By Ishmael Carboo, Trustee Hats Off for Bootsie.
After months of organising and looking for sponsorship, the evening of March 11th had finally arrived. Team Hats Off for Bootsie and Combat Veteran Players joined hundreds of other men, women, children and a few pets for the Big Issue London Night Walk. Each had their own reasons for participating. Ours was to help men and women on the capital’s streets struggling to keep body and soul together, especially those who were military veterans.
The event was organised by the Big Issue Foundation. They wanted to raise awareness of London’s homeless and destitute, and an understanding of how the Big Issue provides a life-line of opportunity to earn a modest living. The walk was also designed to raise much needed cash to fund the crisis intervention the Foundation provides.
We had signed up to a 20 km route starting and finishing at St John’s Church, Waterloo. On arrival, inspirational choirs and speeches raised our spirits, whilst complimentary hot drinks raised our temperatures. The night promised to remain fresh but without wind or rain – conditions ideal for walking and talking. So when we all set off at approximately 2200 hrs, we were eagerly looking forward to the adventure ahead.
Our first stop was Beaconsfield Arts Centre, where we were treated to more refreshments and a brief play about social housing by On the Button Theatre Company. We then continued our walk into the West End and spent some time at the Central London Samaritans. There we enjoyed snacks and drinks while we found out more about how The Samaritans and The Big Issue Foundation were working together to support the Big Issue vendors.
The pattern was now obvious. Each time we walked a few km and stopped for a mini break, we would be plied with informative entertainment or a presentation, as well an array of food and drink by a host of efficient and delightfully encouraging volunteers.
After leaving the Samaritans, we headed through the empty streets of the City’s financial district and stopped at St James’s Church, Islington. I say stopped. As most of our team wanted to keep going, a few had to abandon the sit down with coffee they had been looking forward to. You had to laugh!
Our last port of call was Shoreditch Town Hall where we were entertained by The Roundhouse Poetry Collective and again offered light refreshments. Our journey back through the City brought home to us how unforgiving an environment it was for rough sleepers. We saw a young teenager standing in a busy road, wanting to commit suicide. Two of our team, Rachel and Robin, managed to talk him out of it.
We arrived back at St John’s Church Waterloo at around 0300 hrs and were greeted by Danish Pastries and coffee. We rested our weary legs and reflected on the privilege of participating in a rewarding experience through which our team had raised £1,300 for the Big Issue Foundation. But where was Androcles?
The Maltese Pavarotti, as he was known in the Forces, had insisted on going at his own pace as he was carrying a foot injury and leaning on a four-wheeled walking aid. Later that day, Shaun got word to us that Androcles had not only completed the walk but had given an impromptu rendition of Italian songs at one of the stop-overs. I wonder how many of his appreciative audience realised that several years ago he himself had been homeless and in need of crisis intervention.