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Customers raise thousands of pounds to pay for funeral of much-loved Big Issue seller

There has been an outpouring of emotion ever since popular Oxford seller Lionel Hegarty died on June 7 at the age of 78.

The customers of much-loved Big Issue vendor Lionel Hegarty have raised thousands of pounds to pay for his funeral after he died earlier this month.

The 78 year old, who sold the magazine outside the Co-op in Botley, Oxford, died on the morning of June 7 following a battle with pancreatic cancer. He had spent the last three weeks of his life in Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital after suffering a stroke.

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The popular seller had become a beloved member of the local community after years on the same patch. But with no family, Hegarty was facing the prospect of a pauper’s funeral until his customers raised almost £4,500 to give him a fitting send-off.

Hegarty’s funeral will be held on July 4 at Botley Baptist Church from 11am.

One of his customers, Megan Antell started the fundraiser. She said: “Many people had been to visit him in hospital over the past few weeks so he knew how loved was and was in high spirits to the very end. 

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“Unfortunately as it stands he has no next of kin and. therefore, no one to help pay for his funeral. The last thing any of us want is for him to have a pauper’s funeral.”

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Simon Smith, a sales development worker for The Big Issue in Oxford, said Lionel was always active in Big Issue events and became well-known in Botley.

“Lionel was a well loved and respected Big Issue vendor in Oxford, known for his warmth and kindness to the public, regulars, other vendors, and staff alike,” said Smith.

“He was a keen supporter of The Big Issue and the plight of the homeless. His endeavours have included his completion of sponsored Night Walks across London, an after-show talk at a local theatre and, in his seventies, he played his goal-saving part in a football tournament, representing Big Issue vendors.”

Layla Moran, the MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, also paid tribute to the late vendor. She said: “I was really sad to hear that long time Botley Big Issue seller Lionel Hegarty passed away. He was often outside the Coop. I used to buy him a coke and custard creams as he loved them.”

Hegarty started selling The Big Issue around 2009 and was one of the country’s oldest vendors when he died. He told The Big Issue in a 2018 interview that he had been sleeping rough for four years when he started selling the magazine.

Hegarty went on to live in homeless accommodation Matilda House while continuing to sell the magazine.

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Hegarty last appeared in the magazine last September as part of a special edition of the magazine written completely by Big Issue vendors.

He submitted a poem as part of the magazine. It read: 

I am a happy Big Issue man

I love going to work when I smile to all of the public

That makes me happy

I love what I am doing so much

I am a cheerful man at all times

I’m glad to be a Big Issue seller

My Pitch is Botley Westway

This is me on my pitch

Happy days are here again

Here to stay

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