'I won't stop shouting about struggles of many' says Leeds author as book on poverty and pandemic shortlisted for award

Stu Hennigan describes himself as “a mouse screaming in a hurricane”. But it won’t stop him shouting. Last year saw the publication of his eyewitness account of poverty in Leeds during the pandemic.

Now the book has made the shortlist in the latest Parliamentary Book Awards and the librarian says he is determined to give people pause for thought over the hardship and deprivation that is a reality for many.

“It’s important to give people something to think about and to flag up this is happening and people are really suffering,” he says. “We’re hearing narratives again around people needing to budget better - but you can’t budget when you’ve got nothing.

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“We’re in a position now where teachers, nurses etcetera don’t have enough money to live on. Budgeting doesn’t help when the cost of living is outstripping wages to the point where even people in those professions are struggling.”

Leeds librarian and author Stu Hennigan picture in the terraced streets in Harehills, Leeds.Leeds librarian and author Stu Hennigan picture in the terraced streets in Harehills, Leeds.
Leeds librarian and author Stu Hennigan picture in the terraced streets in Harehills, Leeds.

Stu’s book, Ghost Signs - Poverty and the Pandemic, is one of four shortlisted in the Best Political Book by a Non-Parliamentarian category of the awards, which celebrate the best political books of the past year.

Stu spent nearly six months working as a volunteer delivery driver in Leeds during the first Covid-19 lockdown. Whilst taking food parcels to those in need, he was confronted by levels of deprivation on a scale he describes as “unbelievable in the 21st century”.

Struck by a desire to document an unprecedented period, Stu, who lives in Meanwood, found himself keeping diary notes about not only the unfolding pandemic but of life inside some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable communities in the city.

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Those scribblings later became the foundations for his first published book, an eyewitness account of the impact of the early days of the pandemic on those living in poverty in Leeds. "I think it highlights how bad things already were and things have got worse since 2020,” he says.

There are three categories in the Parliamentary Book Awards, with the shortlist highlighting titles by political figures, including former Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock, Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom and prominent political journalists including Marina Hyde and Sebastian Payne, also director of Think Tank Onward.

"“It feels very strange to see my name with those people,” says Skipton-born Stu. “It’s interesting because Matt Hancock’s pandemic diary is listed in another category and his account will be wildly different to the one I’ve written. There’s a really interesting piece to be written I think comparing the two day by day.”

Stu’s category is the only one out of the three that will not be awarded to a Parliamentarian. It is MPs, however, that will decide the winner in each category, after publishers were invited to nominate titles and authors for the awards and booksellers selected the shortlist.

The winners will be announced on February 22.