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London vendor shares his story in tube station exhibition

Paul Millwall is one of several locals who have been featured for their sense of belonging to the Oval area

Paul Millwall vendor Odyssey Stories

A Big Issue vendor is telling his story through a community project that showcases local stories of identity and belonging inside tube stations.

Paul Millwall sells the Big Issue outside Oval Station and was asked by the team behind Odyssey Stories to take part in the project pilot that has created an exhibition of illustrated posters inside the tube stop.

The posters are designed to spark commuters’ curiosity about the lives of the people they live and work alongside.

The 43-year-old vendor was put in care when he was six weeks old and, after having a difficult time at school, left at 16 and joined the fairground.

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“I’ve been on the streets and in and out of prison for many years,” he said. “I’ve married twice and have children, but I haven’t seen my family for years. I’ve just been coping on my own.

“Back in 1992, a filmmaker made a film about me called ‘Praying for Paul’. I was out of control back then. He filmed me living on the streets. I’m still in touch with him now.

“It was a woman called Donna, from Penge, who gave me a bed for the night. I ended up staying with her for 17 weeks. She was so kind – it came out of the blue. She helped me get off the streets.”

Millwall said he has bipolar disorder, for which he takes medication and sees a mentor, adding that The Big Issue has “kept [him] sane”.

He added: “All I want is a little job and a place to sleep. It’s hard to get work with a criminal record, but once I have permanent accommodation I can apply for an agency job as a dustman. There’s a local who used to be an MP, and he’s said that he’ll give me a reference when I need it. I should have a place in Lambeth soon.

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“I used to sleep in the churchyard across from the station. There were eight of us sleeping there. We stuck together and we looked out for each other – no one else will. It’s horrible, nasty, living on the streets.

The vendor has been selling The Big Issue outside Oval Station since September last year. Some customers bring him food and tea.

“I was born and bred round here, in a house nearby,” he said. “Nowhere is perfect, but there’s a happy vibe here.”

The project, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, is being launched in conjunction with the BBC Crossing Divides On the Move season of programming.

The vendor said: “For many years I couldn’t talk about the things that have happened to me, but I want to share my story now, and help young kids. I’ve come full circle, but I’m in a different place now. The local people round here have given me a chance and I’m not giving up. I don’t want to be the old Paul anymore, I want to be the Paul I am now.”

Odyssey Stories has been working in Oval over the past year to identify the most interesting local stories. The storytellers range in age from 19 to 102 but all share a sense of belonging to the area.

Alex Glennie, co-director of the project, said it is “helping transport hubs become spaces that connect people as well as places”.

Oval Tube is is known for being the first London tube station to set up a ‘thought of the day’ board.

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