James Partridge was the Founder and former Chief Executive of Changing Faces from May 1992 until stepping down in September 2017.
Back in 1970, when he was 18, James was severely burned in a car fire that changed his face, and his life, forever. After a period of recovery in intensive care, he spent a gruelling ‘gap year’ in hospital having reconstructive surgery for the 40% burns to his face and body, before going up to Oxford University as planned. Throughout every vacation and the whole of his third year, he underwent extensive plastic surgery, to his face especially, before graduating in politics, philosophy and economics in 1975. He embarked on a MSc in Medical Demography at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which led on to academic appointments in health economics at St Thomas’ Hospital and at Guy’s Hospital, London.
In 1979, he exchanged academia for farming and eventually a part-time teaching post in A-level economics, in Guernsey, where his wife, Caroline, was born and brought up. However, James was determined that the unique insights gained during his prolonged recovery should be put to positive use, so early mornings in the milking parlour were interspersed with periods of writing, culminating in the publication by Penguin of his book Changing Faces: The Challenge of Facial Disfigurement in 1990.
The warm response to the book led him to relinquish life as a dairy farmer to found the charity Changing Faces in 1992 to develop, build on and disseminate the lessons he had learned, and to work for the human rights and inclusion of people with facial and body disfigurements.
From the outset, the charity has been underpinned and informed by academic evidence and research. After several seminal research projects were conducted with Dr Nichola Rumsey at the University of the West of England, Bristol, Changing Faces partnered the University in setting up the first Centre for Appearance and Disfigurement Research in 1998. This is now a internationally-acclaimed research centre with 28 attached academics — known as the Centre for Appearance Research. The University recognised James’ contribution to academic research by granting him an Honorary Doctorate of Science in 1999.
During James’ 25 years of leadership, Changing Faces had a number of notable achievements:
Changing Faces was at the forefront of attempts to advocate for and instil new approaches into UK health care that fully recognised and addressed the psychosocial needs of patients with disfigurements and their families. These included:
Changing Faces successfully lobbied for people with disfigurements from any cause to be protected from discrimination in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and latterly, in the Equality Act 2010.
Changing Faces launched the campaign for ‘face equality’ in 2008 with award-winning posters on the London Underground and followed this up in succeeding years with eye-opening initiatives such as in November 2009, when James was a guest newsreader for a week on Five News, the first person with a disfigurement ever to do so worldwide, and in 2012 when a film ‘Leo’ featuring Michelle Dockery, star of Downton Abbey, was shown in cinemas nationwide to challenge the lazy use of scarring in the movies.
In May 2017, Changing Faces created the UK’s first Face Equality Day coinciding with the publication of Disfigurement in the UK, which graphically described the injustices and low expectations experienced by people with disfigurements. It also published the book Faces of Equality with superb photos by Yakub Merchant and a foreword by Patron, Benjamin Zephaniah.
In November 2018, supported by nine NGOs from across the world including Changing Faces, James launched Face Equality International (FEI) with the aim of internationalizing the campaign for face equality and turning it into a movement. FEI is an alliance of charities, big and small, national and international, which support and represent people with disfigurements. It aims to raise the profile of disfigurement and put the issues people with disfigurements face on the agenda of the UN Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), international bodies, companies and social media outlets.
Over the last 30 years, James has served on many committees and panels bringing disability, human rights, user and lay perspectives to bear on a range of subjects. He served on the Department of Health’s National Burn Care Group, the Appraisal Committee of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), the Chief Medical Officer’s Expert Panel on Cosmetic Surgery, and chaired the Department for Work and Pensions’ Employer Engagement Steering Group.
James is recognised as a charismatic speaker and influential advocate and has taken part in many documentaries, panel discussions and media interviews on disfigurement, disability, inclusion and social entrepreneurship in the UK and internationally. He is an Associate of the Business Disability Forum and Business Disability International, and holds various honorary posts including on Ambitious about Autism’s Development and Public Affairs Committee. He is a founding member of the Social Founders Network.
He is also a founding partner of Dining with a Difference, which aims to challenge and change the way chief executives, boards and directors of private and public organisations address disability as a strategic business issue.
Now with grown-up children and a happy grandfather, James now lives in Guernsey, where he is a Trustee of the Guernsey Community Foundation.
He was honoured by HM The Queen in 2002 with the Order of the British Empire for services to disabled people, appointed an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 2005 and has Honorary Doctorates from both of the Universities in Bristol, his birthplace. In March 2010 he won the Third Sector award for Most Admired Charity Chief Executive 2010 and in October 2010 The Beacon Prize for Leadership.
Changing Faces: The Challenge of Facial Disfigurement is published by Changing Faces and is in its seventh edition. Purchase Changing Faces by James Partridge.