Linda Butcher: Which campaigner is an inspiration to you?

The Sheila McKechnie Foundation is running a project called The Mark of a Great Campaigner, which tells the story of the woman whose name graces the organisation

Linda Butcher
Linda Butcher

There are countless people out there who are campaigning, whose stories have the power to inspire a new generation and who show others that it is possible to bring about lasting, positive change.

The Sheila McKechnie Foundation's archive project - The Mark of a Great Campaigner - tells Sheila's story and clearly illustrates her lifelong motivation to create change and tackle injustice, but without attempting to turn her into a saint. It also uses her campaign work to help us understand the social and political changes of the 1980s and 1990s and understand campaigning itself, in new and interesting ways.

SMK had long been keen to create an archive on Sheila, to capture and preserve her legacy; but first we carried out research to see whether such an archive would actually be useful to campaigners. They told us that although there were various publications about how to campaign, there was too little information about how individuals and groups campaigned effectively (or, in some cases, ineffectively). Campaigners wanted to be able to look backwards and get a picture of a campaign, its actions and its impact over the longer term. Grass-roots campaigners, in particular, wanted information on other people they could identify with or could draw meaningful and practical ideas from.

Sheila was a force of nature, who brought the power of campaigning to life. She was, first and foremost, an inspirational figure: a woman of influence who became a female charity director at a time, in the mid-1980s, when these were few and far between. She also came from an ordinary working-class background and was from Falkirk in Scotland, where the physical archive is now housed.

As a result of her campaigning in the feminist movement, in trade unions, at Shelter and then at the helm of Which?, Sheila made a positive and continuing difference to the lives of millions of people, most of whom have never even heard of her. And yet her story shows how ordinary people can affect government, society and popular consciousness and play a role in democratic change.

One of the many volunteers who got involved in the archive project told us: "We need more women like her. She could be a role model for a new generation. That's why I keep doing this."

But archives are not only about those who have died; they are also about living people. So which other inspirational women would I create an archive about or want to hear the stories of?

Here are just a few from my very long list: Hetty Bower, lifelong peace activist and suffragette, who died two years ago, aged 108; Liberty's Shami Chakrabarti - powerful oration, knowledgeable, evidence-based; Simin Azimi of the Refugee Women's Association - enduring integrity and clarity about the issues; and the women and families from campaigns such as New Era or Sweets Way, who took action on something that relentlessly affected their daily lives. The list goes on and on. That just leaves me to ask: who inspires you?

Correction

Because of an editing error in Linda's November column, we described Gloria Morrison as a lawyer. She is not. Apologies.

Linda Butcher is chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation

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