Lord Woolley becomes the first Black man to head an Oxbridge college

Monday 05th April 2021 09:28 EDT

A political and equalities activist has become the first black man to be elected head of an Oxbridge college. Lord Simon Woolley, founding director of campaign group Operation Black Vote, will be the newly elected principal of Cambridge University's Homerton College. The former Equality and Human Rights Commissioner reportedly said it was a "must-have role". He will succeed Professor Geoffrey Ward on 1st October 2021. 

Simon Woolley is the Founding Director of Operation Black Vote, the internationally renowned campaigning NGO which he launched in 1996. OBV works with ethnic minorities in the UK to increase understanding of civic society, participation in Parliament and public life, and to promote equality and human rights. Formerly an Equality and Human Rights Commissioner, in 2018 Lord Woolley was appointed by Prime Minister Theresa May to create and lead the UK Government’s pioneering Race Disparity Unit. The Unit collects, analyses and publishes data on how crime, education and health are affected by ethnicity.

Lord Woolley said, “What a truly great honour to be appointed the next Principal of Homerton College. Its history, from its origins in the East end of London, and its values of inclusion, dynamism and integrity, along with its vision to be a beacon of hope and academic excellence, make this a must-have role. It’s a great privilege to follow in the footsteps of Professor Geoff Ward, and I hope I can balance the College’s friendliness and warmth with ambition, as he has done so well. I’m excited to get to know the staff and students in Homerton and the wider University of Cambridge, and I’m excited for the next part of Homerton’s journey.”

Fostered and then adopted as a small child, Lord Woolley grew up on a council estate in Leicester, and left school without A-levels. Lord Woolley has a track record of addressing representational imbalances, transforming institutions, and nurturing individuals. His cross-party and cross-sector work with Operation Black Vote has seen the number of MPs from black and minority ethnic backgrounds rise from 4 to 65 over the past two decades. In collaboration with Magdalen College, Oxford, he has been instrumental in the development of Pathway to Success, a programme designed to equip future BME leaders with the tools and knowledge required for senior leadership.

Simon Woolley was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June 2019 and was created a life peer in December of the same year.

Sonita Alleyne was elected as head of Jesus College, Cambridge in 2019 and Baroness Amos at University College, Oxford in 2020.

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