Reach Society

Lord Simon Woolley, Baron Woolley of Woodford

Lord Simon Woolley, Baron Woolley of Woodford
Year: 2020

Simon A. Woolley, Baron Woolley of Woodford, Knight Bachelor (or Kt) is a political and equalities activist. He has a first degree in Spanish and Politics from Middlesex University; and a Master of Arts, post graduate degree, in Hispanic Literature from Queen Mary University of London. He is the founder and director of Operation Black Vote (or OBV) and the Advisory Chair of the UK’s Race Disparity Unit.

Woolley become engaged in British politics by joining the campaign group Charter 88. He started to research the potential impact of the Black community vote, which Woolley argued could influence electoral outcomes in marginal seats. These findings encouraged him to launch OBV in 1996.

The OBV launched voter registration campaigns, an App to inspire and inform Black and minority ethnic (or BME) individuals; and it worked with Saatchi & Saatchi on a pro bono advertising campaign. Woolley also worked to empower communities and to introduce better politics education into the school curriculum.

The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation estimated that Woolley's OBV efforts encouraged millions of people to vote. Much of his work has been around nurturing BME civic and political talent. The then Home Secretary Theresa May, said in a 2016 Westminster speech: "Today we celebrate a record number of BME MPs in Parliament, 41. British politics and British society greatly benefits when we can utilise diversity’s teaming talent pool. That’s why today we are announcing that in the months ahead we will begin a new MP and business shadowing scheme."

In 2008, the Government Equalities Office released Woolley's report, “How to achieve better BME political representation.” Woolley was appointed in 2009 to the Commissioner for Equality and Human Rights Commission (or EHRC).

He launched two governmental investigations, including REACH, which looked to tackle the alienation of black youth, as well as working with Harriet Harman MP on the political representation of BME women. He worked with Bernie Grant MP, Al Sharpton (US community leader) and Naomi Campbell (a super model) and Jesse Jackson (a US community leader) on grassroots campaigns highlighting racial discrimination.

In 2017 OBV, the Guardian newspaper and Green Park Ltd launched the “Colour of Power,” to date the most in-depth look at the racial make-up of Britain's top jobs across 28 sectors that dominate British society. The results were reported in The Guardian: "Barely 3% of Britain’s most powerful and influential people are from BME groups, according to a broad new analysis that highlights startling inequality despite decades of legislation to address discrimination."

He has called for local councillors to become more diverse, after it emerged that of the 200 councillors in South Gloucestershire, Bath and North East Somerset, and North Somerset, not one was from a BME background.

In May 2019, Woolley and OBV launched a ground-breaking report into more than 130 key local authorities that emphasised the lack of BME representation. In over

one third of them, many with sizeable BME populations, they either had no or just one BME councillor.

Along with former Downing Street advisors - Nick Timothy and Will Tanner - Woolley is seen as the inspiration and one of the architects for the Government’s Race Disparity Unit, and became its Advisory Chair.

He has worked with the Open Source Foundation on their global drugs policy projects. He secured £90 million of funding to encourage disadvantaged young people into work. When OBV started, there were just 4 BME MPs; but as of 2019, there are more than 50.

Woolley has received a number of awards and honours as shown below:

He was included in the annual Black Powerlist every year since 2012.
He was selected as one of the Evening Standard's Most Influential People in 2010.
In 2010 and 2011 he was selected as one of the Daily Telegraph's 100 Most Influential People.
In 2012 he was awarded an honorary doctorate for his equality efforts from the University of Westminster.
He received a Knighthood (Kt) in the June 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours for his services to race equality.
He was nominated for a life peerage, sitting as a Crossbencher in the House of Lords, by the Prime Minister Theresa May in her 2019 Resignation Honours List.
On 14 October 2019 he was created Baron Woolley of Woodford in the London Borough of Redbridge.

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