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Honorary Degree Orations


Iris Lightfoote

Public Orator, Dr Dennis Howitt presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Ceremony held on Tuesday 18 July at 10.30am


Chancellor, Pro-Chancellors, Vice-Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of the University

Each day, throughout the World, black people die as a consequence of racism. Equally, racism denies black people the opportunities enjoyed by others. These are not emotive opinions but social facts which eminent researchers vouchsafe.

Evidence of racial discrimination abounds in dry statistics and reports. The failings of housing, industry, commerce, health, policing, the criminal justice system, prison, and education in terms of racial justice are well documented.

Racial justice is achievable when we all – individuals, the community, and the State – accept responsibility. Community organizations such as the Leicester and Leicestershire Racial Equality Council, of which the honorary graduand, Iris Lightfoote, is the Chief Executive Officer, have a major role to play.

Today’s degree award will be Iris’s third each from different Leicestershire universities. She has a B.A. in Social Sciences and an M.A. in Criminology. Of course, today’s honorary degree has had the steepest tuition fees but the finest tutors. Hence, I am delighted to welcome Iris’s guests including friends and colleagues, her partner Bob Clarke and, above all, her mother Edna Lightfoote.

Iris Lightfoote began her work with the then Leicester Racial Equality Council as a Criminal Justice Officer - the very first at any Racial Equality Council, and she established the Black Prisoners Support Project in 1997. This was pioneering among such projects and effective. Her success, in part, depended on the excellent relationships she and the Project developed with the probation service, prison personnel, volunteers from the communities of Leicester, and black prisoners.

Just four years later, Iris was appointed Chief Executive Officer of what was to become the Leicester and Leicestershire Racial Equality Council. The role of Chief Executive Officer is likened by the Council to that of a Company Secretary. Indeed the Council is a limited company as well as a registered charity. Under Iris’s dynamic leadership, the stock of the company has risen to unprecedented levels following major growth of activities and reputation.

External funding has multiplied four or fivefold and external reviews of her service delivery teams have attracted top ratings – figures that even Loughborough University might struggle to equal. Developments include the creation of a legal advice and advocacy service, the mentoring of young offenders by young students and employers, a database for incidents of racial harassment, the creation of a service to address racism in sports with a dedicated area for women and girls, and probably the largest project for the settlement of refugees and asylum seekers in the United Kingdom.

Finally, Iris is an established friend of the University especially through links with the School for Sport and Exercise Sciences. Of particular importance is the Widening Access Through Sports project which Iris helped to steer. Its strategy, redolent of the Salvation Army’s, was to use sport to promote social inclusion through its appeal to young people. On campus, the youngsters were helped to develop their sporting ability but also provided with awareness of education and career opportunities.

Therefore, Chancellor, I have the privilege of presenting to you and the University, Iris Lightfoote for the degree of Doctor of the University, honoris causa.


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