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Lord Simon Woolley to become first black man to head up a University of Cambridge college after appointment at Homerton

Lord Simon Woolley, a former equality and human rights commissioner, is to become the first black man to head up an Oxbridge college after being announced as the next principal of Homerton in Cambridge.

Simon Woolley at Homerton College. Picture: David Johnson
Simon Woolley at Homerton College. Picture: David Johnson

Lord Woolley of Woodford said it would be a “great privilege” to take over from poet and author Professor Geoffrey Ward on October 1.

He will become the third black person to be elected as head of an Oxbridge college, following Sonita Alleyne - elected head of Jesus College, Cambridge in 2019 - and Baroness Amos at University College, Oxford in 2020.

Sonita Alleyne at Jesus College, University of Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Sonita Alleyne at Jesus College, University of Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

The founding director of campaign group Operation Black Vote (OBV), which he launched in 1996, Lord Woolley was fostered and then adopted as a small 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. He gained a degree in Spanish and English literature at Middlesex University and a master’s degree in Hispanic studies at Queen Mary University of London.

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.

His cross-party and cross-sector work with the group has seen the number of MPs from black and minority ethnic backgrounds rise from four to 65 over the past two decades, with 10 per cent of all MPs having participated in OBV leadership programmes.

Lord Woolley was appointed by then-prime minister Theresa May in 2018 to create and lead the government’s Race Disparity Unit, which collects, analyses and publishes data on how crime, education and health are affected by ethnicity.

He was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2019 and was created a life peer later that year. He also sits as a crossbencher in the House of Lords.

Homerton College
Homerton College

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.”

Prof Ward, congratulating Lord Woolley on his election, said: “Throughout my time as principal, I have taken great pleasure from the Homerton community, particularly our magnificent students, and I am sure he will get a warm welcome from them too.

“One of the glories of Homerton is that it is never the same today as it was yesterday, and I wish Simon every success in leading the college to ever greater heights.”

Homerton has the largest student body of any Cambridge college.

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