John Bird, 70 was brought up in an orphanage and served time in a young offenders institution before he was out of his teens. During the turbulent and difficult times of his youth he often slept rough as one of London’s homeless. He was, as he now frankly reflects, very much a part of the problems of society. Gradually he realised that the only way to get out of the destructive circle into which he had grown up was to give himself a hand up rather than wait for others to give him a hand-out.
Settling down in his 20’s he began to hold down regular jobs in factories and eventually as a skilled printer. But he never forgot the hardship and problems of his youth and the ways in which similar deprivation afflicts tens of thousands of others in similar positions on the bottom rungs of society.
Twenty-five years ago this year, using his knowledge of the print industry, his social vision and energy led him to found the now world-famous Big Issue. The weekly magazine achieves its mass circulation through being sold on the streets of the UK and only by vendors who are homeless and vulnerably accommodated. The deal is simple with the proceeds of each copy sold being split equally between the vendor and the publishers. Thus, reflecting John’s own philosophy, the deprived and under-privileged are given a hand-up through earning their money rather than waiting for the hand-out which may do little more than trap them in the homeless poverty from which many crave escape. The Big Issue, or similar magazines, are now published in dozens of countries around the world – always with the same aims of helping those struggling for a break in society.
In transforming himself from being part of the problem of society into being part of the solution, John has become a globally admired social entrepreneur. He is invited to speak at major events around the world. Although strictly non-political, John has been consulted by British Prime Ministers and Cabinet Ministers on how best to lift people out of poverty through harnessing their own energies.
As a newly created peer Lord Bird of Notting Hill sits in the House of Lords.
Photo Credit: Martin Gammon