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Community rallies around Big Issue vendor and family hit by flash floods

Popular Wanstead seller Monica and her five sons have been living in a water-damaged flat after flash floods in July but her regular customers and locals raised £3,500 to help them find a new home

Londoners have come to the aid of a popular Big Issue vendor after flash floods left her and her five sons stuck living in a water-damaged flat.

Monica, who sells the magazine outside the Co-op in Wanstead, East London, has been living with damaged furniture and a damp-ridden home after it was flooded when up to four inches of rain fell in just a few hours on July 25.

One of Monica’s regular customers, recording artist Blythe Pepino, set up a fundraising campaign to help her find a new place to live, raising more than £3,500 to rent a property in nearby Romford.

Single mum Monica, 30, told The Big Issue: “I lost lots of things in the flood. The water made everything dirty and it has been so hard with the children.

“I have asthma and I have been struggling to breathe. The smell is very bad and we have been wearing masks while sat at home.”

Monica and her five sons – 15-year-old Ronny, Messi, 12, 10-year-old Roger, Joseph, eight, and two-year-old Lucas – lost clothing and furniture including a desk and a wardrobe in the flood and Blythe was inspired to step in after hearing of the vendor’s plight.

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The pair struck up a friendship on Big Issue vendor Monica’s Wanstead pitch just before Christmas last year and have become close friends.

“Monica told me she would probably have to leave the property and over the next couple of times I’ve seen her she told me it wasn’t going well,” said Blythe.

“The flat was fully flooded and things were floating around. Then when the water went it left grimness everywhere and everything was really damp.

“Monica has asthma so she was really struggling with breathing as well. The more information I got, the more I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is really bad’.

“She’s such a lovely person and works so hard. I was just like: surely in my middle-class privileged circles we can gather enough to get her somewhere.”

Blythe set up the fundraiser to help and even offered to write poems, sing song covers and to write and perform bespoke songs for people who donated £50, £100 or £500 to the cause.

The musician is currently working on covers of Chumbawamba’s Tubthumping and Joni Mitchell’s Clouds (Both Sides, Now) for backers as well as penning four poems and a song to mark a 60th birthday.

Monica has received the funds and is moving into a new home in Romford, East London, this week.

“I’m very excited to move into my new home. I feel like it is my dream. I could not believe it when I found out they had raised the money for me. I thought it was like a joke,” the Big Issue vendor said.

“Thank you to everyone who has donated money, it is something special in my life.

“I have been selling the magazine for many years and when I feel like I go to my pitch in Wanstead I feel like I’m going to see my family. I have very good friends there and they care about me and look after me.”

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Blythe, 35, added: “It completely flummoxed me that we reached our goal in four days. Monica’s amazed and we’ve had some weepy telephone conversations.

“I just got some friends to help a person out. But I think you don’t really realise what kind of an effect that sort of thing can have on a life that is so on the edge.”

Big Issue vendor Monica’s experience underlines just how the increased prevalence of extreme weather is set to hit people on low-incomes as the climate crisis intensifies.

The flash floods in London were not the only environmental event to cause widespread devastation this summer with floods in Germany and wildfires in Greece also hitting communities hard.

Following the International Panel on Climate Change’s urgent call for action earlier this month, Fraser Stewart, an applied researcher at the University of Strathclyde told The Big Issue the climate crisis is set to have the biggest impact in deprived communities.

“People who live on the lowest incomes and who live in the poorest quality housing are more susceptible to the health impacts of the climate emergency,” he said.

“But what you find when you have conversations with people in low-income communities is they will take action. People will get involved, if you support them with the resources to do so.

“We need to bring more of those people along for the ride, get them into more policy design spaces, get them leading the conversation because it’s not something that the middle classes can buy us out of. We need buy-in from everyone.”

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