John Bird, Baron Bird

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The Lord Bird

Baron Bird.jpg
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
Assumed office
30 October 2015
Life Peerage
Personal details
John Anthony Bird

(1946-01-30) 30 January 1946 (age 72)
Notting Hill, London, England
EducationChelsea School of Art
Known forThe Big Issue

John Anthony Bird, Baron Bird, MBE (born 30 January 1946) is a British social entrepreneur and life peer. He is best known as the founder of The Big Issue, a magazine that is edited by professional journalists and sold by street vendors who are homeless or vulnerably housed. He serves as a Crossbencher in the House of Lords.

Early life[edit]

Bird was born in a Notting Hill slum to a poor London Irish family. He became homeless at the age of five, resided in an orphanage between the ages of seven and ten, and was excluded from school.[1] He became a butcher's boy after leaving the orphanage, but supplemented his income by stealing.[2] Between work, he spent several spells in prison during his teens and twenties where he learnt to read, write and the basics of printing.[1]

Bird attended Chelsea School of Art, but was homeless again by 1967, this time sleeping rough in Edinburgh while being sought by the police for petty offences.[3] In the early 1970s, he started to build upon his prison education and set up a small-scale printing and publishing business in London.[2]

For two weeks in 1970, he worked in the Houses of Parliament washing dishes, a venue he would later return to as a life peer.[4]

The Big Issue and work with the homeless[edit]

In September 1991, Bird launched The Big Issue with Gordon Roddick, co-founder of The Body Shop. In November 1995, he launched The Big Issue Foundation to further support vendors of The Big Issue.[5] He is currently on the board of directors for The Big Issue Group, which incorporates The Big Issue, Big Issue Invest and The Big Issue Foundation.

The Big Issue magazine started as a London venture, but expanded with specific editions and services to other British cities, and then to other countries. Bird is a founder of the International Network of Street Papers, which now incorporates over 100 street papers, published in 34 countries, in 24 languages.

In 2001, with The Big Issue Group chairman, Nigel Kershaw OBE, Bird founded Big Issue Invest[6], a provider of finance for businesses, charities and NGOs with the aim of creating social change. It is the social investment arm of The Big Issue Group, and initially only dealt in loan finance. In 2009, Big Issue Invest launched a social investment fund, and has since invested more than £30 million in hundreds of social enterprises making a positive impact in communities across the UK.

Bird was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for "services to homeless people" in the 1995 Birthday Honours;[7] and, in 2006, he received the Beacon Fellowship Prize for his originality in raising awareness of homelessness and his support of homeless communities worldwide.[8] In 2015, he became a senior fellow of Ashoka and in 2017, he became a Social Enterprise UK fellow.[9]

Political work[edit]

Bird was a member of the Workers Revolutionary Party in the 1970s.[10]

In March 2007, Bird announced his intention to stand for election to the post of Mayor of London as an independent candidate.[11] In May 2007, he unveiled his election manifesto for the 2008 poll,[12] but in October of that year, Bird announced that he had decided not to stand and was instead going to launch a movement "to try and do what the CND did over the bomb, but over social injustice".[13] In November 2016, Bird revealed that he had also been asked to stand as the Conservative Party candidate in 2008 - in place of future Mayor and current Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson - but turned the offer down.

Bird was also a Social Enterprise Ambassador. The scheme was run by Social Enterprise Coalition to promote awareness of social enterprise, a business model used to address a social or environmental needs. The programme was supported by the Office of the Third Sector, part of the UK Government Cabinet Office, and it ran between 2007 and 2010.[14][15]

Bird revealed in 2010 that "my secret is that I'm really a working class Tory. I'd love to be a liberal because they're the nice people, but it's really hard work. I can't swallow their gullibility. I know this may destroy my reputation among middle-class liberals, but wearing the corsetry of liberalism means that every now and then you have to take it off."[16] He has since stated that he has "been hurt by the left, and helped by the left. Just like I've been helped by the right and hurt by the right."

Bird was nominated for life peerage by the House of Lords Appointments Commission in October 2015 to become a non-party-political "people's peer".[17] On 30 October, he was created Baron Bird, of Notting Hill in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, sitting as a Crossbencher.[18] In his maiden speech he stated:

"Someone said to me, 'How did you get into the House of Lords?' and I said by lying, cheating and stealing."[19]

Bird's work is strictly non-partisan and focuses on dismantling the root causes of poverty in the UK with an emphasis on education, early intervention and prevention. He also speaks on social enterprise, social mobility, literacy and the Arts.

He is a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Poverty, Social Enterprise, Libraries and Water and leads debates on poverty, literacy and social business. Bird is also a member of the Lord Speaker's Advisory Panel on Works of Art.[20]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Bird was awarded an honorary doctorate of business from Plymouth University in 2013,[21] an honorary doctorate of letters from Oxford Brookes University in 2005. He is also an honorary fellow of Liverpool John Moores University and Goldsmiths, University of London.


  1. ^ a b Lakhani, Nina (23 October 2011). "Big Issue doesn't stand out in a crowd, admits founder". The Independent. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
  2. ^ a b McGrath, Nick (23 September 2013). "John Bird: 'At five I sold wooden boxes for firewood'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
  3. ^ Greenstreet, Rosanna (27 August 1995). "How we met; John Bird and Gordon Roddick". The Independent. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
  4. ^ ""It's a confederacy of amateurs" – John Bird opens up the House of Lords in BBC documentary". Radio Times. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  5. ^ The Big Issue History Archived 1 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine.. (7 September 2011). Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  6. ^ "About Big Issue Invest". Big Issue Invest.
  7. ^ "No. 54066". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 June 1995. p. 15.
  8. ^ 2005/6 Beacon Prize Winners. Retrieved 3 February 2012.
  9. ^ "John Bird". Ashoka.
  10. ^ The big thing about the Big Issue. The Guardian, published May 1994
  11. ^ "Big Issue owner to run for mayor". BBC News. 22 March 2007. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  12. ^ "Big Issue owner unveils manifesto". BBC News. 1 May 2007. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  13. ^ "Big Issue founder targets poverty". BBC News. 18 October 2007. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  14. ^ David Ainsworth (15 September 2010). "Saying goodbye to the social enterprise ambassadors".
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Express Yourself: Celebrities reveal their guilty pleasures". Daily Express. 25 October 2010. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  17. ^ "Big Issue founder John Bird appointed to House of Lords". BBC News. 13 October 2015. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
  18. ^ "No. 61400". The London Gazette. 5 November 2015. p. 21710.
  19. ^ Smith, Mikey (26 February 2016). "New peer thanks his probation officer in hilarious maiden speech". Daily Mirror.
  20. ^ "Lord Speaker's Advisory Panel on Works of Art".
  21. ^ John Bird MBE – Doctorate of Business, Plymouth University

External links[edit]