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BBC staff raise over £7k for Big Issue vendor struck down by pneumonia: 'I feel part of the family'

George Anderson has been forced off his pitch since being hospitalised over Christmas. BBC stars including Victoria Derbyshire have raised thousands to support him after meeting him on his Broadcasting House pitch

Big Issue vendor George Anderson

Photo: This photograph of George Anderson featured as a poster in Historic England’s I Am London exhibition at Central Saint Martins in 2016 Image: Historic England

Staff at the BBC in London have raised more than £7,000 to support much-loved Big Issue vendor George Anderson after he was struck down with pneumonia.

Anderson has become a treasured part of the BBC family during the nine years he has spent selling the magazine outside Broadcasting House – but he has been forced off his pitch after being hospitalised over Christmas.

Leila Mannish, a director on BBC News and Newsnight, started the online crowdfunder after learning that Anderson was left without a means to sustain himself.

Mannish even enlisted the help of BBC director general Tim Davie to mobilise staff in London and so far the GoFundMe campaign has raised £7,373 at the time of writing with big name TV talent such as Victoria Derbyshire chipping in.

The money means that Anderson will not have to risk going back to his pitch until he has recovered after he admitted he was tempted to return to pay for the hostel where he lives despite a January beset with cold snaps and named storms. 

“It’s so kind of them, that’s for sure. It’s hard to believe how much has actually been donated,” said Anderson, who is using his time off his pitch to work on his side hustle in biomedical research.

“I’m absolutely delighted with that because I’ve always been self-employed, I’ve never claimed any benefits, including housing benefit, so I was always very dependent on Big Issue sales to pay the rent in the hostel where I am.  

“Not being able to work I was thinking, ‘Bloody hell.’ If you don’t pay your rent here, that’s you out. So it takes pressure off because there were a couple of days last week when my symptoms would come and go. For a couple of hours I’d feel quite good like I could start selling again tomorrow and then a couple of hours later you can hardly get yourself out of the chair.”

Mannish told the Big Issue she feared that Anderson would rush back to work in freezing temperatures and wanted to raise some cash to help him pay for rent and food while he was unable to work.

But the fundraiser has exceeded her expectations.

“It’s amazing. I’m blown away. I’m not shocked because I know that everybody loves George. But it’s a good amount of money, way more than I ever thought would get raised,” said Mannish.

“I know George quite well as I speak to him at least once a week, if not more. I just thought I know what George is like: as soon as he can walk about he’ll try and be back out there in the freezing cold trying to sell Big Issues so that he can fund his life. So when I found out I thought it would be a good idea if we could start a GoFundMe just to fund his housing or something while he’s recovering so he doesn’t have to stress about coming back to work.”

Mannish attempted to drum up support from her colleagues in London and enlisted the help of BBC boss Davie who was able to turbocharge support among employees both past and present.

“I know that George speaks to Tim Davie and that they have a friendship. So I emailed Tim Davie and asked him if he had heard about George and said this is what I’d like to do,” she added. “Tim said that’s really sad news, please send my regards to George and leave it with me. Within I’d say an hour, I had people from different teams contact me and provide me with support on how to get it out to everybody in London.

“Even people who have retired or have left the BBC have been given the GoFundMe link and donated so he has touched not only the hearts of the staff that work there on a daily basis but former members of the BBC who really love him. He’s just one of those people who’s always upbeat and smiling. He’s got a positive spin on everything.”

Now Anderson remains in his hostel room recuperating but he has maintained his trademark positivity and is looking forward to returning to Broadcasting House when the time is right.

But the fundraiser has left him feeling the love from the BBC.

“You feel more connected and part of the BBC family,” said Big Issue vendor Anderson, who also wished to thank members of the All Souls Church near to Broadcasting House for transporting him to and from hospital and offering him food while he recovers.

“It could have been possibly quite dangerous for me to have gone back so it’s really taken the pressure off me from having to do that because I was on the verge of doing that on a number of occasions. 

“I look forward to getting back, I do enjoy it and I didn’t enjoy pneumonia, I’ll tell you that. I’ve been staying in the hostel in the room here but it has been relatively isolating and I’m not used to being in. So I’m looking forward to getting back but I’m very grateful for having the opportunity to wait until such time as I actually feel totally 100%.”

Donations can be made to the GoFundMe campaign here.

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