Adam Thompson:
Humans of Liverpool

"Big Issue North vendors are an integral part of the Liverpool cityscape. Whilst most are known well by their smiles, little was known about their stories and backgrounds."

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Inspired by Humans of New York, newly established Instagram page, Humans of Liverpool has taken off in recent months. The account highlights residents of the area, capturing their stories and creating a digital sense of unity through common ground in a time of great division.

Thanks to its founder, Adam Thompson, often overlooked Big Issue North vendors feature prominently on the page.

We caught up with Adam to find out more about how Humans of Liverpool came to life, why he supports Big Issue North and what he thinks about the incredible city he features:

How long have you lived in Liverpool for?
I lived in Kenny when I was younger but I have lived in the surrounding area my whole life.

What does being from Liverpool mean to you?
It fills me with immense pride. It’s a badge to wear with honour. I don’t think there’s another city like it. The sense of community has always amazed me and made me feel part of something bigger than myself.

What inspired you to create the page, ‘Humans of Liverpool’?
I have always enjoyed people watching and particularly being spectator to the well known, iconic characters that you see everyday whilst walking through the city. I was basically just very nosy and wanted to know more about these public figures and it built from there.

What has the response been?
The response has been incredible. I could never have imagined it would have such a warm and positive reaction, not only with the followers that the page has amassed in such a short space of time, but also the huge number of insightful, meaningful comments that we regularly receive, all of which help to shape how I go forward with the page and the vision for the future.

Are you happy with the response?
I couldn’t be happier and more humbled by the response. I still have to regularly pinch myself that it has been met with such positivity and humility.

How do you approach the people who feature on the page?
I walk up to them and ask if they would mind if I took their portrait. If they’re sat down I’ll kneel or crouch to make sure I’m not at all intimidating. Then once they agree I chat to them whilst I take their photograph, asking them a few starter questions and then hopefully going into a relaxed, open conversation from there. I always make sure I don’t approach anyone that looks like they’re in a rush, I would never want to make anyone miss a train or be late for a meeting.

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(@bigissuenorth Collab) “I always said I’d leave if my kids seen it or heard it, or it effected them and that’s what I did. I didn’t want them witnessing that. I was warned by a wagon driver who dropped me off in Bristol when I first moved there, ‘If you ever move in to Knowle West don’t worry about the blokes, it’s the women you watch.’ I didn’t get what he meant until I met a woman from Knowle West, then I understood everything he was on about. It happened to me when I was a kid as well. I’m what you call the ‘mess of the care system’. I got literally beaten black and blue by my foster mum, my real mum and my foster dad, all at the same time. I was a small fourteen year old who ran away 18 times in one month just because I didn’t want to be at that house. The last time I ran I got taken into the police station and when I was picked up by my mum and foster mum, my mums fist hit me right in the mouth and my foster mum’s words were ‘wait till you get home, more you’ll be getting’ and she was right. I wasn’t allowed out till every bruise had disappeared. I would do anything to be back with my kids now, I’d even take my partner back, but it ain’t gonna happen. Working the fair grounds last year, putting ‘em together I’m starting to feel it, I can’t do what I used to. It’s a young man’s game and with the lifestyle I’ve lead I’ve done some real damage to my body, I know it. I’m tryna settle down so I can have a doctor come see me if need be, but I’m finding it impossible. They’ve said they’ll help me with deposits and any bonds but when it comes to housing they won’t help me. I’ve not been here long enough, even though my birth certificate states that I was born and bred in Ellesmere Port and all my family are still here. Apparently I’ve lost my ‘local connection’ and I can’t go back to Bristol because I can’t get housing there either. I’ll be going to Newcastle next week and then somewhere else after that, anywhere where I can get work, but I have no home really.”

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On your page, there’s a great variety of people, some of whom are experiencing homelessness. Why is it important for you to offer space on the Humans of Liverpool platform to highlight these stories?
I think it is so important to give people that are homeless a voice, as they are not usually afforded the opportunity to have their say and tell their stories. Giving them this platform not only ensures that they know that people care about where they’ve come from and their struggles, but it also humanises them to the public and allows people to see them as just people. Like everyone else, they have passions, problems and goals. Hopefully this will work in some way to break the stigma towards homelessness.

What are your thoughts on homelessness in Liverpool?
I believe that it is a very complex issue that many people are working hard to fix. There is no one size fits all approach and it is clear that people need to want help in order to take full advantage of the aid available. I think that Big Issue North is such an important social enterprise, as it allows the homeless to have their own agency and turn their lives around themselves. The more they want to change, the more they can.

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(@bigissuenorth Collab) @steverotherammp : “It makes you realise how hard it is to get people to part with their hard earned cash. There’s plenty of people who walked past like I was invisible, but there’s also plenty of people who stop and chat and ask questions. All facets of human nature are reflected on the streets. It’s a way in which people who unfortunately find themselves sleeping rough can look after theirselves and eventually get a roof over their head. It’s a fantastic idea that’s as relevant now as it is when it was created. But what we need to do is give what’s happening in our country a higher political profile. The number of people sleeping rough in the sixth richest economy in the world needs to be fundamentally addressed by the government and not just by the kindness and generosity of people walking past Big Issue sellers. In our city region, we’re trying to tackle the issue with a concept originally used in North America called the ‘Housing First’ approach. It will be about first of all getting a roof over people’s heads and then trying to provide a rap around service, tackling some of the other issues they face; which will hopefully prevent them from ending up back on the street. Because it’s cyclical, too many people find a hostel or accommodation but end up back on the streets for many different reasons. We’re trying to break that cycle”

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Steve Rotheram selling Big Issue North as part of International Vendor Week.

How do you think people experiencing homelessness can receive the support they need?
There are many services in the Liverpool area working hard to end homelessness and offer help to those effected. The Whitechapel Centre, Blackburne House and Big Issue North are all places that they can receive support. More of course can always be done, and I hope to continue to tell people’s stories in order to gain support and help them.

Why did you choose to approach Big Issue North for the Humans of Liverpool collaboration?
Big Issue North Vendors are an integral part of the Liverpool cityscape. They form a recognisable part of the high street in the city centre and whilst most are known well by their smiles and idiosyncratic mannerisms and greetings, little was known (at least to me) about their stories and backgrounds. This was something that I certainly wanted to find out about, and I hoped that others would feel the same.

Why is Big Issue North important to the city of Liverpool?
Not only does it give Scousers that have fallen on hard times a hand to get back on their feet and rebuild their lives, it also acts as a constant reminder of the issue of homelessness, spreading the message that not only is it still a huge problem, but that those involved are actively trying to escape it, therefore breaking the often held stereotype that the homeless of the city are all happy to just sit idly and beg for change whilst working people struggle everyday.

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“I came here from Sri Lanka. I speak three languages, Sinhala, Tamil and English but my English is still not so good. I lived in London for two years and then I moved to Liverpool in 2000. In 2005 I started selling Big Issue. Everyday- Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I’m here. 1% difficult, 99% lovely, lovely people. Liverpool life is very good. Liverpool people are the best in the world, they have good hearts, I love them. I feel very, very lucky to be here. I had a heart attack last year in January here on this spot. I was sent to Broad Green hospital and they drained my heart and saved my life. Here are my tablets. Everyday I have to take ten of them. I’m doing better now. I am 66, most of my family from back home are gone but I love being here, this is my home now.”

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