Patrick Lawson in his days as London’s happiest bus driver. Image: Alex Grace
Patrick Lawson spent around two decades in and out of prison and on the streets. His journey since has put him on a road to redemption which saw him named London’s happiest bus driver – but that was far from the former Big Issue vendor’s last stop.
Lawson sold The Big Issue in Russell Square and Mayfair for six years. The 53-year-old from Finsbury Park turned his life around with the help of The Big Issue and charity Single Homeless Project (SHP) and managed to rebuild his confidence to renew his licence and retrain as a bus driver.
He landed a job behind the wheel with social enterprise HCT Group and took over the number 26 route from Hackney Wick to Waterloo station.
Since then he has flourished, attracting 66 commendations from passengers and winning the Hello London Award for outstanding community service at TfL’s London Bus Awards in 2018, as well as being dubbed the capital’s happiest bus driver.
“I’ve been homeless, I’ve been in prison, I’ve been an addict,” Lawson tells The Big Issue. “I often thought, how did I get here? Without SHP and Big Issue’s support, I’d still be on benefits.
“I just want people to get on my bus to have a good time. People seem to enjoy it more, talk between them. I want to enhance their journey.” But Lawson did not stop there.
He joined Arsenal legend Tony Adams as the face of More Than My Past in 2019.
The addiction charity The Forward Trust’s campaign asked ex-offenders and those in recovery from addiction to share their stories and help end the stigma that impacts on employment opportunities in the UK.
The same year Lawson received a cash windfall after selling a property he and his brother inherited from their mother after she died in 2016.
The money gave Lawson the opportunity to leave his job as a bus driver and pursue a new dream during the pandemic – creating clean drinking water in Nigeria, the country his family hails from.
He now runs a business creating tap water in the African country, with ambitious plans to develop clean water across the continent both from taps and bottles.
“I’m an employer now, they call me MD – managing director,” says the former Big Issue vendor, laughing.
“I’ve always had a vision, even in the days of being on the street. I knew there was something I had to do in Africa to help with accommodation, to help with employment.
“My vision is that I believe that nobody should not have clean drinking water. I see them in Nigeria here walking around fetching water, they can walk for miles to go fetch water in buckets.
“I believe that clean running water should run in every home. I want to supply the whole of Africa. But one step at a time.”
As well as producing water that is safe to drink, Lawson has not forgotten his own journey out of homelessness and addiction and into work.
During the pandemic, he has overseen the building of a factory in Lagos and built accommodation and boosted employment in the Nigerian capital.
Lawson told The Big Issue he was working to offer science graduates roles in their chosen field as part of the business.
The move echoes Lawson’s own battle to secure a path into employment, one he could not have created without the help of The Big Issue.
“I say this all the time – in my journey as a homeless person I big up The Big Issue because The Big Issue made me be proud,” The ex-Big Issue vendor says. “Many people would just love to be off drugs, off the streets. But I realised that I can’t stop there. I have to keep moving. I realised that if it needs to be done it is up to me to do it.
“Seriously, sometimes I think to myself, God, I’ve wasted so much time, I’m so old. But I think as soon as we wake up, we’ve got another chance to face the day and then there’s hope.”
When most people think about the Big Issue, they think of vendors selling the Big Issue magazines on the streets – and we are immensely proud of this. In 2022 alone, we worked with 10% more vendors and these vendors earned £3.76 million in collective income. There is much more to the work we do at the Big Issue Group, our mission is to create innovative solutions through enterprise to unlock opportunity for the 14million people in the UK living in poverty.