In today’s (20 June) graduation ceremony at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow, four individuals were recognised for their significant contribution to society and culture, including one of Scotland’s most recognisable and beloved actors, Elaine C. Smith; journalist and equal pay advocate, Carrie Gracie; disability campaigner, Tressa Burke and social entrepreneur, Josh Littlejohn.
Elaine C Smith
Currently starring in BBC Scotland’s Two Doors Down with the BAFTA award-winning portrayal of the famously foul-mouthed Christine, actress and comedian, Elaine C Smith’s career spans, television, theatre and stand-up comedy.
She is perhaps best known for playing Mary ‘Doll’ in Rab C Nesbitt, the longstanding BBC Two sitcom, yet her work extends well beyond this role. She was part of the original theatrical cast and was instrumental in the production of the ground-breaking and enduringly popular play The Steamie, and she has been one of the few women to have headlined Scottish pantomime for over 20 years opening up opportunities for young female performers to follow in her footsteps.
Together with her husband Bob, Elaine set up her own company RPM-ARTS producing a series of sell-out one woman shows – Shirley Valentine, The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice. Other television drama roles include Two Thousand Acres of Sky, 55 Degrees North, and The Syndicate.
A highly successful stand-up, her shows have included Hormonally Driven, Elaine With Attitude, Twelve Nights of Christmas. She also fronted three series of STV’s Burdz Eye View which followed her discoveries as she toured Scotland. A recent career retrospective, The Moments that Made … Elaine C Smith called her ‘Scotland’s undisputed Queen of Comedy’. Elaine was presented with an Honorary Doctorate for her exceptional contribution to the arts throughout her long and distinguished career.
Elaine C Smith commented:
“I’m absolutely thrilled and humbled to be honoured in this way by a truly wonderful and inspirational institution. I have been so fortunate in my own life and career to have been inspired by so many amazing women and men who have blazed a trail for all who have come behind. I hope in some small way I have, and will continue to do, the same for others, especially women.
“The Open University works so hard to inspire and so much more every single day and for that we should all be truly grateful.”
Journalist, author and equal pay advocate, Carrie Gracie received an Honorary Doctorate for her contribution to journalism and her work towards achieving fairer pay for women.
Gracie, who is best known for being the China Editor for BBC News and World Service, has won both an Emmy and a Peabody for her excellent storytelling of contemporary social issues.
In 2017, her resignation from the BBC and open letter to her audience over gender equality and equal pay at the BBC, prompted a parliamentary inquiry and was the catalyst for a series of claims by many other women.
Following the publication of her best-selling book, Equal, which examines inequality in the workplace and provides practical advice for tackling it, Gracie continues to use her journalistic prowess to raise awareness about the gender pay gap and her expertise on China.
Carrie Gracie commented:
“I’ve always had huge admiration for The Open University, and I know from personal experience how hard it is to study for a degree alongside making a living and other commitments, so I’m thrilled to have the chance to stand alongside OU graduates and celebrate how awesome they are.”
Tressa Burke was awarded an Honorary Doctorate for her work towards improving access to education for disabled people and her passionate commitment to social inclusion, social justice and public services.
Burke is a founding member and Chief Executive Officer of the Glasgow Disability Alliance (GDA), which connects disabled people with each other, with opportunities and with decision makers. By recognising their talents and strengths, GDA supports disabled people to be leaders in their own lives.
Burke also lends her expertise and experience to a variety of other organisations. She serves on the Wider Action Committee of New Gorbals Housing Association, supporting and providing advice around plans to widen participation and inclusion for local people. She is a trustee of Self Directed Support Scotland, which works to ensure that disabled people exercise choice and control over social care services and have the independent support needed. And she serves as an advisor to both Glasgow City Government and the Scottish Government, contributing to a number of expert advisory groups, including the First Minister’s National Advisory Council for Women and Girls.
“I am sincerely honoured to be receiving recognition from The Open University because it is such a unique and exceptional institution, sharing Glasgow Disability Alliance’s passion for tackling inequalities and injustice and making learning accessible for all.
“Both organisations are mission driven and share an ethos of being committed to equality, diversity and inclusion and to tackling barriers which prevent disadvantaged people from accessing learning. By making learning accessible, both GDA and the OU ensure that those facing inequalities are supported to fulfil their potential.
“I’ve seen from many disabled people that accessing learning is transformational so I couldn’t be prouder to become part of the OU family which changes people’s lives in this way every day.”
Josh Littlejohn MBE
Josh Littlejohn is a social entrepreneur and campaigner whose innovative businesses have benefited thousands of homeless and struggling people in Scotland and raised millions of pounds for charities around the world.
In 2011, Josh co-founded Social Bite, a café with a difference, which pioneered a ‘pay it forward’ model for donations, in which customers can buy a coffee or a meal for a homeless individual to collect. A quarter of Social Bite’s staff are currently or formerly homeless and the café dedicates a day a week to serving only people experiencing homelessness, entirely for free. Josh has also founded Brewgooder, a brewing company which donates all its profits to clean water initiatives in the developing world.
The Social Bite Village in Edinburgh opened in 2018, offering homeless people a community as well as accommodation, in which they can work together to learn new skills and turn their lives around. The latest initiative is Jobs First which focuses on people’s strengths and skills, and provides intensive support and mentoring to help homeless people find and maintain employment.
Today, Social Bite is a major provider of food and support for some of the most vulnerable people in the country. Josh is the recipient of an MBE, a Pride of Britain Special Award and a Robert Burns Humanitarian Award. He received an Honorary Doctorate from the OU in honor of his determination to eradicate homelessness in Scotland and beyond.
“I’m proud and grateful to accept an Honorary Degree from The Open University in recognition of the work Social Bite has done to support some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
“It’s testament to the great work of our whole team that we’ve been able to achieve so much already towards our mission to end homelessness and I’m passionate about continuing our work across the UK in the coming years.