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Ex-Big Issue vendor launches powerful Christmas single to help homeless people

Vernon Burgess shot to fame in the documentary SKINT showing life in poverty in Birmingham. Now he’s voiced a new Christmas single to raise money for homelessness charities

Former Big Issue vendor Vernon Burgess

Vernon Burgess used to sell the Big Issue magazine in Birmingham and became a familiar face in the city due to BBC's SKINT documentary. Image: Supplied

A former Big Issue vendor who shot to fame in BBC documentary SKINT has voiced a new Christmas charity single to raise cash for homeless charities.

Vernon Burgess’ spell on SKINT made him a famous face in Birmingham as he showed an honest, eye-opening insight into homelessness and poverty in the second city.

Now 58, the former Big Issue seller has teamed up with producer No Abode for Vernon’s Song – with Burgess explaining how homelessness comes from circumstance, not choice, and delivering a powerful call for compassion at Christmas.

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Burgess said: “I was busking in Moseley when I met No Abode. He said I had a bit of talent and asked me if I would like to do a song.

“Everyone still knows me from SKINT and people still watch it on their phones and recognise me. I’ve been able to get through life easier because of it. I’m not a millionaire or anything like that but it has changed my life. 

“A Christmas number one would be something – the more people support this song, the more the homeless are going to get helped.”

The song, which is accompanied by a poignant animation, sees Burgess recall the impact homelessness had on his relationships and how the day-to-day struggles impacted on his health.

Burgess, who spent six years in the cadets and army reserves, is no longer homeless and now lives in a flat in Dudley. He also rarely sells the Big Issue but still has his red tabard in case he needs to work again.

But life on the streets has taken its toll on his mental health but has seen him outlive many of the people he came to know while rough sleeping.

Burgess said: “I lost a lot of friends who were homeless. I sold the Big Issue for years, I lived on the street for years on and off, but all my friends have died.

“I still live with it all and I struggle daily to get through.

“It’s real lives at stake with homelessness. People don’t realise – unless you’ve been in that situation yourself – they’re victims obviously and it’s really vicious out there.”

No Abode and Burgess joined forces following a chance encounter while leaving the pub after the producer recognised the SKINT star’s voice.

“This isn’t your average Christmas song, yes it’s sad and hard hitting but it’s necessary,” said No Abode.

“It’s pretty unique, I don’t think there’s anything like this out there and it has its place. Christmas is a two-sided coin, if you’re financially stable it can be amazing, if you’re struggling it can be a very dark time indeed.

“When you walk the streets you can see it for yourself, poverty, homelessness, everywhere. It’s important to remember those less fortunate, give a little, at least acknowledge what’s going on around us because the sobering reality is it could happen to anyone.”

Vernon’s Song will be released on 15 December with all proceeds going to homelessness charities Crisis and Shelter. The song will be available to buy on Amazon Music.

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