93-year-old Big Issue fan is knitting to keep dozens of homeless people warm

Emma took action in homelessness East London hotspot after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer

A 93-year-old Big Issue reader who is suffering from terminal cancer has knitted nearly 100 warm hats for rough sleepers in Newham, east London – England’s homelessness hotspot.

Emma, who was given three days to live four months ago, has been hard at work in the Newham care home after overhearing a member of staff talking about Lola’s Homeless, a local group fighting to end homelessness in the area. She was struck by how difficult the lives of homeless people seemed to be. She decided to put her time in the home’s activity room – and the skill she developed over a lifetime of knitting – to good use.

“I asked for some instructions and started knitting a hat, and it has just exploded since then,” Emma told The Big Issue. “I’m still knitting, I’m still carrying on while I can.”

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Staff at the care home have been shipping batches of hats to Lorraine Tabone, founder of Lola’s Homeless, as Emma produces them.

Emma has become so well-known for her dedication to knitting that others will often ask her to knit a scarf or a jumper for them. “But I say, ‘No, this is for the homeless’,” Emma said. “The homeless people are who I stand by.

“The activity room, Lorraine and Lola’s Homeless, that’s what’s kept me alive. They’ve given me the strength to carry on.”

Last year charity Shelter reported more than 14,500 people in temporary accommodation in Newham, with 76 sleeping rough.

Emma was presented with a personalised knitting bag, a thank you card from Lola’s and a card from the homeless people who have benefited from her nifty needlework.

Last year charity Shelter reported more than 14,500 people in temporary accommodation in Newham, with 76 sleeping rough.

Originally from Canary Wharf (“before it was posh”), Emma moved between factory jobs before she retired, making sweets and packing biscuits.

Even then she was “always knitting”, keeping a stockpile of baby clothes to give as gifts when children were born.

Emma
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Emma explains that she was a regular Big Issue reader before she fell ill and was drawn to the magazine because she was “interested in how people were living” and “worried about vulnerable people”.

Lola’s and care home staff have been collecting donations of wool because Emma makes the hats so quickly.

Emma hopes others will be inspired to do something for vulnerable people in their communities.

“I’m pleased that I’m helping somebody,” she said. “That is my nature.”

Has someone in your community taken action to help those less fortunate? Let us know at editorial@bigissue.com.