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‘The Big Issue was his life’ Tributes paid to seller who became staff

The ‘charismatic’ Big Issue vendor Kelvin Willmott, who has died aged 35, became a valued part of The Big Issue team in Bournemouth

A Big Issue seller who went on to work for the company after “falling in love with what The Big Issue stands for” has died suddenly.

Kelvin Willmott sold The Big Issue in Bournemouth for around a decade before stopping in 2016 to focus on learning new skills and volunteering at a homelessness charity Faithworks Wessex and a local food bank

But he was never far from The Big Issue and continued to volunteer at the Bournemouth distribution office before joining as a member of staff in 2019. Kelvin passed away on May 21 from a suspected heart attack at the age of 35.

Simon Chilcott, the head of service development for The Big Issue Foundation, The Big Issue’s sister charity, worked closely with Kelvin for 15 years and told The Big Issue his loss will be felt by staff vendors and the local community in Bournemouth.

“Kelvin really went the extra mile for vendors,” said Simon. “I don’t know if I ever met a prouder Big Issue member of staff – when he first started working at The Big Issue I think the only bits of clothing that weren’t branded were his socks and pants. He loved The Big Issue and what The Big Issue stands for. It was a massive part of his life.

“Anything we wanted to do, he wanted to be part of it and get involved. He was so passionate and he knew what we were doing with The Big Issue was having a positive impact on the people we work with. He wanted to bring his lived experience into that.”

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Kelvin was keen to get involved with The Big Issue during his spell selling the magazine and that drive saw him set up a number of initiatives to help vendors as well as becoming a tireless community champion in Bournemouth.

As a vendor, Kelvin gave talks to students at Bournemouth University to give a glimpse into his experiences of homelessness and selling The Big Issue. He continued to give students his perspective on The Big Issue when he returned to work for the social enterprise as a service broker.

Kelvin also set up a local partnership with the probation service to speak to prison leavers about The Big Issue and spearheaded a team-up with a baby bank in Bournemouth to secure baby products for vendors with young children.

“Charismatic” Kelvin played a big role in organising events for vendors, helping to put on quizzes, Christmas meals and barbecues for sellers in Bournemouth as well.

Kelvin’s community work continued throughout the pandemic as he volunteered at a food bank and a Covid vaccination centre in the last year and he was a familiar face at AFC Bournemouth whom he followed avidly.

His Big Issue colleague Simon said Kelvin had grown from the “young 19-year-old punk kid with a studded leather jacket, bondage trousers and a big mohican” he met around 15 years ago into a great ambassador for The Big Issue.

“Kelvin had such a charismatic presence when selling The Big Issue and it came across when he was a member of staff too,” Simon added. “Selling the magazine gave him stability, an income and a team of staff to support him with whatever he was dealing with.

“Kelvin became a great ambassador for The Big Issue. He had a natural affinity to support and empower those struggling in life and was always on hand to support his Big Issue colleagues.

“He will be sorely missed by his family, friends, colleagues and many of the services in the Bournemouth area.”

Details of Kelvin’s funeral are still to be announced.

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