Patricia ‘June’ Holder became a vegan 30 years ago after she read a leaflet which showed the cruelty animals suffered in the meat industry. This year, she will celebrate her ninety second birthday and she discusses a lifetime of activism across Europe.

Veganuary is an annual event which encourages people to go vegan for a month. In last year’s campaign, a quarter of a million people pledged to try a vegan diet.

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Once a fringe movement, veganism is quickly gaining a vast appeal, especially amongst the young, as the environmental benefits of a plant-based diet become clearer.

According to a study by the Vegan Society, 542,000 people in the UK were vegan in 2016 – 3 and a half times higher than in 2006. Almost half of these were people aged below 34.

Veganism has brought with it a lucrative trade in plant-based produce as businesses move to accommodate the concerns of their customers and promote ethical alternatives to meat.

Long before veganism became a dietary and commercial trendsetter, however, June Holder, a 91-year-old woman from Penarth, had her eyes opened to the costly effects of meat consumption. After eating a vegan breakfast at a local café, she settled down to tell me her story.

“I’ve been vegan for 30 years”, she said. “My daughter had a stall at Camden Market, and she used to collect masses of money for animal rights there. It was her who first introduced me to the cause.

“Later on, I organized a charity coffee morning and sent the money I raised to Compassion in World Farming. In return, they sent me a magazine which showed what happened to the animals. Well, I sat down that morning and read what they’d sent me – and I was vegan!”

Whilst the public has become more receptive to veganism, June still encounters hostility: “People’s reactions vary when I tell them I’m vegan. They become hostile because they’re guilty, I suppose.

“I remember that a vegan group had a stall in the market a few years ago. They were advertising parts of Alsatians to eat. People were horrified. So, when they were angry, I had a chance to talk to them. ‘You accept that any animal can be treated like this except when it comes to your dogs’, I told them. Well, they had to accept it. How could they not?”

Originally from Penarth, June moved to Dinas Powys from Barry after her husband, Derrick, passed away 27 years ago.

Derrick was the owner of Holders Menswear, a men’s fashion store which was once renowned throughout the Vale of Glamorgan and beyond.

June’s decision to become vegan sparked 30 years of dedication to activism. She joined the Animal Welfare Party, and, in her sixties and seventies, she travelled across the UK and Europe to campaign for animal rights.

“I demonstrated in many places. I went to Brussels twice to protest against the exportation of live animals. The International Fund for Animal Welfare took us in a coach.

“I was in the front row of the crowd, up against these spikes and razor wire. If they had started to push from the back, I dread to think what would have happened.

“The night before the protest I had this thought: ‘The danger is not to protest’. I wrote it on a little board.

“People kept tapping me on the shoulder and passing the board around the crowd and eventually it made its way back to me.”

What does the message mean?

“It means that it is more dangerous not to protest against these injustices that are happening”.

June still has a copy of the placard. Later, at her home, she retrieved it from a trove of scattered paraphernalia accumulated after years of protest.

She has written prolifically throughout her life about events which have provoked and enthused her. One poem describes the day of protest in Brussels. It reflects June’s unceasing dedication to animal welfare but also her frustration at the pace of change:

“The writer of these verses was, quite some time ago, in Brussels with a poster which now rings yet more true. ‘The danger is not to protest’ is what the message said.

“Then round it went to young and old for everyone to read. From countries all round Europe, but the farmers paid no heed. Live transport, a huge issue then, continues just the same”.

Another poem read:

“Christmas is a time to spend, but why not save instead? In sheds around the country to sate the public’s lust for something huge to set their feast. The turkeys just exist.

“Ten million in this country at Christmas time alone. Is this the way to talk of peace and teach our children love?”

Veganuary runs throughout January. On January 12, local businesses will showcase their plant-based produce at the AbFab Vegan Fair in the Paget Rooms, Penarth. For more information, visit: