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Big Issue vendors swap their pitches for the House of Lords

Founder Lord John Bird welcomed 20 sellers to a Westminster reception with Big Issue ambassador Dr Sabrina Cohen-Hatton and Communities Secretary James Brokenshire

House of Lords 2019 reception

The House of Lords returned to business today after the Easter break and opened its iconic doors to Big Issue vendors.

Lord John Bird invited 20 vendors from across the country to the reception where they were greeted by newly-appointed Big Issue ambassador and cover star Dr Sabrina Cohen-Hatton and Communities Secretary James Brokenshire.

The Big Issue founder, who was made a cross-bench peer in the Lords in October 2015, made an impassioned speech to the vendors, covering his own upbringing with poverty when he worked in the café at parliament when he was on the run from the police.

He also discussed his own experiences of homelessness and memories of vendors both present and past since he set up The Big Issue back in 1991.

“Until we address the reasons of homelessness we will never address the demons of homelessness,” said Lord Bird.

Sabrina Cohen-Hatton John Bird
Sabrina-Cohen-Hatton-John-Bird
Sabrina Cohen-Hatton (left) shared her story of selling the magazine, speaking alongside Lord John Bird

Dr Cohen-Hatton, who earlier this month was a cover star of the magazine she sold as a teenager before becoming a successful academic and one of the nation’s most senior firefighters, also spoke about the importance of social mobility.

And Brokenshire added: “It is fantastic what The Big Issue has done but equally what it continues to do in inspiring so many of us, challenging us in equal measure too to ensure that everyone has a place to call home.

“To have so many ambassadors here today is so, so special. I salute everything that you do as the magazine, the Foundation and, above all, everyone who is a vendor, The Big Issue’s finest ambassadors. What you have all done over so many years has given homeless people a voice and changed countless lives.”

The Conservative minister also vowed to share The Big Issue’s focus on prevention in tackling homelessness from Westminster.

“This is the defining social justice issue of our time – and it is a personal priority for me,” he said.

“One person sleeping rough on the streets is one too many. This year is about how we prevent people becoming homeless in the first place.”

The event proved to be a big success with vendors – who also heard from Stephen Robertson, the chief executive of Big Issue Foundation, our charitable arm.

Peter, who sells The Big Issue at Elephant and Castle, said: “I’ve had an amazing day at the House of Lords. It’s new, I’ve never done it before but I’ve really enjoyed it. I got to see John Bird, I had a little chat with him.

“I’ve heard some good things from Sabrina – her story of building up was near enough the same as mine. I got married, I have a son and I’ve done well from The Big Issue. I’m very happy from it.”

The event was the second time that Lord Bird has put on a reception for vendors in parliament. In 2017, he invited Brokenshire’s predecessor Sajid Javid and actor Andrea Riseborough to meet vendors in the surroundings that are usually reserved for politicians.

This time around, the House of Lords reception gave Big Issue vendors a rare sneak peek at the corridors of power one again.

https://twitter.com/NaziaTaiPawb/status/1120703118025601024

Vendor Jim said: “This has been an eye opener for me. I haven’t left Norwich for 30 years and to be at the House of Lords is a dream come true.”

Bristol seller Josh added: “I have enjoyed today. It was nice to see some new faces, some old. I enjoyed the food too.”

Image: Orlando Gili

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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