Derbyshire equality campaigners recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours

Jacci Woodcock has been awarded an MBE for campaign to change the law to protect people with terminal illnesses.
Jacci Woodcock has been awarded an MBE for campaign to change the law to protect people with terminal illnesses.

Two pioneering women from Belper have been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for their tireless campaign work on social equality.

Jacci Woodcock, founder and patron of the Dying to Work campaign, has been made an MBE for services to employment protection for terminally ill workers.

Siobhan Fennell, left, the chair of Accessible Belper, has been awarded the British Empire Medal.

Siobhan Fennell, left, the chair of Accessible Belper, has been awarded the British Empire Medal.

Siobhan Fennell, the founder and chairwoman of Accessible Belper, has been awarded the British Empire Medal for her services to transport accessibility, inclusion and disability awareness.

Mid Derbyshire MP Pauline Latham was among the first to congratulate her constituents, saying: “Both Jacci and Siobhan thoroughly deserve these awards for showing inspirational spirit in the face of respective adversity.”

Jacci, 61, has been battling terminal breast cancer since 2012. When her employer tried to force her out of her job following her diagnosis, the Dying to Work campaign was born.

Nearly 2.5million workers have since seen their employers sign up to a voluntary charter guaranteeing support, rights, and dignity in case of terminal illness.

Pauline said: “Jacci has been amazingly effective and nonpolitical. Supporting her has simply been the right thing to do.

“We hope it will result in legislation before she dies. Our next move is trying to get the whole of the NHS to sign up to the charter and we are also seeing the disability minister to make him realise that there is a gap in the law.”

TUC regional secretary Lee Barron said: “This honour is richly deserved. Jacci has been tireless in fighting for dignity at work for all.

“She is a true champion and we are privileged to count Jacci as a friend. We are delighted her hard work, dedication and commitment to justice has been rightly recognised.”

Siobhan, 50, launched Accessible Belper as a way to promote local accessibility, inclusion and awareness for people living with any kind of disability.

The organisation has worked with businesses, councils, schools and other organisations to transform Belper in countless ways both large and small.

Pauline said: “Siobhan has worked so hard in trying to help people and businesses in Belper understand disabilities, seen and unseen.

“In spite of all her problems, she is always so positive and been determined to keep going. She has such guts.”

Her efforts earned Belper the accolade of Derbyshire’s Most Accessible Town and in 2018 a national heritage campaign celebrating the UK’s most inspirational women paid tribute to Siobhan with a statue — but nothing prepared her for the news of her royal medal.

Siobhan said: “When I first heard it was incredibly overwhelming, I cried. It’s such a privilege and fantastic recognition for the whole Accessible Belper team.

“You don’t do this work for recognition, you do it to try and help people in the local community, which we have.”

She added: “When I began, I wanted to start a movement which would change people’s attitudes by helping them understand the lives of others.

“I knew Belper was a friendly town and that if I could give people here that understanding they would run with it. That’s what’s happened, and it’s been fantastic.”

The organisation’s most recent work includes a dementia awareness session, preparing for the dementia-friendly quiet shopping hour at the upcoming food festival, and arranging a mobile Changing Places bathroom for all major community events.

Much if Siobhan’s work involves securing grants and other fundraising for the group, which makes up 100 per cent of its income.

She devotes her spare time to expanding her vision to other towns in Derbyshire.

She said: “Now that our reputation has grown, we hope people will turn to Belper as the example.

“If anyone wants to find out how we managed to do it, I’m happy to pass on that message.”