Big Issue Vendor

Check out arty vendor John Cahill’s masterpiece in Paddington Station

The London seller’s latest artwork will be on show alongside an exhibition of Big Issue street art ahead of Saturday's World Homeless Day

Big Issue vendor John Cahill’s latest masterpiece is being created among commuters at Paddington Station as he shows off his art skills ahead of World Homeless Day.

Aspiring professional artist John has spent two days bringing his artwork to life, a painting that recalls times he spent sleeping rough in a park under a tree and looking up at the stars.

The painting will be handed over to Network Rail upon completion before being installed in Reading Station’s assisted travel lounge when it opens in 2021.

Through the help of The Big Issue, John has been able to make the journey from rough sleeping to securing a one-bedroom flat and is now focused on making a career with his art having left Middlesex University with a BA honours degrees in illustration in 2006.

He said: “Just as I was making headway with my career, I suffered a series of setbacks bringing my progression to an abrupt halt, and so I have been a Big Issue vendor ever since.

“The Big Issue has been a safety net for a lot of people, including me, it gives us a vital way to make an income and put some money in our pocket. They have led me in the right direction and given me a support network. It means a lot to me.

“I was also diagnosed as being on the Autistic Spectrum a few years ago. I continue to paint in my spare time and want to keep moving forward to my goal of becoming a professional artist. I was excited to paint in the station, I was optimistic and I’ve had a lot of fun.” 

John met Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, British Transport Police assistant chief constable Charlie Doyle and Network Rail CEO Andrew Haines on Wednesday as he prepared to begin creating his piece. The trio were in attendance to sign the first pan-industry homelessness charter to support a route out of homelessness for rough sleepers.

Network Rail
Works on show alongside John Cahill's mural at Paddington Station are available to buy from The Big Issue Shop

Shapps told The Big Issue that the charter is a key part of the government’s plans to bring organisations together to hit their target of ending rough sleeping by 2024.

In his time as housing minister between 2010 and 2012, the Conservative politician oversaw StreetLink’s transition from a phone line to an app that allows people to connect people they see sleeping rough to support services. Shapps hopes that the charter will make staff and passengers more aware of the service and other interventions to help people seeking shelter at transport hubs around the country.

And he admitted that John’s story left him touched.

Shapps said: “I was talking to John for a while about his extraordinary background and, of course, his art and how he decided what he was going to paint. He is very inspiring and I am keen to head back to see the finished painting. I’d love to see it.

“I am a huge supporter of everything The Big Issue does and has done over many, many years. I think The Big Issue was the first time that people started to speak about homelessness in a different way. I’m a massive supporter. More power to your elbows.”

The Big Issue has partnered with Network Rail since 2014 with vendors taking up pitches in major stations all over the UK, including London Euston, London Victoria, Edinburgh Waverley, Birmingham New Street and more. And since April 2019 over £16,000 has been raised through Network Rail’s efforts to raise awareness of Big Issue artwork.

As well as hosting John, the rail operator is also carrying an exhibition of artwork from vendors and other artists who have experienced homelessness ahead of Saturday’s global awareness day. All of the pieces on show are available to buy from The Big Issue Shop.

The exhibition will be making tracks through Network Rail’s Wales and Western region after its stint in Paddington ends on Oct 22 before moving to Reading until Nov 5 and finally stopping off at Bristol Temple Meads until Nov 19.

Tracy Griffin, CEO of The Big Issue Foundation, said: “The Big Issue Foundation is delighted to be one of the  supporting  charity partners of Network Rail’s ‘Routes out of Homelessness’. 

“Everyone deserves a home. We  are looking forward to working with Network Rail over the next four years to provide opportunities  to improve the lives of many over the coming years.” 

Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, added: “We know that homelessness is a real problem and many vulnerable people are drawn to the rail network. We are committed to working with communities and charities to improve how we work together to address the challenges involved in supporting some of the country’s most marginalised people.”         

Image: Network Rail