We’re celebrating the inspiring individuals and activist groups who’ve been building a better future in 2021.

We’re celebrating the inspiring individuals and activist groups who’ve been building a better future in 2021.

2021 marked the second year of the Covid-19 pandemic, and brought with it further tumult, as well as a number of landmark events. This year saw the inauguration of President Joe Biden in the US, marking an end to Trumpian tyranny; the mass-roll out of a vaccine programme that has so far saved millions of lives; the bombardment of Gaza, which triggered Britain’s largest Palestine demonstration in history; and the return of the Taliban, which left thousand of people scrambling to leave Afghanistan

This was also the year that the United Nations issued its starkest warning on the climate crisis yet, with the latest International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report serving as a ‘code red for humanity’. COP26 – widely considered to be the last chance to avert climate catastrophe – ultimately failed to deliver on the most important pledges. But activists from the Global South – those least responsible for climate change, but who bear the brunt of its effects – led protests across the UK during the summit, with over 100,000 people taking to the streets of Glasgow to demand action on the climate. It is their defiance that reminds us that all hope is not lost. 

Similar groups and individuals have risen to all kinds of challenges, stepping in where the government has failed to. So, as we approach the end of another year, we present the Huck List 2021: a round-up of those who’ve strived to build a better future this year.

Across the UK and Ireland, the following people and organisations have been on the frontline of the fight for a better world, rallying their communities and helping those in need in a manner of different ways. 

Sisters Uncut

The disappearance of Sarah Everard in March was a harrowing moment. As more details began to emerge and her body was eventually discovered, fear, anger and dismay gripped the country. The arrest of serving Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens saw this tip over into action. After various battles, a vigil was eventually held in Clapham Common, close to where Sarah was last seen. The event was organised by Sisters Uncut – a feminist group taking direct action for domestic and sexual violence services – and was subsequently brutally broken up by members of the Met Police force. 

In the aftermath, Sisters were instrumental in organising efforts to thwart the passage of legislation intended to increase police powers, which would enforce a de facto ban on protest. The movement, known as ‘Kill the Bill’, set fire to the streets through the spring. Responding to police violence, the group also set up “Cop Watch” groups across the country earlier this year, training up thousands of activists to be out of the streets, intervening in police harassment, ensuring people know their rights and monitoring the movements of the police.

Shon Faye

Faye’s The Transgender Issue (Allen Lane) is a landmark book which stood out as one of the year’s best releases. Across its 320 pages, the British author issues a rallying cry for justice and compassion, detailing the multitude of issues that affect trans people – from housing, to healthcare, to the media frenzy that has been whipped up against a community that accounts for less than one per cent of the UK population. At its core is the argument that justice for trans people is justice for all. 

“I deeply am grateful for the recognition of the book but I must stress that it cites the work and ideas of so many trans people who have gone before me,” Faye tells Huck. “I think 2021 has been testament to the entire community’s strength: my work would not exist without it and so I want to thank other trans people for the work they do for me every day.”

The Loop

The Loop was founded in 2013 by Fiona Measham and a DJ friend of hers to try to create a service where substances of concern could be tested in a confidential, compassionate and non-judgemental healthcare setting. During the 16 months that the clubs were closed, The Loop was keeping busy behind the scenes, focused on planning the next stage of expansion, submitting applications, moving online and developing new testing procedures and training packages to adapt to Covid. 

Since the reopening of nightclubs and festivals, their services as the only drug-checking NGO in the UK have proven all the more vital. “Once The Loop started testing again at summer 2021 festivals, it successfully rapidly identified and warned the general public and emergency services of how the UK drug market had turned upside down due to Covid and Brexit,” explains Measham. “There are a lot of exciting developments on the horizon in relation to harm reduction and drug checking in the UK and 2022 will be the biggest year yet for The Loop. Watch this space!”

The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP)

The pandemic has continued to leave many sex workers in turmoil, with countless women left without income, some destitute and with no financial aid from the government. “Instead of addressing women’s poverty, politicians have repeatedly attempted to increase the criminalisation of sex work,” says a spokesperson for ECP. “For those of us who are migrant sex workers, we faced police racism and illegality – especially as Brexit took hold… Our challenge was to organise to get emergency support to women in need during the pandemic, help women defend themselves against criminal prostitution charges, and at the same time repel attempts by politicians, many of whom call themselves feminists, to increase police powers and the criminalisation of sex work.” 

Despite the stigma and discrimination sex workers face, ECP rose to this challenge, significantly growing their network in 2021. On looking forward to the future, they: “As a result of our decades of work there is now widespread public support for decriminalisation of sex work to improve safety and we are determined to push that demand in parliament to win a change in the law.”

Mikaela Loach

Climate activist Mikaela Loach has amassed a significant following for calling out the hypocrisy of the UK government and tirelessly campaigning for climate justice. This year has been a huge year for Loach, who was a prominent figure across COP26 mobilisations. She’s been a vocal campaigner for Stop Cambo (the controversial and potentially devastating oil field off Shetland which was recently paused), and is one of three claimants in the ‘Paid to Pollute’ case. The case, in which Loach and two others took the UK government to court over subsidies to fossil fuel companies, was heard in the High Court in December, with a verdict expected early next year.

Fans Supporting Food Banks (FSF)

FSF is a joint initiative between fans of Liverpool and Everton FC, who have united under a collective banner to combat food poverty in the city that they share. Since launching in 2016, FSF has grown in size and scope. But it was during the Covid-19 pandemic that their work took on a greater significance, with the organisation providing a vital lifeline for those impacted most during lockdown. 

Today, there are offshoot groups tied to clubs all over the country, ensuring that the effort to prevent anyone from going to bed hungry is a national one. On match days, when the purple FSF van rolls up, it serves as a reminder not only of football’s ability to bring people together, but to galvanise that energy in a way that changes society for the better, too.

Jade LB

In 2005, then 15-year-old Jade LB began releasing chapters of the seminal “Keisha Da Sket” on the blogging site Piczo, telling the story of a 17-year-old inner-city girl traversing tragedy, sex and parties. A story that Black Ballad said “accidentally decolonised literature”, the raw, unabashed look at teen life in the city was a watershed moment for Black storytelling, its blending of colloquialism, patios and text-speak helping to forge a new dialect for young Black Britons. 

This year saw the story transformed, with new life breathed into it by #Merky Books – an imprint launched by Stormzy and Penguin Random House UK. It’s reemergence as a cultural bastion has once again catapulted Jade LB into the consciousness of communities across the country. LB, who prefers to remain anonymous, told Huck: “This year has definitely been tumultuous. While I couldn’t have imagined the scale of the love and support for both myself & KTS, I’ve had moments of crippling self-doubt and more. All that aside, it’s been an unforgettable year I’m deeply grateful for.”

LGBTQ+ Community Centre

Four years ago in the back room of a pub, a group of LGBTQ+ people came together with the vision of creating an LGBTQ+ community centre in London. The centre would be a sober space open to all, built on fostering connection. After raising £100,000 the project was met with delays, exacerbated by the pandemic. This year, despite it all, the group have finally opened a space on London’s Southbank. The six month pop-up includes a cafe, quiet room, small library and a raft of activities and workshops for London’s LGBTQ+ community. 

Speaking to Huck, Jay Crosbie, director of the Centre said: “We started planning the pop up in January this year in response to the isolation our community felt during the pandemic. Our small team of volunteers have worked tirelessly to realise this vision and to add to the rich tapestry of sober queer spaces that have and currently exist in London. This space will be what our community makes of it, and we hope they make themselves at home.”

Na’amod

Last May, Israeli airstrikes and artillery fire reportedly killed 248 people in Gaza, while 12 people in Israel were killed by retaliatory rockets. In response to the bombardment of the strip, Na’amod – “a movement of British Jews seeking to end our community’s support for the occupation” – were able to mobilise hundreds of  Jews across the UK (including over 200 in London) to go out into the streets and demand “Freedom from Occupation, Freedom from Violence”. It marked one of the largest – if not the largest – Palestinian solidarity demo in British Jewish history.

Na’amod also arranged for its members to take part in wider Palestine Solidarity demos that took place during this time. As part of their #RacismNotKosher campaign, they sought to challenge their community’s support of Israeli ambassador Tzipi Hotovely, and disrupted her appearance and ongoing inclusion in our community at a Zionist Federation event in October. A spokesperson for the organisation told Huck: “In 2021, our numbers grew considerably – we now have over 250 members, and we’re looking forward to welcoming even more Na’amod members at our next orientation in the new year.”

Rosie Jones

With her infectious laugh and high-energy performances, Rosie Jones has cemented herself as one of the brightest stars on the comedy circuit. Jones, who has ataxic cerebral palsy, once ruled out a career in comedy because of her slow speech pattern, but she has since mastered the ability of incorporating this into her comedic style.

“There’s so many more brilliant, diverse comedic voices in the comedy world than there was a few years ago. But in my opinion, this shift is happening too slowly,” Jones tells Huck. “Comedy promoters, and television panel shows need to stop patting themselves on the back if they book, ‘one woman’ or ‘one disabled one’. We need to continue moving forward, and challenge people if we see a non-diverse line up. We’re better than that!”

Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI)

This year has seen the continuation of the assault on migrant communities by the Home Office. Priti Patel has sought to inject hysteria and falsehoods into a narrative dangerously spun by the far-right and embellished by the national press. The reality, of course, could not be more different. Many of those making the desperate trip to the UK are people who have been displaced by conflicts started or enflamed by British foreign policy. It has led to a media frenzy and histrionic right-wing meltdowns, into the middle of which sailed the RNLI with a simple message – that they’ll save anyone in need at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour rescue service, working tirelessly to save hundreds of lives every year. 

Daytimers

Since forming in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, Daytimers has firmly established its name on the UK party scene. The DJ collective – made up of British South Asian creatives from all corners of the UK, with one member living across the pond in New Jersey – is dedicated to representing and changing perceptions of South Asian youth. Drawing on the rich heritage of the secret South Asian day raves of the ‘80s and ‘90s (hence the name ‘daytimers’), their sets fuse garage, hip-hop and bhangra – along with many more genres – to typically heaving dancefloors. 

In May, No ID, and Chalo, Daytimers held Dialled Ina festival celebrating the best of the new South Asian underground – which will be returning in 2022. “Next year we aim to work with even more collectives outside of the diaspora making sure that we continue to empower communities and people who may not really have a seat at the table,” Daytimers say. “The original Daytimers parties were built alongside other communities and we want to keep that tradition alive.” 

Bimini Bon Boulash

Since exploding onto our screens as one of the breakout stars of the second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, Bimini has become something a household name. Arguably Great Yarmouth’s most famous export, the star captured hearts with her incredible looks and infectious positivity, sending fans into uproar when she didn’t snatch the crown.

Since then, she’s become a bestselling author with the release of her debut Release the Beast: a Drag Queen’s Guide to Life (Penguin), walked runways, starred in fashion shoots, released a single and stormed the world, all while fighting the good fight.

Skatepal

Since 2013, Skatepal’s ongoing presence and award-winning projects have reached hundreds of young people across the West Bank. They work with communities affected by the ongoing conflict, facing severely limited access to cultural, educational and sporting opportunities.

Last year marked a particularly turbulent year in the region which, coupled with restrictions brought in by Covid, meant that SkatePal were not able to run as many sessions as usual. “It was mentally a very difficult time for the local skaters as it was for everyone in Palestine,” says SkatePal’s founder, Charlie Davis. However, despite all this, SkatePal have been “keeping morale high [and] the momentum going in the skateboard scene during these two years,” says Davis. “We are very encouraged to see that skateboarding has taken hold locally, and are optimistic for the years to come.”

Nathaniel Hall

Russell T Davies’ drama It’s A Sin brought the subject of HIV/AIDS to brand new audiences – many of whom were engaging in it as a topic of conversation for the first time. During 2019’s HIV Testing Week, 8068 people checked their HIV status. This year, that number was beaten in a single day.

Hall starred in the series, playing the boyfriend of Ollie Alexander’s protagonist Ritchie. For Hall, who contracted HIV aged 16 from the first man he ever had sex with, It’s A Sin provided something of a next step. “After 15 years of living in silence about my HIV diagnosis, I broke through the stigma and shame with my solo theatre show First Time in 2018,” he tells Huck. “Since then, I’ve joined an ever-increasing group of loud and proud HIV+ activists determined to change the narrative about HIV. 

“But appearing in It’s A Sin in February 2021 was the catalyst that pushed my story and activism into the mainstream, and for that I’m ever grateful. Now I want to use my platform to help amplify the voices of those living with HIV from other communities including women and Black and Asian communities.” 

Black Trail Runners

When the UK was plunged into a series of lockdowns, our relationship with the outside world became even more important. It was in these moments, however, that it became abundantly clear that the outdoors wasn’t necessarily an inclusive space. Research from the British National Parks Authority found that although people of Black and Asian Minority Ethnic communities account for 14 per cent of the UK population, only one per cent of visitors to the parks identified as BAME. 

Black Trail Runners are one of several groups looking to change this. In the past year, the collective celebrated their first birthday, completed their ‘21 in 21’ campaign (having 21 Black runners at a series of trail races over one weekend), took on one of the UK’s toughest trail challenges in Ramsay Round and hosted a Strava challenge in which over 137,000 people took part worldwide. “We will continue to grow our community and push for change,” says Rachel Dench, one of the co-founders. “We’re out here and we’re not going anywhere.”

Insulate Britain

Insulate Britain are calling for a national programme to ensure homes are insulated to be low energy by 2030. Whether you back their tactics or not, their ability to dominate the news cycle has been unmatched, with their relentless campaign of disruption seeing weeks of coverage and escalations, culminating in the incarceration of 14 members of the group in November.

One Insulate Britain member, Emma Smart, who is currently imprisoned in HMP Bronzefield for breaching an M25 junction, vowed to stop eating when she was arrested. Writing in Huck from prison on the 26th day of her hunger strike, Smart said: “I’m joining a long a tradition of people who have nonviolently resisted to highlight injustice, both in the UK and around the world… I haven’t regretted a second. It’s a strange feeling but one of utter calm and peace in the knowledge that what you are doing is right.”

Kai Isaiah Jamal 

In January, Kai Isaiah Jamal became the first Black trans person to walk the runway for Louis Vuitton menswear. This milestone kicked off a monumental 12 months for the model and visibility activist, which saw them front campaigns for the likes of Calvin Klein and Filippa K, all the while building on their groundbreaking work as the ICA’s inaugural poet-in-residence. 

Jamal serves as a beacon for inclusivity – not only in the fashion world, but in everything that they do. If 2021 was the year that they cemented their role, 2022 looks set to see them branch out into further territories, with an EP and children’s book on the way. 

Community Action Tenants Union (CATU)

With rising homelessness and rents continuing to soar, Ireland’s housing crisis is at a breaking point. It’s in this context that CATU was founded, only two months before Covid-19 hit and accelerated many of the existing problems tenants face. The group is committed to using collective direct action to defend and improve the conditions of its members. More specifically, they’ve coordinated a number of successful anti-eviction responses across the island of Ireland.

Despite the obvious challenges to organising, the group, which began in Dublin, has already expanded across the country, including Cork, Galway, Belfast and more. On their plans for next year, they tell Huck: “Rather than tackle the housing crisis – which requires systemic change – we will continue to focus on strengthening our ability to defend each other and fight back against rogue landlords, greedy speculators and their ilk whenever and wherever they arise.”

Sisterhood FC

The fallout that followed the Euro 2020 final, in which England players were racially abused and many at Wembley spoke out against a toxic environment, illustrated that despite obvious progress, UK football is still facing a very real problem. With that in mind, teams like Sisterhood FC feel even more important. 

Yasmin Abdullahi launched the club while studying at Goldsmiths University. The inspiration, she says, was when her fellow Muslim students expressed shock upon learning that she played football – and wore a hijab. Sisterhood FC exists to “empower and inspire” Muslim women in football, creating a space where they feel comfortable to immerse themselves in the beautiful game.

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