the stigma against male victims of abuse can be. He set up Stay Brave UK in 2015 with the aim of giving all survivors of rape and abuse help and respect. 100% staffed by volunteers, the organisation works to erase the barriers survivors can face when asking for help by campaigning for better services, crafting policy and working with decision makers to improve access for every survivor. staybrave.org.uk
Sports-mad Richard lives in Fakenham, Norfolk, a place with no railway and few facilities. He has set up regular group activities, from cycling to rugby and rowing, as well as music festivals to encourage people to take an active role in their community, fostering what his nominator calls a sense of belonging and the feeling of “being part of a cohesive town”.
Teacher Mrs Kisby devotes all of her free time to encouraging children to do more sport. From cross country on the beach before classes to post-school netball skills, and a whole school marathon. She set up and runs an amazing basketball club in Lancing and has over 50 kids each weekend in the community attend. One local said: “She is positive, encouraging and teaches the kids to be good sportsmen and women, giving them opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t get without her skill and energy. She never stops”
Five years ago Tony placed an advert in his local Kent paper inviting fellow cycling enthusiasts to meet up. Four people turned up, and the Deal and Walmer Wheelers Cycling Club was born. Since then, led by Tony’s passion, more than 40 people have joined the weekly bike rides. As well as inspiring people to keep fit, members of the club credit it for creating creating friendships and fostering a real sense of belonging, and they have raised thousands for various charities.
For the past 15 years, Mike has volunteered to help cover the Liskeard and Looe area of Cornwall, attending more than 3,000 incidents including more than 200 cardiac arrests. Having started out as a member of St John’s Ambulance at the age of 11, Mike has now been a dedicated supported of the charity for more than 50 years, providing over 32,500 hours of cover in his Community First Responder.
What started with Amy taking three lonely older people for lunch on Christmas Day five years ago has now snowballed into an annual event for hundreds of guests. Now Amy runs her own charity called, called the Marmalade Trust, organising Christmas Day parties for anyone who would otherwise spend the day alone. One of her nominees said: “She has dedicated her life to ending loneliness, pouring all her time, energy and money into her charity.”
After Jenny was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer in 2010, she endured six rounds of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and five years on the drug Tamoxifen. To raise awareness Jenny, who lives in Thame, Oxfordshire, joined the CoppaFeel! Boobettes – the UK’s boob checking ninjas. Jenny soon became one of their biggest campaigners, dedicating a huge amount of her time to spreading their message of education, encouragement and empowerment, as well as raising critical funds for research. coppafeel.org
As well as working with students with additional learning needs in Newport, Wales, Victoria is an avid mental health campaigner, delivering training for colleagues and pupils, and attending conferences to enable her to better educate those around her. Through regular drop in support sessions at her local cafe, Victoria aims to help people relax and increase their wellbeing. “She brings such joy to the lives of all who meet her,” one of her many nominees said.
Food Behind Bars aims to improve meals in prisons. It’s safe to say that not everyone understands why Lucy has chosen this particular cause – but since launching the campaign a little over a year ago, she’s visited jails up and down the country, speaking to inmates as well as the employees in order to overhaul nutrition and help give inmates the best foundation possible. foodbehindbars.co.uk
Octogenarian volunteer Joyce has been an indispensable part of life at St Richard’s Primary School in Ham for over 30 years. She helps pupils read, runs a lunch time knitting club, bakes over hundreds of cakes to sell. Joyce is an active member of Parents, Teachers and Friends Association (PTFA) and recently made a generous “Living Will” donation to the school. Outside of school she is also an active guider and church warden. “She is amazing,” one person who nominates her enthused.
The powerhouse behind the Dorking group Refugees at Home, Constance helps to provide short, mid and long term accommodation for asylum seekers in private homes. These refugees lose accommodation and support as soon as they receive the leave to remain status and often end up homeless. Constance has housed many in her family home, as well as overseeing the support of many others, one of whom commented “she has helped change the way people perceive the refugee crisis and migration in a well informed and above all positive and cheerful way”. refugeesathome.org
Shirley is the station manager of Swindon 105.5 community radio station, working with local schools, colleges and the community to help those with special needs to grow in confidence. One volunteer saysid: “She works tirelessly to transform the lives of the community. Her dedication to supporting people to find their voice through presenting radio is truly inspiring.”
After becoming a mum for the first time aged 32, Katy, from Solihull, developed postpartum psychosis and was cared for by the Barberry Mother and Baby Unit in Birmingham. Eight years on, Katy is a long serving volunteer in the unit, providing invaluable peer support and giving mums manicures and pedicures. She also gives talks about her story to both raise awareness and spread hope about recovery.
Keira, 10, has been tirelessly supporting Dr Kershaw’s Hospice in Oldham in memory of her dad, Stephen, who passed away there when she was just four. She set up Keira’s Wishes, a charity to fund final wishes for hospice patients and so far she has raised over £6,000 to help make patients’ dreams come true, selling self-made merchandise such as Unicorn Dreamcatchers. drkershawshospice.org.uk
William’s wife Katie died just 72 hours after their wedding (above) last year aged 29, and since then he has fought to raise awareness of bowel cancer, the disease that killed his beloved wife. William, who is from Chelmsford, has already raised almost £10,000 by running long distances with Katie’s sister Hayley.
For more than 60 years Alma has served on the committee of Newry Feis, an annual festival of music, dance and speech in Northern Ireland. An incredible pianist and violinist herself, Alma is now in her nineties but continues to dedicate much of her free time to the voluntary promotion of performing arts, encouraging people to seek opportunities for self-expression and helping them to build self-confidence. newrymusicalfeis.com
This talented 12-year-old has helped teach computer coding to young people from underrepresented backgrounds. Femi, from south London, was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome at the age of seven. Two years later he began coding, and he has shared his passion with other young people ever since. Femi set up the South London Raspberry Jam and has run hundreds of coding workshops across the UK, he is now a young coding ambassador and has been called one of “tomorrow’s engineers”.
Adrian is chair of Wiltshire Search and Rescue, giving up his time to ensure the public are kept safe. One of those who nominated him said: “Adrian works every hour and remains patient, calm and professional throughout. He’s a true volunteer giving back for no personal gain to save the lives of others.”
As Belong Crewe’s experience coordinator, Natalie was the driving force behind Silver Pride, an event to celebrate LGBT+ culture for older people, with musical performances, fancy dress competitions and open mic acts. On person who nominated her said: “Natalie and the team created a fun, stigma-busting space for people to feel comfortable expressing who they are.” belong.org.uk
Glasgow’s Freedom Bakery is an artisan bakery whose staff includes prisoners on day release and former inmates who have turned away from crime an embraced a careers as bakers. Founder Matt, 31, set up the social enterprise after his mother’s ex-partner served several prison sentences. Its ethos is that people at risk of offending can benefit significantly from professional training and employment opportunities. freedombakery.org
Jenny is an outreach worker for Spires Streetlink which supports vulnerable women in the sex industry. One of the many who nominated Jenny said: “She is passionate and inspirational, and able to gain the women’s trust and ultimately encourage them to leave sex work for good. Jenny’s job is far more than that to her, it is a vocation.” spires.org.uk
Not your typical teenager, Ben 16, from Long Eaton, Derbyshire, spends his free time helping people with dementia fight their own battles as a volunteer for national health and social care service, Making Space. Inspired by his granddad’s battle with dementia, Ben wanted to increase his own understanding and raise awareness about the illness. makingspace.co.uk
Fundraiser David is double amputee who has overcome much in his life. He now dedicates his time and effort into changing the lives of others. As well as completing gruelling challenges such as a 24 hour lake push, four Great South Run marathons, he has been a personal source of inspiration for others coming to terms with physical disabilities.
If you know of someone you think should have been included, then please let us know here and we will consider them next year.
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