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The Big Issue celebrates 25 years of a publishing revolution

The Big Issue celebrated 25 years on the UK’s streets this week, with a retrospective exhibition in London, a star-studded film – and, of course, a bumper special edition of the magazine.

Friends of The Big Issue – including many vendors and staff from throughout the magazine’s history, and a few well-known faces – got together in London’s Proud Camden gallery on 19 October to mark the occasion.

John Bird addresses The Big Issue 25th birthday party. Photo: Laura Kelly

In an impassioned speech, the magazine’s founder John Bird – recently ennobled to sit in Parliament as Lord Bird of Notting Hill – reflected on the early days of the pioneering street paper.

He said The Big Issue had changed how people related to those experiencing homelessness – no longer were they looking down on them.

“When you talk to a vendor, you’re talking to an equal,” he added.

Lord Bird also paid tribute to the street paper network, which has spread to 35 countries since 1991, and now works together through INSP.

“We went wherever the Bastille of poverty, through homelessness, was manifest,” he said.

Supporters enjoy The Big Issue's exhibition. Photo: Laura Kelly

The impact of the Big Issue was most clearly on show when several former and current vendors took to the stage.

Ahead of the release of A Street Cat Named Bob, the movie that tells his story, James Bowen talked about how The Big Issue and Bob have changed his life.

“I live in the house that Bob bought me,” he said. “I owe so much to The Big Issue.”

Bob gets some practise in the editor's chair. Photo: Adrian Lobb/Twitter

The movie-star cat put in an appearance later in the evening, posing for photos on his traditional perch on James’ shoulders.

Big Issue editor Paul McNamee announced that the ginger moggy is set to be the first ever feline guest editor of a national UK magazine when he takes the magazine’s reigns in his paws this November.

Sam, who sells The Big Issue in Covent Garden and trained many of the guest vendors for #VendorWeek, also spoke movingly about her battle with drugs and how becoming a vendor turned her life around.

“I was begging, addicted to drugs and pregnant. I’ve now been off drugs for 12 years,” she said.

The evening also saw the premiere of The Big Issue: Celebrating 25 Years of a Publishing Revolution. The short film features many of the magazine’s high profile fans, including Julie Walters, Michael Palin, Mark Hamill, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Chvrches singer Lauren Mayberry.

Former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston’s relationship with the magazine goes back to 1996, when he first appeared on the cover after filming Our Friends In The North. “I celebrate your existence. And I’m proud to be associated with you,” he said.

INSP ambassador Jon Snow provided a stark reminder of why street papers remain relevant more than two decades on. “The homeless crisis is on a scale not seen since the end of the Second World War,” he warned.

But the film ends with a call to action. “Let’s keep fighting the fight,” added Spice Girl and street paper fan Melanie C.

The birthday edition of the Big Issue is on sale until 23 October. The exhibition at Proud Camden runs until 30 October. Watch The Big Issue: Celebrating 25 Years of a Publishing Revolution below.

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