London Walk …

Sometimes it’s easy to walk by because we know we can’t change someone’s whole life in a single afternoon. But what we fail to realise it that simple kindness can go a long way toward encouraging someone who is stuck in a desolate place

Mike Yankoski

In just shy of a couple of months from now, I will be taking my first steps on a late-night 10km walk around central London. The walk is in support of The Big Issue Foundation, a cause that a lot of you know is close to my heart. Because of Covid restrictions that walk was not held for the past two years so it's really pleasing it's back and that I can again participate in this fundraising initiative.

Many will know, but just in case you don’t, the Foundation aims to help those homeless or at risk of homelessness to get back on their own feet. It offers them a hand-up, not a handout, by setting them up as vendors of the Big Issue magazine. The vendors buy the magazines and then sell them in the street to passers-by. In effect, BI vendors are running their own business. Buying a product ‘wholesale’ at the volumes they think they can sell. Then offering that product to the consumer. It’s an excellent product too.

We can all become a little holier than thou about why someone became homeless in the first place. The reasons are various and many. Why it happened is less important to me than the fact the individual now wants to get their life back on an even keel. If I, in some small way, can help in that I am pleased so to do.

But why do I support the homeless cause over many other worthy causes? Well, for those not familiar with the story (and I know many of you are), it dates from my first working day in London in mid-July 1974

My job was as an Assistant Scientific Officer in a Government Forensic Laboratory, in Cornwall House, on the south side of Waterloo Bridge. My journey on that first morning started with a walk from the Hostel in which I then lived to Bayswater tube station. Then, Circle Line tube to Embankment and another walk to Cornwall House.

Leaving Embankment station on that first journey to work, I did not yet know my best route to the Lab. I, therefore, turned left to walk through Victoria Embankment Gardens with the intent of crossing to the south of the Thames via Waterloo Bridge.

The end of the Gardens borders the back of the Savoy Hotel. It was there I saw ahead of me three recumbent figures. Once called ‘gentlemen of the road’, the figures lay peacefully asleep on the grass in their careworn ‘daywear’ of jackets and trousers. There was no need for an extra covering, given the season’s warmth.

I drew nearer, and the sun, sitting just over the OXO tower, caught the morning dew that covered the slumbers. A gossamer blanket bejewelled with gold and silver light. Although out of context, these lines from Yeats came to mind.

“But, I being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

And softly, I did tread as I passed those gentlemen.

On that first working day, with my mind full of the opportunity ahead, my thoughts turned to what dreams had these men once had. Over the years, such thoughts occasionally return to me, especially when I do the London Walk supporting The Big Issue.

So how about helping me help today’s homeless by donating to my tramping of the streets of London?

The route starts and finishes near St Martins in the Fields church in Trafalgar Square. It will then take us along the Strand into the City of London. Then past St Paul’s Cathedral and into the East End before our return through Farringdon by Smithfield Market. Then along Holborn to Covent Garden and back into Trafalgar Square

The walk should take me between two and a half to three hours, but it’s not a race. This is all about helping a worthy cause and enjoying the atmosphere of fun created as people of all types and ages come together to take part.

Will you help? If you can, then here is where to donate.

Also, please buy the Big Issue if you come across a Vendor. Don’t just give them some money. Please take the magazine. Remember this is a hand-up, not a handout, so show the Vendor the respect they deserve.

Sadly, some people even take advantage of the less advantaged, so make sure you buy from an authorised vendor. They wear bright red jackets, and all have ID cards. They take no offence if you choose to call the Big Issue Foundation to check before buying. And, unlike the con artists, a legitimate vendor will always sell you their last copy. Also, exchange a word or two with them. They may appear dishevelled, but everyone I’ve met is an engaging character and never grumpy or miserable despite their life challenges.

Thanks, and oh if anyone wishes to join me on the walk, just get in touch.

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In the Renaissance period of my post-career life …

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