Lord Woolley to become first black man to head Oxbridge college

Lord Woolley will become the first black man to head an Oxbridge college when he takes over as principal of Cambridge University’s Homerton College in October.

Simon Woolley, the founding director of Operation Black Vote (OBV), is only the third black person to be appointed head of an Oxbridge college, following Sonita Alleyne (Jesus College, Cambridge) and Lady Amos (University College, Oxford).

Alleyne became the first black leader of an Oxbridge college when she stepped into her role at Jesus College, in October 2019.

Woolley grew up on a council estate in St Matthews, one of Leicester’s most deprived areas, before leaving school without A-levels. He later returned to formal study via an access course.

He is the chief executive officer of OBV, an organisation he founded in 1996 when there were just four minority ethnic MPs. OBV works to increase minority ethnic participation in politics by lobbying politicians, and running voter registration drives and mentoring schemes.

In 2009 Woolley was appointed to the Equality and Human Rights Commission; the commission received criticism after he was removed in 2012. Woolley wrote last year that the watchdog needed to “start taking racism seriously” in an article that was highly critical of the EHRC not having a black or Muslim commissioner.

In 2018, Theresa May, then prime minister, chose Woolley to create and lead the government’s race disparity unit, a position he held until July 2020. The unit collects, analyses and publishes data on how crime, education and health are affected by ethnicity.

Woolley was knighted in the Queen’s birthday honours in June 2019 and was created a life peer in December of the same year. He sits as a crossbencher in the Lords and has been included in the Powerlist every year since 2012.

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.”

Louise Joy, vice-principal of Homerton, who led the search for a new principal, added: “We could not be more thrilled to have elected Simon Woolley as our next principal. Simon’s own inspiring story and his commitment to promoting social justice and nurturing talent across the social spectrum resonates with Homerton’s core values.”

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