London Walking Tours    with Joanna Moncrieff

Doing my (little) bit to help the homeless

I have a confession to make. Before I started buying the Big Issue from the same person every week I was quite ignorant about homeless people. Shamefully I had never considered that there were many different reasons why people had ended up without a home because I had never stopped to ask.

I can’t recall exactly when I started buying the magazine regularly but I think it was around March last year when I first came across Donny who stood at the junction of Oxford Street and Great Portland Street. 

Over the course of the year in my brief stops to chat with him on my way to my other job (part-time in a West End solicitors) I got to know him a bit. I never asked about his circumstances but got to know his likes and dislikes. He liked to talk and sometimes it was difficult to get away! 

Like me Donny is interested in London’s history and had now and again attended free history talks. Sometime last year I gave him a list of upcoming free talks and walks and in return he offered to give my business cards out to people when circumstances arose. From asking my London obsessive friends on Facebook to stop and talk to him I discovered we had a mutual friend – my friend Phil who knew Donny when he used to sell at Green Park. It’s a small world.

Back in February when the weather was quite cold he told me that another of his customers had promised him an old coat but kept forgetting to bring it in. I wanted to help and after getting no results from friends I did a trawl of my local charity shops and eventually found a down filled jacket size extra large for £2 (reduced from £3 when I told them why I was buying it). Down filled coats aren’t ideal when you’re out in all weathers but it was the only thing I could find that wasn’t horrendously overpriced. 

So now I’m wondering how he’s faring and whether any of the money that I’ve donated to the Big Issue has reached him. I saw a comment from one of the other sellers that as well as the income he was missing the social interaction and I imagine that is true of Donny as he was always so cheerful and positive. I’m sure I’m not his only customer who misses chatting to him.

Unlike many of my tour guiding colleagues I do have money coming in from the office job (I’m now working from home) so I’ve been able to make a donation to the Big Issue. The cost of a 3 month subscription (£32.50) is only a couple of days’ travel costs that I’m not currently spending.  Here’s the link if anyone would like to do the same https://www.bigissue.com/

Update 1: On 7th April 2020 I had a call from an unknown number – turned out to be Donny. He called to let me know he was OK. He suffers from Type 2 diabetes and has been put up in an hotel for the next 3 months. I was so relieved to hear he was OK and took the time to call me and other customers whose contact details he had.

Update 2: After the phone call mentioned above I tweeted this news. This was picked up by a Big Issue journalist and this article followed a few days later https://www.bigissue.com/community-partnerships/inside-a-hotel-housing-rough-sleepers-during-covid-19-with-vendor-donny/