A FORMER Big Issue vendor who sold the magazine outside a city centre sandwich shop has now become its star employee.
Four months ago Peter Hart, 22, could regularly be found at his pitch outside the newly-opened Social Bite on Rose Street. The cafe and takeaway, owned by Scottish Business Awards organiser Josh Littlejohn, is a socially-conscious enterprise that gives all its profits to charity.
When the staff began giving him free sandwiches at the end of the day, Peter offered to do any odd jobs that needed taken care of in return. And when a full-time position as a kitchen porter opened up, he was thrilled to be offered a chance to officially join the team.
Peter, who now lives in Wester Hailes, told the Evening News: “I can’t stress enough how grateful I am to Josh and to Alice Thompson, the manager of the shop, because I wouldn’t be here without them. The world really would be a better place if there were more people like them – no-one ever gave me a chance before they came along.
“I’ve been in care since I was three and once I turned 16 I broke all ties with the system and moved down to Southampton, where I was working odd jobs and living between a lot of different places, with no real support from anywhere. I ended up going to jail for possession and served 15 months.
“While I was inside I decided to make the best of my time so I got my level one certificate in food hygiene, and also got qualifications in painting and decorating, brick-laying, customer service and business. When I was released I moved back up to Scotland and came to Edinburgh about two years ago, and for most of the time I was basically homeless again, couch-surfing between friends’ places when I could. I was recently reunited with my birth parents and that’s who I’m staying with now.”
Last week Peter presented the shop’s first donation of £1000 to homeless charity Shelter Scotland.
He added: “It felt so good knowing that the money would go towards helping people who are in a similar situation to the one I was in so recently. I think that’s one of the reasons I enjoy this job so much – I get paid a good wage and the work I do helps people here and people on the other side of the world. It really is another incentive to get out of bed in the morning.”
Josh, 26, added: “Peter is one of our most reliable team members, he’s first to arrive in the morning and last to leave at night. One of the best things about it is what it has done for his self-esteem. We’ve all noticed recently how much more comfortable he seems in his own skin. He would once have been a recipient of charity, but now that’s been completely turned on its head and he is the one helping others.”
Director of Shelter Scotland Graeme Brown, who accepted the cheque, said: “We are grateful to Pete and his colleagues for choosing to raise valuable funds for Shelter Scotland. Support and generosity like this enable us to offer vital services to those experiencing homelessness and housing problems.
“Pete’s story shows that with the right help and support homeless people can get back on their feet and help not only themselves but many others. Every penny of the money raised will go towards helping people just like Pete.”
Josh Littlejohn, the driving force behind Social Bite, is probably better known around the Capital as the organiser of the Scottish Business Awards. After hearing about the Nobel Prize-winning work done by Bangladeshi banker Professor Muhammad Yunus, he made social business the major theme of the 2012 awards, inviting anti-poverty campaigner Bob Geldof to speak to the assembled heads of industry. Social business, as defined by Professor Yunus, is a non-loss, non-dividend company. Speaking before the event in February, Josh said: “It is a chance for businesses and entrepreneurs to realise that together they are the most powerful force for social change we have.
Magazine thrilled by Peter’s success
THE Big Issue is a publishing phenomenon that has helped homeless people across Scotland regain control over their lives.
Today delighted bosses at the charity applauded Peter’s case as an excellent example of their self-help ethos.
Hearing of Peter’s new position, a spokesperson from the magazine said: “We’re always delighted to hear a vendor has moved on to secure employment, particularly at Christmas time. Up and down the country Big Issue vendors daily make connections with local businesses – a valuable working skill that should not be underestimated.
“Sadly, opportunities like this are few and far between and the Big Issue is witnessing an increasing number of people taking up the opportunity that selling the magazine provides.”