Disability campaigner in the running for accolade

Margaret Simpson MBE.
Margaret Simpson MBE.

A Borders disability campaigner is one of three women in the running for this year’s Robert Burns Humanitarian Award.

Margaret Simpson, of St Boswells, has been recognised for changing lives for the better through her work for people with disabilities and campaigning for improvements.

She has been named as one of three finalists for the world-renowned awards, and the winner will be announced at a ceremony on Sunday at the Brig o’Doon Hotel in Alloway, near Ayr, the birthplace of Burns in 1759.

“To make it to the last three is a huge honour,” said Margaret, 64. “It not really why I do things. I keep saying to everybody, and I genuinely mean this, I don’t do this for the recognition. It is very humbling, though.”

A champion of the voluntary and disabled sectors, Margaret is chairwoman of the Scottish Borders Social Enterprise Chamber, an organisation she set up in 2005.

The only chamber of its kind in Scotland, its original target memberships of 30 has now grown to more than 300, with a newsletter distribution list of 700-plus.

She said: “The Borders is really starting to stand out and get noticed. We have the resources now, and if everybody shares, we can really get things going.

“It’s all about communication, collaboration and getting on with it. You can’t do one part without doing it all. Every aspect is interlinked, from health to social work.”

Margaret, made a Member of the British Empire in 2011 and invited to join the Fellowship of Saint George in Windsor last year, was not born disabled but developed rheumatoid arthritis in her 20s.

She used her own experience to inspire the creation of Disabled Persons Housing Services (Borders) almost 20 years ago, providing advice on all aspects of housing for people with a disability.

She also works tirelessly within the AccessAble Access Panel, Borders Voluntary Care Voice, Ability Borders and on the project board for the Scottish independent living fund, to name a few.

Her most recent focuses include campaigning for the successful reintroduction of the £5m independent living fund from the Scottish Government and helping those who find themselves facing cuts to their disability benefits.

She also soon hopes to help set up a south of Scotland enterprise zone to include the Lothians and Edinburgh.

Margaret, brought up in Gorebridge, moved to St Boswells with her husband in 1985 after falling in love with the village green, near which she now works from her office in a former doctors’ surgery.

This latest accolade, has been a difficult secret to keep as Margaret was told the news around Christmas time, only telling her “hero and gofer” husband John, whom she says she could not do all he campaigning without.

The couple have two sons, Michael and John, both living nearby, and a granddaughter and great-grandson living in Norfolk.

As an admirer of the Bard of Ayrshire herself, this recognition is particularly fitting for Margaret.

She said: “I cannot say how absolutely proud I am to have been nominated and considered for this wonderful award.

“Robert Burns was the hero of both my grandfather and father, who always reminded us of what he achieved in his short life, and they would have been so proud of my nomination.

“He was a great humanitarian, and a letcher, there’s no denying that. He lived a short life, but he didn’t half live it.

“I won the Burns prize at school for writing with a fountain pen, and my youngest son won an award at his school for his recitation of Burns. It’s like the circle has been joined up.”

The other award finalists, selected from more than 50 nominations, are Marcelline Budza, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, founder of the coffee-producing association Rebuild Women’s Hope in 2013, and Jo Cox, the former MP for Batley and Spen killed in June 2016.

Bill McIntosh, chairman of the award judging panel and leader of South Ayrshire Council, said: “These three very worthy women are all very different and have carried out their humanitarian works in very different ways.

“However, the one thing they have in common is that they well and truly live up to the principles and ethos of Robert Burns and are devoted to delivering social change on the ground and making a real difference for others.

“They have all shown a clear passion and commitment to human rights and a determination to battle inequality, injustice and intolerance.”

As well as the title, the winner receives the equivalent of 1,759 guineas, approximately £1,800 – a sum signifying the year of the Bard’s birth and the coinage then in circulation.

The award is supported by South Ayrshire Council and Scotland’s Winter Festivals.