Paul McNamee: Every story matters

You may well know details of your vendor’s life. You understand. Tell others. Don’t be shy about it

Last week Paul Kelly was buried. Paul was our friend and colleague who was brutally killed on June 15. A man has been charged with his murder.

Paul was buried in a quiet graveyard just south of Glasgow.

It was brief and simple and still, conducted at graveside, with no church or temple service beforehand. The sun shone.

The grave is on a hill looking to the Campsie Fells on one side and down into Glasgow on the other. It’s a family plot and following his father’s death Paul spoke about the place, a lovely wee place, he told me. He said he hoped to be there too some day, beside his parents. Just not so soon.

Paul’s family and friends were all gathered there last week, sad, but comforting each other and working together to find peace.

Paul sold The Big Issue for many years, both in Glasgow city centre and in East Kilbride. He made his presence felt. He was a vital pulse of the local community in both places. He was part of The Big Issue and The Big Issue became part of him.

Frequently people who sell The Big Issue, or people who are rough sleeping and, those who inhabit the streets, are not seen as individuals. They are a homogeneous group. The needy, the poor, the unkempt beards and weather-beaten faces, the unfortunates in need.


The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.

They are not individuals with the same internalised thoughts as you and me, the same desire to say things about the world they are in.

Paul’s funeral illustrated two things. The first is that of course each person has their own story to tell and share. That their way of printing themselves on the world is different to anybody else’s. And how the world pushes back impacts on the situation they find themselves in.

For all of us, lives are messy and tricky and at times, if we’re lucky, glorious

This is not a great revelation, but it’s always worth restating. Every week we open and close The Big Issue magazine with a vendor so that they and their life are the key focus of what we do and what you see. That which would otherwise be a broadstroke story is humanised.

The other thing Paul’s funeral showed is that in each person’s story there are normally family and friends. Nobody arrives on a spaceship from Mars.

When people come to The Big Issue there has been a disruption somewhere along the line. And that may mean estrangement from family. The Big Issue is a means to rebuild things. That could take time for any number of reasons. It could be the vendor is not ready in themselves to let the family or old ties back in.

Still, in a lot of cases, that old network exists. The people there are keen to do what they can, and that may involve waiting. But they are there and there is love.

We must never forget this. Nobody lives a clean and linear life. For all of us, lives are messy and tricky and at times, if we’re lucky, glorious.

You are reading this and you may well know details of your vendor’s life. You understand. Tell others. Don’t be shy about it.

Things will not get better through platitudes and demands from the top to be optimistic. They’ll get better when we genuinely care for those at the bottom, and allow their stories to be told and invest in their lives, allowing them to grow.

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue