John Bird, Baron Bird
|The Baron Bird
30 January 1946 |
Notting Hill, London, England
|Education||Chelsea School of Art|
|Known for||The 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 affected by homelessness. As a Crossbencher in the House of Lords, he is seeking to dismantle the root causes of poverty in the UK.
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. He became a butcher's boy after leaving the orphanage, but supplemented his income by stealing. He spent several spells in prison during his teens and twenties where he learnt reading, writing and the basics of printing.
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. 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.
For two weeks in 1970 he worked in the House of Lords washing dishes – a venue he would later return to as a life peer.
The Big Issue and work with the homeless
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 and support vendors of The Big Issue. He is currently on the Board of Directors for the company. 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 The Big Issue Group chairman, Nigel Kershaw, Bird helped found The Big Issue Invest, 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, The 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 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; 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. In 2015, he became a Senior Ashoka Fellow.
In March 2007, Bird announced his intention to stand for election to the post of Mayor of London as an independent candidate. In May 2007, he unveiled his election manifesto for the 2008 poll, but in October of that year, 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". 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.
In the early 21st century,[tone][clarification needed] Bird became a Social Enterprise Ambassador. 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 Cabinet Office.
Bird revealed in 2010 that "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."
Bird was nominated for life peerage by the House of Lords Appointments Commission in October 2015 to become a non-party-political peer. On 30 October, he was created Baron Bird, of Notting Hill in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, sitting as a Crossbencher. 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."
His work in the House of Lords focuses on dismantling the root causes of poverty in the UK, with an emphasis on education reform, early intervention and literacy. He also speaks on issues of social enterprise, social mobility, democratic reform and the Arts. He is Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Enterprise, and has led debates on the causes of poverty, libraries, bookshops and booksellers and child poverty.
- Lakhani, Nina (23 October 2011). "Big Issue doesn't stand out in a crowd, admits founder". The Independent. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
- McGrath, Nick (23 September 2013). "John Bird: 'At five I sold wooden boxes for firewood'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
- Greenstreet, Rosanna (27 August 1995). "How we met; John Bird and Gordon Roddick". The Independent. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
- "“It’s a confederacy of amateurs” – John Bird opens up the House of Lords in BBC documentary". Radio Times. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
- The Big Issue History. Bigissue.com (7 September 2011). Retrieved 26 September 2011.
- "No. 54066". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 June 1995. p. 15.
- 2005/6 Beacon Prize Winners. Retrieved 3 February 2012.
- The big thing about the Big Issue. The Guardian, published May 1994
- "Big Issue owner to run for mayor". BBC News. 22 March 2007. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
- "Big Issue owner unveils manifesto". BBC News. 1 May 2007. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
- "Big Issue founder targets poverty". BBC News. 18 October 2007. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
- "Social Enterprise Ambassadors".
- "Express Yourself: Celebrities reveal their guilty pleasures". Daily Express. 25 October 2010. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
- "Big Issue founder John Bird appointed to House of Lords". BBC News. 13 October 2015. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
- "No. 61400". The London Gazette. 5 November 2015. p. 21710.
- Smith, Mikey (26 February 2016). "New peer thanks his probation officer in hilarious maiden speech". Daily Mirror.
- John Bird MBE – Doctorate of Business, Plymouth University