Simon Andrew Woolley

Simon Andrew Woolley, Baron Woolley of Woodford Kt is a political and equalities activist. He is the founder and director of Operation Black Vote and the Advisory Chair of the Government of the United Kingdom Race Disparity Unit.

Early life and education

Woolley was born in Leicester. He grew up on the St Matthew's estate, left school without A-Levels, and started his working life in an apprenticeship. Woolley moved to London, and spent four years in advertising for The Rank Organisation in Wardour Street, before deciding to study Spanish and Politics at Middlesex University. He earned a Master of Arts in Hispanic literature at Queen Mary University of London.


Woolley become engaged with British politics, joining the campaign group Charter. He started to research the potential impact of a black vote, which Woolley argued could influence electoral outcomes in marginal seats. These findings encouraged Woolley to launch Operation Black Vote in 1996. Operation Black Vote has launched voter registration campaigns, an app to inspire and inform black and minority ethnic (BME) individuals and worked with Saatchi & Saatchi on a pro bono advertising campaign. Woolley also worked to empower communities and to integrate better politics education into the school curriculum. The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation estimated that Woolley's efforts encouraged millions of people to vote. Much of his work has been around nurturing BME civic and politic talent: the then Home Secretary Theresa May said in a speech in Westminster in 2016, "Today we celebrate a record number of BME MPs in parliament - 41. British politics and British society greatly benefits when we can utilise diversity’s teaming talent pool. That’s why today we are announcing that in the months ahead we will begin a new MP and business shadowing scheme".

Woolley served as a Commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission. In 2008, the Government Equalities Office released Woolley's report How to achieve better BME political representation. He was appointed to the Equalities Commission in 2009. He has launched two governmental investigations, including REACH, which looked to tackle the alienation of black youth, as well as working with Harriet Harman on the political representation of black and minority ethnic women. He worked with Bernie Grant, Al Sharpton, Naomi Campbell and Jesse Jackson on grassroots campaigns highlighting racial discrimination.

In 2017 Operation Black Vote, the Guardian newspaper and Green Park Ltd launched the Colour of Power, to date the most in-depth look at the racial make-up of Britain's top jobs across 28 sectors that dominate British society. The results were reported in The Guardian: "Barely 3% of Britain’s most powerful and influential people are from black and minority ethnic groups, according to a broad new analysis that highlights startling inequality despite decades of legislation to address discrimination".

He has called for local councillors to become more diverse, after it emerged that of the 200 councillors in South Gloucestershire, Bath and North East Somerset and North Somerset, no one was from a black or minority ethnic background.[16] In May 2019, Woolley and Operation Black Vote launched a ground-breaking report into more than 130 key local authorities that emphasised the lack of BME representation. In over one third of those local authorities, many with sizeable BME populations, they either had no or just one BME councillor.

Along with former Downing Street advisors Nick Timothy and Will Tanner, Woolley is seen as the inspiration and one of the architects for the Government of the United Kingdom Race Disparity Unit, and served as the Advisory Chair. He has worked with the Open Source Foundation on their global drugs policy projects. He secured £90 million of funding to encourage disadvantaged young people to work. When Operation Black Vote started, there were four black or minority ethnic members of parliament; as of 2019, there are over 50. He has written for The Guardian, Huffington Post and The Independent.

Awards and honours

Woolley has been included in the Black Powerlist every year since 2012. He was selected as one of the Evening Standard's Most Influential People in 2010. In 2010 and 2011 he was selected as one of The Daily Telegraph's 100 Most Influential People. In 2012 he was awarded an honorary doctorate for his equality efforts from the University of Westminster. Woolley received a Knighthood in the 2019 Birthday Honours for his services to race equality. He said he had to think hard about accepting the honour: "Many black or minority ethnic individuals have to think hard about whether to take an award or not, particularly those offered an award with empire in its title ... It's a difficult choice and whatever decision they make I fully support them. In the case of the knighthood, I didn't have to make that exact call. It has more to do with medieval times and the 13th century than empire".

Woolley was nominated for a life peerage to sit as a Crossbencher in the House of Lords by Prime Minister Theresa May in her 2019 Resignation Honours List. He was created Baron Woolley of Woodford, of Woodford in the London Borough of Redbridge, on 14 October 2019.