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The Big Issue is 20 Years!

Ahead of the magazine's anniversary and their 'Big Night Walk', we talk to former vendor Joel Hodgson who's turned his life around and landed himself a job with a law firm

The Big Issue is not a conventional charity. It provides a platform for homeless and jobless people to make a living. Vendors buy the big and then sell it or a profit, so in no way is this magazine a handout. These vendors have to manage the complexities of outgoings and sales panache whilst also having to tackle issues of accommodation and personal security. The Big Issue has often been praised by well-known and powerful patrons, most recently it was guest edited by UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the Big Issue Foundation is continuing its annual tradition of organising 'Big Night Walk', a 25km nocturnal walk across London to raise awareness of the plight of the homeless. The walk is on 30 September and promises to enlighten attendees of the personal stories of Big Issue vendors, as well as showing participants a London they have never seen. Earlier this month, Dazed Digital spoke to Joel Hodgson about his experiences selling the Big Issue, living on the streets and how the foundation has helped him secure employment in a reputable international law firm.

Dazed Digital: Tell us a little bit about your background...
Joel Hodgson: I was born in Belize and lived there until I was four. My two sisters and I were then adopted by a British couple that were based in Belize, as my adopted father was in the Navy. We then lived in Scotland until I was 10, when my adopted father died of pancreatic cancer. I then moved to Portsmouth with my family where I went to college, my adopted mum then moved back to Belize so I moved out.

I found it quite hard to get work so I moved to Scotland to save some money so I could move to London. I met my partner in Scotland and then moved down to Croydon with her. One day I went to the shops and my house was broken into and my girlfriend was assaulted, and we were advised by the police to move out as it wasn’t safe. This is when we first became homeless.

DD: Where did you go?
Joel Hodgson: We went to the Westminster area as we were told of some hostels that were around there. As women are seen as more vulnerable than men there was a hostel for my partner but no space for me, so we slept rough for about a month until we saved up enough money for a deposit on a flat.

DD: What did you do during the day?
Joel Hodgson:We went to this place called the Cardinal Basil Hume centre run by a homeless charity called the passage. There I met an Italian guy called Daniel who was selling the Big Issue. My spot was around the Home Office, and I found people are a lot more willing to help you if you show you’re willing to help yourself. That’s where I sold the Big Issue for two years.

DD: How did the Big Issue help you get a job
Joel Hodgson: The Big Issue ran a corporate placement with Freshfields [law firm], where I’d go and sell my magazine in the canteen. I’d then get training in different areas. I worked in HR, IT and the gym because I’m quite a sporty person. After a 10 week placement I got offered a permanent position in the billing department.

More information on the 'Big Night Walk', staged on September 30, 2011, can be found HERE