Meet Tigs Louis-Puttick!
Tigs is a third-year undergraduate at Churchill studying HSPS, who showcases the remarkable leadership involved in volunteering and activism in Cambridge. Here, we celebrate her incredible passion and drive that has spurred her to effect positive vital change for refugees and asylum seekers in Lesbos, Greece, and here in the UK.
For starters, where did her passion for activism take root?
Half-French but growing up in Plymouth, Tigs knew she was interested in politics and international relations from a young age. Before university, she was discussing global affairs around the dinner table, canvassing or the local Labour party as a teenager, and going on several political marches with her family:
“I was super lucky to grow up in a family where we do discuss global affairs; we’ve always discussed human rights and my parents always encouraged me to read the news which was all really positive for developing an interest in studying politics. I always had a personal interest in politics, but I have been really fortunate in how it was also fostered by the surroundings that I had. I’m also very lucky that I have two amazing sisters that I learn a lot from.”
What does she make of her academic studies and how has she blended these interests with real-life action? What are some of her proudest achievements?
For Tigs, the HSPS tripos has a valuable broadness and she has selected the more male-dominated track of politics and international relations, her interests being especially entrenched in critical theory and displacement, forced displacement, and refuge and asylum processes.
It’s clear to see how her academic interests cohere with her extra-curricular involvement as throughout her time at Cambridge so far Tigs has been a part of various campaigns within the university and beyond, starting from her first year when she got immediately got involved in various campaigns, such as the divestment campaign as well as groups like Oxfam and Amnesty international. However, in the summer of her first year, she took the step of travelling to the Greek island of Lesbos, which has seen a huge influx of asylum seekers, refugees, and displaced people in the past five years. Having worked as a beach lifeguard for several years in the UK,
Tigs felt her skillset was well-suited for helping out in response work allowing her to contribute to making peoples’ arrivals to Lesvos safer:
“I went there in the summer of 2019 and volunteered with an NGO that works with emergency response and human rights monitoring. Basically, the charity works on a part of Lesbos where most people land in small dinghies from Turkey and it aims to make those landings as safe as possible. This means it has people ‘spotting’ all the time to see if there are any boats arriving into Greek waters – whether they’re getting into difficulty – and then being there at the landing scene to prevent those difficulties from escalating.”
However, she found her return to the UK difficult to process and found herself reflecting strongly on the privilege afforded to her by her passport in comparison to the people she had left behind. So, upon her return to the UK, Tigs then made it her mission to continue campaigning here in Cambridge. She swiftly became involved in CRSC, the Cambridge refugee scholarship campaign - a campaign which successfully lobbied for the creation of ten scholarships at Cambridge University for people who have faced severe barriers to their education due to persecution or conflict. The campaign now works to make the scholars feel welcome and comfortable during their time here in Cambridge and continues to pursue the goal of reducing barriers to education for refugees. She has also led on the University of Sanctuary Campaign, attempting to establish the university and its colleges as official Spaces of Sanctuary:
“That campaign’s also going really well, we’ve managed to get in touch with various actors across our own, and other, universities who have helped us shape our approach. We’ve now started to build a working group across the University at the admin level to work on the project of making the University of Cambridge a space of sanctuary – making a welcoming, accessible and safe space for sanctuary scholars, anyone’s who’s had these severe barriers to access to education.”
This is amazing! What else has she gotten involved with?
Further exemplifying her passion and commitment, Tigs has since also returned to Lesbos several times during the vacations, volunteering with different NGOs there – experience that has only compounded her passion and spurred her to further her involvement with campaigning at the local level, including Europe Must Act.
“When Covid hit in March there was this movement that started called Europe Must Act which focused on the situation in the Aegean islands and basically called for them to be evacuated – there were 42000 people at this point in camps on the islands living in the most dire conditions […] This campaign called for the evacuation of those islands and the overturn generally of all inhumane asylum policy across Europe. They did this call out where they said we want cities to start their own chapters and campaigns so that cities across Europe can show that there is local willingness to resettle or relocate people from the islands and I thought I have time, I’m just going to start the Cambridge one.”
Connecting with other like-minded members of the community, she started the campaign, created a ‘change.org’ petition, mobilised networks within Cambridge, as well as connecting with the existing refugee resettlement campaigns that already existed in Cambridge. Their efforts were successful. Cambridge Labour pledged to settle an additional two hundred people to Cambridge through the UK Refugee Resettlement Scheme, although, unfortunately, at present, there is no legal way that refugees can be relocated from the Aegean to the UK. However, local councils can write letters of support to the national government, which is what they did.
“It was really encouraging to see the power of how just mobilising people and putting in the energy and time can really change stuff if it’s just at the local level […] it’s more of a grassroots approach but it’s super important. That’s still ongoing and is the thing I’ve led on most while being here. It hasn’t been a university process but more of a local Cambridge thing. It’s easy to forget a whole city exists so it’s nice to connect with people outside the university bubble.”
But what does leadership mean to Tigs, how would she define it?
“You don’t always have to enact change at a huge national level. It’s important for me to have real goals we aim for and can achieve; use your power as an occupant of the space you exist within to try and enact change. It’s important to have a wide base of support. For instance, with the University of Sanctuary campaign establishing college reps was so important because of how the collegiate system works, it forced us to be more strategic in how we campaigned. Delegating is so important in leadership. You have to realise it’s not about you and how much change you can make it’s about communities and how they can create change. It’s about being part of them and helping nurture them.”
“I’d say that leadership is never something you can do on your own; leadership is not about individualism and heroism and getting recognition personally, it’s really about finding communities who inspire you, being led by them and then leading them at times. I really don’t think leading is about running at the front of the pack, it’s about encouraging others to run with you.”
One public figure Tigs looks up to and admires is Sarah Mardini, a Syrian refugee and human rights worker who swam and helped 18 other people who were fleeing persecution and war in the sea off the coast of Turkey in August 2015.
“She continues to be a very strong voice for asylum rights and for refugee rights in Europe. That for me is leadership, recognising times that have been traumatic and coming through stronger because of them, that is just incredibly inspiring. It’s really most inspiring when it happens in those spaces where people could become flattened by their circumstance but instead take it in their stride and rise through it and keep learning and leading.”
Yet, for Tigs, there does lie an issue in how recognition of effective leadership is not always fair or wholly inclusive. It’s crucial to pay particular attention to the recognition of those who have faced barriers and boundaries in life but suffer an unjust lack of celebration. It’s important not to fall into the trap of the overrepresentation of certain groups of leaders based on the positions of privilege they already occupy. She herself feels that certain aspects of leadership have perhaps been easier for her than for others, and she emphasises how vital it is to fully contextualise and appreciate the spaces we occupy:
“I think that over-recognition of some people and a lack of recognition of others is something that happens a lot, just based on the positions of privilege they already occupy.”
What does the future hold?
Happily unsure of her long-term career aspirations, Tigs plans to work as a paddleboard instructor this coming summer and is also considering embarking on a paramedic course next year, campaigning all the while. She finds it important to recognise that life isn’t linear, that you shouldn’t feel forced to go straight from your degree to your graduate job. For Tigs, your day job needn’t define you as there is always space to find ways of working with the things you’re passionate about alongside it, allowing you to grow and develop in more varied ways.
Thanks so much for sharing, Tigs!