The Big London Night Walk: familiar streets, hidden stories

Big Issue readers in London will have the chance to see their city in a whole new light, side-by-side with their local vendors next month.

The Big London Night Walk returns on 11 March to raise money for The Big Issue Foundation, and increase awareness of the dangers faced by rough sleepers in the UK capital.

But those interested in taking part will need to hurry – registration for the event closes on Monday, 29 February.

Stephen Robertson, CEO of The Big Issue Foundation, says the event is crucial to raising awareness of the realities of homelessness and rough sleeping in the UK capital.

“For many people who are new to the streets, it’s too scary and too cold to risk bedding down at night, so you walk at night and sleep during the day in places where it’s warmer and safer. This means statistics about dramatic increases in rough sleeping are still significantly underquoted,” he said.

“This is a fun and sociable event but it is also a sign of unity for those facing extreme exclusion.”

So far, more than 300 people have signed up to join homeless and formerly homeless Big Issue vendors in the annual 12-mile trek around central London. Participants will get to hear vendors’ insights and experiences along the way, offering a different perspective to life in the city.

The event will start and end at St John’s Church in Waterloo, home to one of The Big Issue’s distribution points. It runs from 10pm to 2am or 5am – depending on how long it takes to complete the route.

Participants will take in plenty of well-known city landmarks, from trendy Shoreditch to the iconic Big Ben. But they will also be introduced to less familiar locations connected with the Foundation’s work, and places of personal significance to Big Issue vendors.

Homelessness in London has increased by 22% over the past five years. An estimated 2,775 people reported slept rough in the city from April to June 2015, according to homeless charity Crisis.

Sleeping rough is a situation that many current and former street paper vendors in London have found themselves in at some point.

“It’s actually a survival thing for someone on the street,” said Big Issue vendor-turned-author  James Bowen, whose best-selling A Street Cat Named Bob series recounts his experiences of being homeless in London.

A true Big Issue success story, Bowen (accompanied by Bob) is one of several former vendors to return to the Night Walk this year to share their experiences. Current vendors are also taking part in the walk and manning the route’s various pit stops, where they will offer up warm food, drinks and anecdotes.

“Our vendors really enjoy the whole thing because seeing 300 people on the streets wearing bright red Big Issue jackets is such a great show of unity and community activism,” added Stephen.

“They are always happy to share their stories to give the event some context. The walk is a physical journey through the night but also signifies a proper journey for our vendors in terms of moving their lives forward.”

The Big Issue Foundation hopes to improve on the success of last year’s event, which saw 280 people take part, and raised £55,000 for the organisation. All money raised will go towards helping vendors access the services they need to escape homelessness for good.

“It’s channelled back into supporting more vendors,” Stephen explained. “Proceeds will go towards funding our work to connect vendors with support services that will help them deal with the issues that brought them to us in the first place, or have arisen as a result of their experiences of homelessness.”

Registration for the 2016 Big London Night Walk closes on Monday, 29 February. The fundraising target per individual is just £200, with a registration fee of £25, or £100 for a group of five.

To find out how you can take part, register at The Big Issue Foundation website before Monday, 29 February.