John Bird, Baron Bird

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Bird at the launch of a Big Society initiative at 10 Downing Street

John Anthony Bird, Baron Bird[1] MBE (born 30 January 1946) is a British social entrepreneur. He is best known as the founder of The Big Issue, a magazine that is edited by professional journalists and sold by street vendors affected by homelessness.

Early life[edit]

Bird was born in Notting Hill, London 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.[2] He became a butcher's boy after leaving the orphanage, but supplemented his income by stealing.[3] He spent several spells in prison during his teens and twenties where he learnt reading, writing and the basics of printing.[2]

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.[4] In the early 1970s he started to build upon his limited prison education and set up a small-scale printing and publishing business in London.[3]

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 aid the homeless.[5] He is currently on the Board of Directors for the company and the Board of Trustees for the foundation.[6] The Big Issue magazine started as a local London venture, but expanded with specific editions and services to other British cities, and then to other countries.

In 2001, with Big Issue Chairman Nigel Kershaw, Bird helped found The Big Issue Invest, a provider of finance for businesses with the aim of creating social change. Initially only dealing in loan finance, in 2009 The Big Issue Invest launched a social investment fund.

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 energy and originality in raising awareness of homelessness and his support of homeless communities worldwide.[8]

Political aspirations[edit]

A member of the Workers Revolutionary Party in the 1970s,[9] in March 2007, Bird announced his intention to stand for election to the post of Mayor of London as an independent candidate.[10] In May 2007 he unveiled his election manifesto for the 2008 poll.[11]

In October 2007, Bird announced that he had decided not to stand for election, and was instead going to launch a movement that was "going to try and do what the CND did over the bomb, but over social injustice".[12]

In December 2007, Bird agreed with Westminster Council who declared that they were opposed to the presence of soup kitchens on the streets of London. He said:

We have to stop supplying people with the means of being emergency refugees on the streets... no one has ever got off the streets simply because they've been fed a good bowl of soup.[13]

In 2010, Bird helped to launch the writers' website[citation needed]

In the early 21st century,[tone][clarification needed] Bird became a Social Enterprise Ambassador.[citation needed] Social enterprises use a business to address a social or environmental need. The Social Enterprise Ambassadors programme is led by the Social Enterprise Coalition and is supported by the Office of the Third Sector, part of the UK government's Cabinet Office.[citation needed]

Bird revealed in 2010 "My guilty secret is that I’m really a working class Tory. There, I’ve said it. 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 and I think their ideas are stupid. I’d love to be someone who wanders around in a kind of Utopian paradise seeing only the good in everybody but I just can’t. I support capital punishment for a start. I know this will destroy my reputation among middle-class liberals but I’m 64 now and I should be able to breathe a bit. Wearing the corsetry of liberalism means that every now and then you have to take it off."[14]

Bird was nominated for life peerage by the House of Lords Appointments Commission in October 2015 to become a non-party-political peer.[15] On 30 October, he was created Baron Bird, of Notting Hill in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.[1]

Honorary Doctorate[edit]

John Bird was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Business from Plymouth University in 2013.[16]


  1. ^ a b The London Gazette: no. 61400. p. 21710. 5 November 2015.
  2. ^ a b Lakhani, Nina (23 October 2011). "Big Issue doesn't stand out in a crowd, admits founder". The Independent. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  3. ^ a b McGrath, Nick (23 September 2013). "John Bird: 'At five I sold wooden boxes for firewood'". Telegraph. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  4. ^ Greenstreet, Rosanna (27 August 1995). "How we met; John Bird and Gordon Roddick". The Independent. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  5. ^ The Big Issue History. (7 September 2011). Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  6. ^ Contact and trustees. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  7. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 54066. p. 15. 17 June 1995.
  8. ^ 2005/6 Beacon Prize Winners. Retrieved 3 February 2012.
  9. ^ The big thing about the Big Issue. The Guardian, published May 1994
  10. ^ "Big Issue owner to run for mayor". BBC News. 22 March 2007. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  11. ^ "Big Issue owner unveils manifesto". BBC News. 1 May 2007. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  12. ^ "Big Issue founder targets poverty". BBC News. 18 October 2007. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  13. ^ Should soup kitchens be banned?[dead link]
  14. ^ "Express Yourself: Celebrities reveal their guilty pleasures". Daily Express. 25 October 2010. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  15. ^ "Big Issue founder John Bird appointed to House of Lords". BBC News. 13 October 2015. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  16. ^ John Bird MBE - Doctorate of Business, Plymouth University 

External links[edit]