Leicester activist who left school without A-Levels becomes first black man to be elected head of Oxbridge college

Lord Woolley was knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 2019. Credit: PA images

A political and equalities activist who grew up in the East Midlands has become the first black man to be elected head of an Oxbridge college.

Lord Simon Woolley, who is the founding director of campaign group Operation Black Vote, will be the next principal of Cambridge University's Homerton College.

He is the third black person to be elected as head of a college at Oxford or Cambridge.

Lord Woolley will succeed poet and author Professor Geoffrey Ward as head of Homerton, on October 1.



  • Who is he?

Lord Woolley was fostered and then adopted as a child, growing up on a council estate in Leicester.

He left school without A-levels and later returned to formal study via an access course.

Operation Black Vote, which Lord Woolley launched in 1996, 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, Lord Woolley was appointed by then-prime minister Theresa May in 2018 to create and lead the government's 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.

Lord Woolley

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