Today, The Independent on Sunday publishes its sixth annual Happy List, naming 100 outstanding people whose volunteering, caring, fundraising, mentoring, charity founding or selflessness makes Britain a more contented, supportive, better-adjusted and happier place.
They include the couple who have welcomed more than 1,000 troubled young men into their home; the woman who has raised £1m for cancer sufferers and their families; the 13-year-old poet who communicates by blinking; the man who has served breakfast to the homeless for the past 10 years; the nun who provides shelter for sex workers in central London; and the cousins who saved a man’s hand by preserving it in a bag of frozen Brussels sprouts.
There is also the man who makes toys for animals out of fire hoses; the woman who has helped thousands of disabled people enjoy the arts; the pensioner who has volunteered for the Royal British Legion for 66 years; and the sick teenager who sold his treasured football memorabilia to help an ill friend. All these, plus sports people, community stalwarts, mentors and some innovators who have transformed derelict spaces, preserved Britain’s heritage, and founded organisations to provide support to the most vulnerable.
The Happy List began six years ago as an antidote to all those rich lists that worship the super-wealthy, the financially successful, inheritors of millions, and the over-bonused. This list celebrates a different set of values, honouring those who give back, rather than take, those who help others without thought of enriching themselves, and, in many cases, at considerable personal cost. The list has grown in influence and has now become a stand-alone idea in its own right, inspiring Bristol to become the first city to create a “Happy List” of its own. A campaign will launch soon to get other cities to follow Bristol’s example.
As last year, the list is made up exclusively of the unsung, people whose extraordinary efforts have gone unrecognised outside their own circles and communities. Many of them do their good work in a town, village, or limited area. They have been selected not only because what they do is inspiring, but because they are representative of the hundreds of thousands of people who make Britain a happier place by volunteering, fundraising or caring.
The final list is the result of weeks of research, appeals across social media, and scores of nominations from individuals and organisations.
Acorn Bank Watermill Volunteers
Richard Harland, Ray Gill and Bob Price form the trio who painstakingly restored and now maintain an ancient mill at Temple Sowerby, Cumbria. For five years they have helped to rebuild the wooden structure, and the mill is now able to grind flour for the first time in over 70 years.
Food bank founder
Mother of two who started a food bank in London two years ago to stop local people from going hungry. Daphine juggles her home life in order to volunteer four days a week, as well as evenings and Saturdays. Her nominator says: “Her compassion is tireless; she is a true inspiration.”
Has inspired people to keep the Isle of Wight countryside clean through her litter campaign. Patricia produces litter-picker kit-bags – made out of recycled Cowes Week sailcloth. She encourages residents to “think litter” and keep the island tidy, so that it continues to attract visitors.
For seven years Richard has volunteered at Paignton Zoo, Devon, crafting toys for the animals – including footballs for elephants, hammocks for baboons, and piñatas for monkeys – out of old fire hoses. He also helped construct 850 bird boxes, and supports the zoo’s free weekly bird show.
Denise’s determination to restore The Florence Institute in Toxteth, Liverpool, which closed in the 1980s, is the reason it stands tall today. Denise and her community, helped by lottery funding, have transformed “the Florrie” into a youth and social club that is used by 250 children weekly.
A neurological condition that developed while she was training for a career in ballet left Suzie wheelchair-bound in 2001. So she set up ActOne ArtsBase in St Albans, Hertfordshire, which provides dance classes, holiday projects and a nightclub for disabled and vulnerable children.
Gary has worked in the voluntary sector for 20 years, and in 2008 founded the Justlife Centre in Manchester, which helps the homeless and others. He advises primary care trusts, housing associations and social enterprises across the country.
Ellis Blake and Ariana Webley
Cousins, then 20, who saved a man after he was attacked with a machete at a Birmingham bus stop. The girls fetched towels to stop the bleeding and preserved his severed hand in a bag of frozen Brussels sprouts. They were honoured by the West Midlands Police Authority last year.
When Adam was born with cerebral palsy, doctors told his parents he had 24 hours to live. But 13 years later the Edinburgh youngster, who communicates by blinking, has gone on to be hailed as one of the nation’s most promising poets, winning awards for his work.
When the area commander for Strathclyde Fire and Rescue was diagnosed with a bone marrow disorder in 2008, he formed a partnership with the Anthony Nolan Trust that has saved at least six lives and led to more than 4,000 potential donors joining the bone marrow register.
Graham had a promising career in finance when his alcohol dependency led him to become homeless. In 2007, after rehab, and aware of the financial difficulties affecting addicts, he set up Clean Slate, a Newcastle service that provides advice on benefits, debt, and budgeting.
Melanie and Donny Bryan
Melanie, from Wigan, Greater Manchester, won £147m of public sector contracts for charities, social enterprises, and small businesses last year alone, while Donny runs a landscaping social enterprise that works with the elderly and disabled.
A professional footballer who gives back, this Brighton and Hove Albion player has just won an award for his pioneering work off the pitch. As well as helping out the club, Inigo has designed and delivered educational workshops for job-seekers, apprentices and schoolchildren.
Cerebral palsy sufferer Jack, 14, wants to be a professional comedian. When the youngster from Hipperholme, West Yorkshire, performed his first gig in 2010, the YouTube footage attracted more than 30,000 hits. He hopes to use comedy to encourage people to talk about disability.
Birmingham social worker who started the 280,000-signature petition for Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban, to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Shahida also started the Women’s Networking Hub, which campaigns against gender inequality.
After being diagnosed with cancer in 1981, Neil, then 45, had a life-saving operation and went on to run 17 marathons and 54 half-marathons, raising £1m to build an outpatient care centre. The facility provides free care to more than 3,000 patients in Greater Manchester.
Befriender and advocate
Penny has volunteered for the London-based Prisoners’ Families and Friends Service for 38 years, befriending relatives of prisoners. She set up the Court Project, which provides advocacy and emotional support. She stepped down, aged 70, in December 2012.
Volunteer for Addaction’s Manchester resettlement project, which helps ex-offenders with substance misuse problems re-adjust to life after prison. Daniel supports his clients by helping them find safe accommodation and sourcing external support.
Representative of the countless volunteers who work, unsung, at Britain’s top gardens, Alan has given many hours a week for 13 years to Wakehurst Place, West Sussex, where he performs a range of horticultural tasks and is responsible for the formal lawn edges and paved areas.
Founder of Survivors Manchester, an organisation that offers support to men and boys who have been the victims of any form of sexual assault or rape. A true inspiration to others who have suffered abuse in the past, Duncan promises: “We will never turn anyone away.”
Co-founder of The Women’s Room, a database of women experts set up after Radio 4’s Today programme failed to include women in discussions about contraception and breast cancer. More than 2,000 women have volunteered to help get the voices of women heard.
Richard and Sarah Curd
Richard and Sarah’s son Oliver was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer in 2006. After he died, the East Sussex couple set up a trust in his name which provides holiday accommodation, where ill children and their families can spend quality time, and has raised over £100,000.
Founder of Unchosen, a charity in Bath that promotes films, documentaries and interviews aimed at combatting human trafficking in the UK. The organisation relies on voluntary staff who update the website with information on film showings, and highlight news stories about human trafficking.
Education consultant from Northampton who focuses on special educational needs. Anita recently set up the Support 4 Learning iHub for people with learning difficulties. She delivers workshops all over the country, trains volunteers and supports individuals in difficult work situations.
Peter Ditchburn and John Worsnop
The pair have spent 20 years volunteering at nature reserves in the North Pennines, performing tasks as varied as inspecting mine shafts, giving interviews, writing newsletters and leading volunteer parties and guided walks. They won Natural England’s 2013 Volunteer of the Year Awards.
Neil has served cooked breakfasts to the homeless for more than 10 years, and, apart from a small annual fundraising event, foots the bill himself. He feeds more than 200 people a month in Charing Cross, London, and also organises a Christmas lunch in his local church hall.
David and Cameron Dunn
Father and son who saved a pensioner stranded by floodwater in Keynsham, Somerset, last November. David drove his Land Rover into the river, climbed on to its roof and pulled the man through the driver’s window to safety. Cameron, 13, filmed the rescue.
Chairman of Southwark Tigers RFC – the first inner-city rugby club for children. Vernon has been the head coach since 2000 and sourced funding so that the children could play for free. According to his nominator: “The club makes Britain a better, more well-adjusted and happier place.”
Director of Theatre Peckham which, for 25 years, has kept local children off the streets and channelled their energy into acting, singing and dancing. More than 400 individuals attend weekly classes and take part in regular theatre productions. Sir Ian McKellen was so impressed that he became a patron.
Flo and Jim Essex
Couple from Yeovil, Somerset who, at 82 and 87, have raised over £160,000 for charity by, among other things, lying on a bed of nails to mark 60 years of marriage, and speeding downhill in shopping trolleys. When illness ruled out a holiday, they gave £1,000 they’d saved to charity.
Volunteer for Body & Soul, a charity in east London that supports people with HIV. Marian offers massage to reduce stress and combat pain, and has, says her nominator, “successfully broken down cultural barriers” over the last 13 years through her work with the organisation’s youngest members.
When Isla was two she lost an eye due to a rare form of cancer. The seven-year-old from Normanton, West Yorkshire, has since raised hundreds of pounds for the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust and even starred in a DVD to show others how easy it is to put in their artificial eyes.
Margaret’s shop in Helston, Cornwall raised around £1m for cancer sufferers in 12 years. The former nurse has helped mothers who couldn’t afford childcare and arranged for a terminally ill woman to be a zookeeper for the day. Margaret, 74, retired in January and the shop was forced to close.
The Folio Society
Produces books that are outstanding not only in literary content but also in physical form, where typography, illustration, paper, printing and binding all contribute to the final edition. In an era of electronic reading and cheap printing, the London-based society continues to deliver beautiful books.
A lifelong wildlife enthusiast and one of west Kent’s longest-standing volunteers. Alan has monitored species from dormice to newts, constructed nest boxes, regularly leads guided walks and moth evenings, and is a great promoter of Kent Wildlife Trust’s work throughout the county.
Creative director at ArtSpace LifeSpace, an artist-led initiative that offers “a creative solution to problem properties” in Bristol by transforming vacant and underused spaces into venues for the creative arts. Doug says: “I believe that creativity makes the world a better place.”
Richard ‘Beef’ Frankland
North London-based youth worker for Prospex, which helps socially disadvantaged youngsters achieve their potential. “Beef”, with 30 years’ experience, has been involved with the organisation since 2001. His nominator says: “He brings more joy and happiness to kids than is imaginable.”
Pat and Stuart Gates
Loving foster carers who have welcomed nearly 100 children into their Swansea home during the last three decades. Since becoming involved with Foster Swansea in 1985, the couple have provided a home full of hope and love to 98 children. The couple retired at the end of 2012.
This Jamaican-born tennis coach and player has been involved in south London tennis since the 1970s. Working in the capital’s most deprived areas, Milton has coached thousands of children and helped others stay away from gang culture. Winner of the 2012 Barclays Unsung Tennis Hero Award.
Last July Ramona, then six, pushed her younger sister Trixie out of the way of a car that mounted the pavement outside their Bristol home. She suffered liver and lung damage, a broken leg and rib, and internal bleeding, and spent 16 days in hospital. Trixie escaped with only a scratch.
This 92-year-old fundraiser was just 10 when he fell through a roof, earning himself a stay in hospital. The experience stuck, and since 2000 he has raised over £400,000 for charities, including the Sick Kids Friends Foundation, by sitting on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile with his collection tin.
Amputee from Truro, Cornwall who lost a leg from bone cancer. After discovering a lack of fitness provision for individuals with impairments, Leanne designed her own fitness DVD for amputees, the elderly and the overweight. She has also had the child she was told she couldn’t have.
Community organisation that started a fruit and vegetable box scheme and the Stoke Newington farmers’ market in north London 10 years ago. It supports small farmers, trains volunteers to grow produce on its market-gardens, and has inspired six London communities to follow suit.
Joe Hallett and Paul Davies
Joe and Paul started Always a Chance, a charity helping those affected by violent crime, after two of their friends were shot and killed on holiday in Florida in 2011. The charity supports victims, funds work with the young unemployed, and has raised around £150,000.
David, a retired teachre, has spent the last 15 years taking patients from their homes to Victoria Hospice, Fife – working around the clock when needed. He also drives patients to medical assessments, and takes families of critically ill patients to the hospice at short notice.
Runs the Kids Cookery School, a London charity that teaches disadvantaged children about food and how to cook. Fiona manages the team and co-ordinates workshops in schools and community centres. The school has taught more than 32,000 children and families since 2000.
Founder of the Sharan Project, London, which gives support and advice, and creates a forum for vulnerable women, particularly of South Asian origin, who have left home forcefully or voluntarily. Polly provides assistance and advice on key life skills.
The brains behind Rolling Base, a converted single-decker bus that visits some of the most disadvantaged areas around the London Borough of Barnet. The interactive play facility has reduced crime by providing a safe space for young people to enjoy.
Stephen leads a team of volunteers from Face to Face, a charity for the homeless based in Fylde, Lancashire. They run a drop-in centre which provides food, clothes and practical advice. The charity also runs a Rent Guarantee Bond Scheme, and offers accommodation to those in need.
Paddy and Carol Henderson
The couple started the Trussell Trust in 1997 after receiving a legacy left by Carol’s mother, and set up the first food bank in their back garden in Salisbury, Wiltshire. Since then it has grown to feed hundreds of thousands of hungry Britons and won Charity Times Charity of Year in 2012.
Jonjo was inspired to raise money for the Bobby Moore Fund for Cancer Research UK after his grandmother Lyn died of bowel cancer in 2008. The 11-year-old from Kent has raised over £100,000 on charity walks since 2011, and recently walked 66 miles across London from Upton Park to Wembley.
Since starting the charitable foundation Always With a Smile in 2006, Joel, from Leicestershire, has competed in more than 200 outrageous events – from the World Bog Snorkelling Championships to London’s Great Gorilla Run – raising thousands of pounds and making countless people smile.
Promoter of literature
Without any funding, Michelle organised a literature festival for Huddersfield, securing top authors such as Jodi Picoult and keeping most events free so they could be attended by everyone. Her nominator says: “Michelle is promoting reading and keeping a love of literature alive.”
Since his daughter was diagnosed with cancer in 1992 Les has raised over £1m. The fundraiser from Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, helps thousands of ill children meet their heroes, arranges for them to go to concerts, pantomimes and football matches, and organises an annual Christmas party.
Anne is a 70-year-old novelty marathon runner from East Kilbride. Last year the grandmother of five became the first person to do a half-marathon wearing high heels. She wore three pairs of stilettos and took four and a half hours to walk the 13-mile course, raising over £1,000.
Sue and Jim Houghton
Husband and wife who won the 2012 BBC Sports Unsung Hero awards after spending 25 years transforming a run-down sports ground into a hub of community activity. The pitches, courts, bowling green and dance studio in Desford, Leicestershire, are now used by hundreds of local people.
Part-time police officer who has clocked up a massive 17,600 hours on duty in Lincolnshire. For the last 32 years Brian has patrolled Market Rasen and the surrounding area every Friday night, and in recognition of his services was awarded the 2012 Diana Princess of Wales Community Award.
This choir leader is the founder of Golden Oldies, a charity that provides musical sing-along sessions for older people around Bath. Led by talented session leaders, hundreds of retired people take part, singing hits from the Thirties to the Seventies to remind them of when they were younger.
Isabel has “transformed the lives of autistic musicians, wheelchair dancers and blind painters” through the work of her Nottingham charity, Salamanda Tandem, formed in 1989. She has helped thousands of disabled people enjoy the arts, travelling the world to share her approach with others.
While the sound of a dentist’s drill usually fills people with dread, Ruth, from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, makes her patients smile. Her nominator says: “She is fabulously competent, unfailingly cheery and has terrific empathy with her patients – she takes the pain out of visiting the dentist.”
Set up Bufferzone, an independent advocacy service, in Cornwall six years ago. The charity helps a range of people with benefits, medical assessments, education, training and employment. Last year, Tony secured £16,000 from various sources which he used to support 187 people.
Trainer and motivator
The deaf-blind teenager from Worcester runs life-skill workshops for disabled young people, gives speeches, and set up his own company to train those who want to help the blind and partially sighted. He had two poetry books published by the age of 14 and has raised £150,000 for charity.
Pensioner who has tended Chegwyn Gardens, St Agnes, Cornwall, for the last 20 years. George, 80, first started looking after the community garden in 1993. Since then he has introduced about 200 roses and thousands of daffodils, attracting visitors and raising thousands of pounds for charities.
Doris has been with Sheffield Carers’ Centre since 1994 and, at 83, is the centre’s oldest volunteer. She provides a telephone befriending service for carers, promotes the centre’s services and bakes cakes for support groups. For the last 50 years she has cared for her daughter who has cerebral palsy.
It’s hard to find an area of life in Beaconsfield that this grandmother hasn’t been involved in. For 25 years the ex-lollipop and dinner lady has organised sports days, book fairs, summer balls, and helped create the Buckinghamshire market town’s donkey derby.
The “barefoot runner”
A visit to the Korogocho slum in Nairobi, Kenya led John to run the last mile of the Great North Run barefoot to express solidarity with the shoeless children there. He ran the Olympic Torch Relay (also barefoot) and, instead of selling his torch, donated it to the slum to inspire the children.
The father-of-two from Kintore, Aberdeenshire was climbing Mount Everest when he stumbled across a dying climber. Despite running low on oxygen, Neil battled strong winds and snow to drag the man to safety. His trip raised £119,000 for research into Type 1 diabetes, which affects his daughter.
Set up the Catherine McEwan Foundation in 2003 in memory of his mother, who died of Crohn’s disease when he was 16. The Glasgow charity has raised more than £400,000 for people with the bowel disease through sponsored walks and runs, parachute jumps, race nights and the annual Red Hot Ball.
Colin, 14, from Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, suffers from a genetic illness. Last year he donated his treasured football memorabilia to contribute towards the £500,000 needed to take his friend Vanessa, who is battling an aggressive cancer, to the United States for life-saving surgery.
One Day Ahead Team
Team of seven amateur cyclists from south London who successfully cycled the entire 3,479km (2,162 miles) of the 2012 Tour de France course, one day ahead of the main peloton. The team raised over £11,000 for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research UK and the Ben Trend Foundation.
Alan, 70, has completed the Bath half-marathon 14 times and the London Marathon eight times, raising money for charities such as Help for Heroes. He broke his leg in a serious car crash in 2003, but, undeterred, was pushed around the Bath course in a wheelchair.
Hannah and Beth Pihama
The Kent schoolgirls have given up most weekends to restore the Cambria, Britain’s last registered sailing cargo ship, helping paint the hull, refurbish the inside, and bake cakes. The vessel enjoyed its first full sailing season in 2012, offering respite breaks to young carers.
The Post-Decision Form-Filling Service
Based in the east of England, Jan Savage, Catherine Gray and Jacquie Kingston are experienced volunteer advisers who support refugees in filling out travel documents, citizenship forms and passport applications. They also keep records of appointments and gather information.
Oliver Randell and Susanna Geoghegan
Oliver and Susanna are part of a team of volunteers who run the Batford Springs nature reserve, Hertfordshire. They have transformed 4.5 hectares into reed beds, wet woodland and chalk stream, and are representative of the thousands who actively help our wildlife.
A volunteer for the Royal British Legion in Lincolnshire for the last 66 years who, at the age of 92, continues to visit ex-servicemen, keeps the Poppy Appeal going, and is vice-chairman of his local branch. Fred was named as Gainsborough’s Citizen of the Year in 2012.
The 12-year-old from Troon, Scotland whose courage and tenacity won her 150,000 Twitter followers during her battle with neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood cancer. After raising money for pioneering treatment in Germany, Vanessa was given the all-clear in January.
Part of the Elderflowers – an Edinburgh team who use the performing arts to improve hospital life for elderly dementia sufferers and their families. The mother of one dresses up and carries a range of props to entertain, improve participant well-being and boost confidence.
Colin is responsible for the murals on Sheringham seafront depicting the town’s seafaring history. Working with the Norfolk town’s Open Door community art group, he also devotes time to encouraging youngsters to gain pleasure from art through his workshops.
Former refugee who fled civil war in Kosovo for a new life in Glasgow. “Rema” has been honoured for her volunteer work with Maryhill Integration Network, which organises health, learning, art and dance activities, and Migrant Voice, a free newspaper written by UK migrants.
Dame Stephanie Shirley
Philanthropist and entrepreneur
A former child refugee from Germany who founded Britain’s first women-only, work-from-home, software company. Britain’s only Ambassador for Philanthropy, “Steve” has donated much of her accrued wealth (over £67m) to more than 100 philanthropic projects.
For half a century this man has inspired thousands of volunteers in his campaign to rescue the Droitwich canals in Wychavon, Worcestershire. Max, now 82, led helpers who bought diggers, built locks, made new towpaths, and cleared away 300,000 tonnes of mud.
Dom, a York-based entrepreneur with cerebral palsy, is part of a team that encourages people with a range of difficulties to start in business. Disabled Entrepreneurs signposts opportunities for training and development and provides networking opportunities across the UK.
John runs Dads Do It Too, a Birmingham charity that provides parenting advice and helps dads and father figures fulfil their new roles. The organisation, started by John in 1998 with two other dads, provides weekly skills workshops and practical support to hundreds of families.
The 24-year-old paramedic and Swansea University student was cycling home last November when she noticed a woman face down in the Arethusa Quay waters. She raised the alarm and then jumped into the icy water and towed the 62-year-old woman to the side.
Single mother who manages the Green Dragon in Croydon with, says her nominator, the minimum thought for personal enrichment and the maximum for improving the community. He adds: “I can’t think of anyone else in Croydon who focuses entirely on making it a happier place.”
Corporal of 3rd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment, who risked his life to save three Afghan children hiding from Taliban fire in Afghanistan. He dashed 25 metres to rescue the boys, trapped behind a low wall. Carl, from Birmingham, was awarded the Military Cross.
Kevin ‘Jasper’ Taylor
This Hampshire firefighter demonstrates, says his nominator, “outstanding dedication and commitment to fundraising on behalf of the Fire Fighters Charity”, with which he has been involved for over 20 years. Jasper also organises an annual pensioners’ party in Southsea.
Hampshire swimming coach who, since he saw a boy drown when he was a teenager, has dedicated over 30 years to community sport. The single father of four also raised £22,000 in nine months in the 1990s for new changing rooms, is involved in the archery club, and has run a holiday play scheme.
Donna has served in the RAF for 27 years and co-ordinates volunteers at RAF Leeming, North Yorkshire, organises events, and fits in voluntary tasks around her role as an Operations Warrant Officer. In recognition of her efforts, she was awarded the Wing Commander Bye Sword this year.
Waterstones staff (Warrington)
The kindness of staff at the Warrington branch of Waterstones touched William, 13, who has Down’s syndrome, and his father. His dad writes: “William was fascinated by an origami bird display. When the display was changed the staff gave us the birds for William.”
Gave up training to be a doctor to deliver a project that combats human trafficking in Romania with the organisation Nightingales, where he has worked full-time since 2002. Ben provides work opportunities and pastoral support to young people at risk from traffickers.
Representative of the Britons who start a good business and grow it. He and Sebastian Pole started Pukka Herbs in a flat in Bristol 11 years ago. They now employ 50 people – making organic teas, skincare products, and supplements – and work with green growers around the world.
Gareth was heading home last November when he saw a man about to throw himself off a bridge over the M60. The St John’s Ambulance driver from Atherton, Greater Manchester balanced over the edge of the bridge to pull the man to safety, saving his life and preventing a potential crash.
Jim and Naomi Woolley
Managers of a “community pub hub” in Linslade, Bedfordshire, which has raised over £20,000 in the last 18 months through events including a firewalk and 15,000ft parachute jump. The Hare also arranges therapy for sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder and helps forces veterans.
After her son was attacked by a gang in Corby, Northamptonshire, Mandy set up Adrenaline Alley, an urban sports park for people of all ages and disabilities. Since it opened in 2006, it has hosted more than 320,000 visitors and is known as the biggest, safest and best urban sports park in the UK.
Additional research by Mathew Di Salvo
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies