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Big Issue ambassador Sabrina Cohen-Hatton appears on Desert Island Discs

The Big Issue vendor-turned-senior firefighter, author and academic sat down to share the soundtrack of her life with Lauren Laverne on the iconic radio programme

Sabrina Cohen-Hatton has been inspiring the nation since she told her story in The Big Issue earlier this year.

Now, she has revealed the songs that have kept her company throughout her remarkable life as the latest guest on revered Radio 4 programme ‘Desert Island Discs’, presented by Lauren Laverne.

Cohen-Hatton was rough sleeping when she began selling The Big Issue as a teenager in Cardiff, while studying for her GCSEs.

But after using money earned selling the magazine to help secure accommodation, she joined the Fire Service aged 18 and has since become one of the UK’s most senior firefighters – leading responses to both the Westminster and Finsbury Park terrorism attacks in 2017 – as well as an academic and published author.

After a whirlwind few months that has seen her appear in print, on radio and on TV to talk about her story, welcome current vendors to Westminster alongside Big Issue founder John Bird, receive a nomination for a National Diversity Award, appear at the Homeless World Cup and inspire thousands with an on-stage speech at Downs Festival, Cohen-Hatton has joined the list of accomplished, iconic and inspirational people to appear on ‘Desert Island Discs’.

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The fire officer said she is “beyond excited” about having been invited to take part in the show, tweeting: “It was the most personal, humbling and emotional interview I’ve ever done – Lauren Laverne was just incredible. I can’t wait to hear what you all think!”

As well as choosing music by The Clash, IDLES, Toots and the Maytals and Oasis, explaining her groundbreaking research and detailing her rise through the ranks to become Chief Fire Officer for West Sussex, Cohen-Hatton talked about her life on the street, telling Laverne: “It felt dehumanising on so many occasions. I can remember being so hungry all the time.

“People would walk past you like you are not there, like you are some kind of ghost, like you don’t matter.”

She also spoke about the impact finding The Big Issue had on her life.

“I went to see if I could get on a housing list, I was told because I was already homeless, I wasn’t a priority.

“What I found was the Big Issue. Every vendor that you see is either experiencing homelessness, is vulnerably housed, or is experiencing extreme poverty. And each one is a micro-entrepreneur. They are not begging, they are working. [It] meant I could save up enough money to earn my way out of poverty.”

Cohen-Hatton, who became a Big Issue Ambassador earlier this year, was also asked what she thought the current generation of vendors might make of her story.

She said: “I have been in a position where you feel like you have been written off. Where you feel like society has put you in a place [and] you are confined by what people expect of you. I wanted to say to them that you can break out of that. So I hope it has inspired some hope for people who perhaps at one point didn’t have any.”

Listen to Sabrina Cohen-Hatton’s Desert Island Discs via BBC Sounds here.

Image: Louise Haywood-Schiefer for The Big Issue

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Learn more about our impact

When most people think about the Big Issue, they think of vendors selling the Big Issue magazines on the streets – and we are immensely proud of this. In 2022 alone, we worked with 10% more vendors and these vendors earned £3.76 million in collective income. There is much more to the work we do at the Big Issue Group, our mission is to create innovative solutions through enterprise to unlock opportunity for the 14million people in the UK living in poverty.

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