Inspiration at the Big Issue's 21st birthday party - Spear's Magazine

Inspiration at the Big Issue's 21st birthday party

Joel's journey from the streets to the Commonwealth Games lit up the room

Last night was the 21st birthday party for the Big Issue, a cause close to our hearts at Spear's. (It's one of the charities we're supporting in the 1 Per Cent Campaign.) Held at the grand Nash terrace where the ICA lives, it was about as far from a night on a bench in St James' Park – and as close – as can be.

There was one story in particular I wanted to recall, because it gives the lie to any impression one might have of the homogeneity of the homeless: middle-aged drunks, perhaps, who just can't be productive members of society. I tweeted Joel's story last night:

And what did Joel fetch from behind the stage? His Olympic torch. I wasn't the only one feeling tearful.

There were also speeches from vendors Andre, who now writes for the Big Issue, and Elliott, who described himself as a broken glowstick whom the Big Issue had helped to light up.

Joel had benefited from the Big Issue Foundation's corporate partnership programme, which gives vendors the chance to sell their magazines (which they buy with their own money, importantly, making them micro-entrepreneurs) in the canteens of large companies, gaining skills and possibly training along the way, or – in Joel's case – a job.

The party had a Monopoly theme, with giant glittering dice and locations on the board changed to represent places Big Issue vendors had slept: instead of Mayfair, the steps of St George's on Hanover Square. There were Chance cards reflecting the bad luck or other circumstances which had led to homelessness, and Community Chest cards, which showed how people had made it out of homelessness.

The Monopoly theme was not just a London-centric conceit but was well chosen to illustrate the roll of the dice which can keep you under a roof – or send you out under newspapers.

Many of the people present last night were already supporters of the Big Issue – whether doing the London to Paris bike ride to raise money or as a trustee or a major donor – but the party was broader than a thank-you. It was also a prompt to evangelism: I don't think anyone could fail to be inspired and want to tell the stories we heard. So I have.

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