Blog: Goodbye to a truly inspirational activist

Last weekend I heard the news that Denise Knutsen had sadly passed away.

Denise was a truly inspirational activist, dedicated, hard working and with a heart of solid gold. I first got to know Denise during the groundbreaking teaching assistants strike in Brighton. Denise led that dispute with energy, determination and her legendary humour, roping us all in at the outset to attend picket lines, protests and mass meetings. Empowering and encouraging all “her schools members,” Denise showed true leadership at every stage, earning widespread respect that never waned.

We kept in touch and whenever we met at conference or in Brighton she would always collar me (quite literally), telling me what I’d done well but always with a list of suggestions where I could do better! Always honest, always straight talking and always comradely – Denise spoke from the heart and always put our members and our union first.

Like so many across our union, I will always be grateful for her friendship and the support, both personal and political, she gave me over the years.

As Alex, Laura and Daniel, her beloved family, come to terms with their loss, I know how immensely proud they are of Denise — of all she achieved and all she stood for. They have set up a Just Giving appeal in Denise’s name for the Sussex Cancer Fund and I would urge all branches to consider donating at

On behalf of everyone in UNISON, we send our love and condolences to Alex, Laura and Daniel. And while we mourn the loss of a great activist, we also celebrate the life of a special woman and will always be thankful she was part of our great union.

Rest in peace Denise and thank you.