The tireless efforts of Yorkshire people who make a difference

Sammy Woodhouse. PIC: James Hardisty
Sammy Woodhouse. PIC: James Hardisty
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They are the people who have given their time and energy to make a difference in our cities and communities in 2018.

We are recognising those whose efforts have shone throughout the year as we celebrate our county’s inspirational people.

Sammy Woodhouse: Campaigning to change the law

Campaigner Sammy Woodhouse is a busy woman.

When we speak, she is in the middle of writing letters to all 650 MPs urging them to help her change the law.

The survivor of the Rotherham sex abuse scandal hit the headlines when she revealed that her local council had offered to help Arshid Hussain, the man who raped and impregnated her at 15, to seek access to her son. At the time, she says, she had been in “complete shock”.

“When I testified against him, he got sentenced to 35 years for not just what he did to me but to other people.

“I thought, ‘That’s it, I will never have to deal with him again and I can move forward’.

“The fact that such an evil man could seek visitation or seek custody of my son was just horrific.”

At first, Ms Woodhouse tried to raise her concerns privately with Ministers and officials, but says her efforts fell on deaf ears.

She then decided to publicly identify herself in a video she posted online.

The 33-year-old, who had already waived her anonymity to talk about her years of abuse, says it was a difficult decision to make.

It also meant talking publicly about her son for the first time.

She says: “I have always got loads of campaigns going but this is the first one where it has been about my son. I have always kept my son out of things.

“This time it was different. I was out there, talking directly about him. I got his permission to do that, I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.

“My son is backing me 150 per cent but to have the nation support me as it has done has been really overwhelming.

“I have had people contact me from all over the world.”

Since then, Ms Woodhouse says, things have gone “absolutely crazy”.

She has received thousands of messages of support, many from other abuse survivors sharing their own nightmarish experiences of the family courts, or from children conceived through rape.

“I was recently talking to a woman who contacted me to say, ‘I’m a baby of a rape and for 18 years they never told me. I had to have contact with him for 18 years, not knowing anything and I have now found out he raped my mum’,” she says.

“One boy takes a knife and tries to carve his own DNA out. I am hearing stories of these men actually sexually abusing their children.”

She is now campaigning for the law to be changed to prevent attackers from being able to seek access to children conceived through rape.

She is also calling for an independent review of the family courts system which, she says, prevents people from speaking up.

Asked whether she thinks she will win the fight, she says: “I have got my work cut out but to me this is common sense.

“If you have a person who is a direct risk, that person loses their human rights.”

Fundraiser: Buzz word for charity veteran

Hull’s Bee Lady Jean Bishop, 96, has won the hearts of her home city for her efforts collecting for Age UK, dressed in her black and yellow bee outfit.

Mrs Bishop, who was awarded the British Empire Medal last year, has raised around £120,000 over the last two decades – but says it is now too painful to do it standing up.

Her outfit is also getting a little tatty – children grab her and stroke her fur. “I sit on my scooter now and collect,” she said. “I don’t do it regularly, but will if anyone wants me. I still get dressed up – I haven’t stopped.”

Artistic: Leader carves out grand plans

Simon Wallis has grand ambitions to carve out a global reputation for Yorkshire for its impressive visual arts in the Sculpture Triangle.

The Hepworth’s director has overseen the development of the internationally-famed gallery since 2008, when it was still in a discussion stage. And his grand plans are really starting to come to fruition.

West Yorkshire’s growing reputation as a top tourist destination were recognised after a leading travel magazine recently named the region as one of the coolest places to visit worldwide.

Volunteer: Grandmother’s aid mission

Grandmother Agnes (Cokie) Van Der Velde, from Whixley, has dedicated much of her life to humanitarian aid. She has travelled the world, battling Ebola in Guinea and Liberia and helping in the refugee camps of South Sudan and Greece. A water and sanitation expert, she will soon travel to Yemen with the International Rescue Committee. “I’m very honoured to receive this award,” she said. “The people who together make up IRC are motivated, dedicated and compassionate and I’m very proud to be considered one of them. Thank you again.”

Care: Foster mother’s help for hundreds

Lorraine Long found herself homeless aged 11 and endured a traumatic childhood which led her to want to care for troubled children.

The grand-mother-of-two, 59, of Tingley, Leeds, started fostering aged 21 and has cared for up to 600 children.

Prince William awarded Mrs Long an MBE earlier this month after she was named for her services to children and families in the Queen’s Birthday Honour’s List in the summer

Mrs Long said: “I haven’t done anything that I personally think is outstanding. It is just a normal way of life for me.”

Brave: Teen’s thanks for her own gift of life

Abi Longfellow touched the nation’s hearts with her pleas for people to join the organ donor register as she waited for a lifesaving kidney transplant.

Abi, 16, from Robin Hood, near Leeds, finally had her operation in August and today is looking forward to a bright and healthy future.

Her mother Jo, said: “Abi finds it very emotional just talking about her donor but what she reminds us is that while Christmas is a time for many to remember loved ones past and present, she carries in her heart her donor every single day.”

Campaigner: Teacher’s war over knife crime

Teacher Vincent Uzomah, almost killed in a classroom attack, turned his fear into a campaign calling for action to tackle a rising tide of knife crime.

The father, from Leeds, was stabbed by a 14-year-old pupil as he taught in Bradford in 2015. Speaking about the impact, the now university lecturer has campaigned tirelessly to effect change in the classroom.

“How I wish that every knife-carrying kid will understand the consequences of using that knife on a human being, both to the victim and his family, and to the offender and his family,” he said.

Leader: Gareth Southgate helps young lions to roar

Gareth Southgate helped the nation rekindle its love affair with football this summer.

The England manager, who lives in North Yorkshire, won the hearts of a nation after guiding the Three Lions to the semi-final stage, heartbreakingly crashing out to Croatia, this summer in the World Cup.

Southgate, who was awarded Coach of the Year at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards, received plaudits for transforming the team on the brink of their first World Cup final since 1966 – even winning a penalty shoot-out along the way.

Charity: Mother’s mission to support young people

Susie Green has helped to transform the Leeds-based Mermaids UK charity from a small organisation to a nationwide outfit, supporting gender diverse and transgender young people from all walks of life.

The charity, Ms Green and her trans daughter Jackie’s own journey, became the inspiration for the ITV mini-series Butterfly, raising awareness nationally.

Ms Green said: “Based around the current hostility towards trans children and young people, for Mermaids’ and my work to be recognised in such a way is incredibly heartening.”

Top cop: Detective who has inspired his colleagues

Detective Constable Ray Evans has earned the admiration of policing colleagues in Leeds District and beyond during his many years of service.

Not only does he demonstrate a commitment and dedication towards supporting vulnerable victims of child sexual exploitation, he also acts as a champion for the National Black Police Association. Fellow officer Umer Saeed said: “Ray is a truly inspirational role model, who has led the way for many generations of officers, myself included. His contribution to communities and policing cannot be measured.”

Campaign: Hats off to our headscarf revolutionary

SHE is the last of the Headscarf Revolutionaries, three women from Hull who took on the Government to win safety measures for fishermen following the sinking of three trawlers within weeks of each other, with the loss of 58 lives, 50 years ago.

Last week Yvonne Blenkinsop became only the third woman to ever be awarded the Freedom of the City, in recognition of her actions alongside Mary Denness and Christine Jensen, which have been described as “one of the most successful civil disobedience campaigns of the 20th century”.