It’s part of our mission and our very DNA to shout out about people who are giving back to others in the world – whether they are sparing their free time to support those less fortunate, or putting smiles on the faces of people going through tough times.
And then there are also those who dedicate their life and work to protecting our planet and committing to a more sustainable future.
We’ve interviewed countless inspirational individuals over the past year – here’s a list of some standout people who deserve that recognition.
1. The 91-year-old fundraiser who won’t stop raising money
Retired engineer and civil servant, 91-year-old Peter Robinson left work over two decades ago. But one job he didn’t give up so easily was his voluntary position at Christian Aid. Most recently, after the pandemic started in 2020, he was inspired by Captain Tom Moore to walk 220 times around his independent living complex for Christian Aid.
2. The couple who competed in all 96 Olympic sports in 17 days
Charlotte Nichols and Stuart Bates, who both live in Abingdon, Oxford, were inspired to do the challenge in memory of Stuart’s brother, Spencer. 10 years ago, Stuart lost his brother to motor neurone disease. “We wanted to do something big to mark this anniversary in a positive way and to carry on Spenny’s legacy of fundraising for the motor neurone disease association,” said Stuart.
3. The woman who toured in an ice cream van to help the nation talk about grief
Annie Nicholson – a.k.a the Fandangoe Kid – dished out ice cream while having conversations about grief during Covid. Her colourful mobile installation – dubbed The Fandangoe Whip – aimed to encourage people to chat by using the comforting and familiar icon of an ice-cream van to open conversations about our collective mental health.
4. This 7-year-old litter picking hero
A seven-year-old who is passionate about looking after our planet takes it upon himself to clear up the mess left behind by others. George Goode, from Norwich, is often seen out in his local area collecting litter from the streets and green areas.
5. Sky Brown became the youngest ever GB Olympic medallist
Sky Brown made history by becoming Great Britain’s youngest ever Olympic medallist. Having only turned 13 in 2021, Sky managed to finish third in the women’s skateboarding final. “This is incredible, it feels unreal,” she said, after the win. “I’m so happy to be here. I’m blessed.”
6. The man who climbed 5 mountains in 5 countries in 3 days
Des Lally, 46, from Brecon, did the trek to raise funds for Cancer Research UK and Help for Heroes. He was joined by a four-strong support team in a van as he travelled more than 1,900 miles, as well as trekking up more than three miles of mountains – much of it in the dark.
7. Elena Brook-Hart Rodriguez whose fashion brand helps women in Peru
Elena’s brainchild – Handmade Stories, is quality clothing that improves the lives of the people who make it and keeps traditional practices alive – launched in April 2021. Not only is the clothing sustainable, but it provides work for women who need it most.
8. Joseph Masembe, a climate educator in Uganda
Joseph launched a festival for children in his country, and then, the following year, decided to give the children a project called Little Hands Go Green. Each child received a tree to plant that they could see germinate and grow over time.
9. The 84-year-old blind man selling paintings for charity
Harry Boddington, a former electrical engineer who lives in Solihull, painted pictures that were printed on T-shirts and sold – with all the proceeds going to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).
10. The woman who fundraiser for a charity that helped her out of homelessness
Alice Kendall moved into the YMCA Downslink Group’s 24-hour supported accommodation in Sussex when she was a teenager. Since then, she’s not only gone back to work for the charity as a support and advice worker, she’s also been inspired to take on a Masters Degree in social work. That’s why she decided to fundraise for them.
11. 6-year-old Heidi who took on a 603-mile walk for Alzheimer’s
Heidi Barker, from Ellesmere Port in Cheshire, began her challenge to walk the equivalent distance of Land’s End to John O’Groats in March. She completes walks in her local area with family and friends then totals up the mileage and marks her progress on a map.
12. Rae Snape, a headteacher who focuses on wellbeing
“I want my colleagues to feel a positive sense of identity and belonging,” Rae told us, earlier this year. “They should feel valued when they come to school. If we don’t look after the people who look after the children, who is going to look after the children? I feel like my job is to be the teacher of the teachers and I’m creating the optimal learning experience for them to flourish.’
13. Amerjit Briah who always puts the planet first
Amerjit decided to quit her job as a lawyer and focus on creating eTHikel, an eco-friendly marketplace working with brands people can actually trust. She was inspired to do so after a family holiday to the Maldives, where she realised how much we really do need to protect our planet.
14. ‘The Boy In The Tent’ who’s been camping since March 2020
Max Woosey has been camping out since March 2020 in his garden to raise money for his local hospice. Earlier in 2020, the hospice had helped care for Max’s neighbour and family friend, Rick Abbott. “Before he died he gave me his tent and told me to have an adventure with it, which is exactly what I’ve done,” said Max.
15. 2-year-old who raised £50k through a sponsored pebble hunt
Beatrice George, who lives in Kingholm Quay on the outskirts of Dumfries, South West Scotland, completed the hunt along with her dad, Matthew. “We were inspired as a family by Captain Sir Tom Moore last year, so in April 2020 we decided to do something a little different to try to raise money for the same charity, NHS Charities Together,” said Matthew.
16. Lucy Todd, who’s driving forward sustainable kids’ clothes
While Lucy was working for the BBC on the arts and entertainment desk, she became more aware about the impact fashion had on the environment. “It’d never occurred to me before,” she tells Smiley News. “I found it so shocking, and knew I needed to stop buying fashion in the way I did. It was an eye-opener on a personal level.”
17. David Pearl, who set up Street Wisdom
On a mission to improve the world’s wellbeing, David set up Street Wisdom, which is essentially an everyday creative practice you use as you walk. A smart fusion of mindfulness, neuroscience and wellness, it unlocks our minds and unblocks our creativity with every step to find inspiration in our everyday surroundings.
18. Marcia Roberts, who set a World Record in cycling
At 54 years old, Marcia Roberts set a world record by cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats and back again, which is called the LEJOGLE. It took her 11 days, 13 hours and 13 minutes to do the incredible ride, and she was helped along the route with supports, friends and family. Marcia battled a lot through the ride, from Storm Francis (which came on day three) as well as saddle sores and a lack of sleep. She’s raised more than £10,000 for her local mental health charity, Mind.
19. Matt Bagwell, who ran 21 ultra marathons in aid of men’s mental health
He created an event called ‘Run the Country Ultra’, which saw him run more than 1,050km across England in September 2021 to raise funds and awareness for male suicide prevention and World Suicide Prevention Day.
20. Anne-Marie Martin who danced for 24 hours for charity
Anne-Marie Martin is a professional dancer and the founder of diddi dance, a national franchise network of dancing activities for children. In June 2020, she took on the challenge of dancing non-stop for 24 hours. She was raising money for national children’s charity, Caudwell Children.
21. The dad who invented currency for disadvantaged people
To give homeless and disadvantaged people a more dignified way to access food, he came up with a new currency – special coins with a code on the back assigned to different local businesses around North London.
We’d love to hear from you in 2022 – do you have a story to share? Do you know someone who is an everyday hero, giving back to people and the planet? Let us know by emailing [email protected]