If you’ve followed me for a while on social media then you may already know the story of Bob and Skip. I met Bob in 2015 when I had a photography studio in Birmingham, United Kingdom. This is the story of how we met one another and the Facebook post that I shared in the June of 2015 about our meeting (with the permission of Bob of course)…
THE ORIGINAL FACEBOOK POST:
‘This is Bob…
Bob is not an alcoholic, Bob is not a drug addict but Bob does live on the streets!!
I met Bob a couple of weeks ago in Birmingham while he was sat, with his trusty sidekick, Skip, reading his book in the sunshine. He had a big smile on his face and I love dogs so I had to stop and give Skip some fuss. We sat and spoke for a while about all sorts of things like the power of the sun, books, people, love, war and life in general... As we talked more he told me about his life and his time in the Green Jackets, serving all over the world including two tours of Northern Ireland, his time running a pub in Great Yarmouth, the break down of his marriage due to his alcoholism and his now 14-year sobriety!
The whole time we chatted Bob gave off the most infectious, positive energy and outlook on his situation and the journey that had led him to be where he is today, never once blaming anyone but himself or asking anyone to feel sorry for him. He is a proud man and a lovely man!
Bob doesn't beg or pester people for money on the street, and he exists on the random acts of kindness bestowed on him by the people of Birmingham as he wishes them a good day or a smiley hello as we rush around in our busy lives.
His story and energy had stuck with me and I hoped I would see him and Skip again. With this in mind I had been driving around my day to day in Birmingham with some dog food/treats, a bin liner full of clothes I no longer wear and some blankets etc, just in case I ever came across Bob again so that I could give him these little things as a thank you for sharing his story with me.
Yesterday I came back from a meeting and sat, right next to my car were Bob and Skip!!! As Bob waded through the clothes and Skip devoured his new dog treats we spoke some more... Bob told me that since he had been homeless it had restored his faith in humanity as he had really got to see the generosity and kindness of people. Just as he said this a woman walked up and handed Bob a cup of tea and a fiver and with a big smile said 'Have a good day Bob!'. A few moments later a group of girls walked past eating a Mcdonalds, one girl stopped and handed Bob a cheeseburger and the other handed him an apple pie. A man scared of dogs came up a while later and, again calling Bob by name, gave him some cooked sausages for Skip (the whole time maintaining a safe distance from the dog)... Each one Bob thanked over and over and made sure he asked them about their day and if they were OK!! I just sat next to Bob and witnessed this faith in humanity that he had spoken about and these little random acts of kindness that these people had performed that most of them probably took for granted but that Bob treasured and that meant so much and was so thankful for!!
As we got back to talking, Bob asked me more about myself and when he found out I was a photographer asked me to take his and Skips picture. This was on the condition that if I ever did see him again he could have a nice one of Skip!!
Now, this isn't a status about feeling sorry for Bob but it is a status about another human being and their story or journey and my interactions with him!! You can take what you like from it whether that's Bob and his positivity and warmth in the face of adversity? The random acts of kindness from the people of Birmingham? The faith in humanity displayed in a messed up world? The fact that there is always someone worse off than you? Never judge a book by its cover? or even 'ooh look that's a cute picture of a dog I'm going to 'like' it haha'?... I really don't mind what it is you take, it's entirely up to you but what I will say is that I found all of this out by having a chat with someone that I exchanged a smile with. You can never underestimate the power of a smile or where that smile will lead you!! So maybe smile a bit more and see what happens!?? And if you see Bob and Skip around Birmingham say hello and give him a smile too!’ - FROM THE ORIGINAL FACEBOOK POST - JUNE 2015.
So jump forward to 2019, 4 years later and a lot has happened since that original meeting and Facebook post. So much so that I should probably do another post about Bob and Skip in the not too distant future. The Facebook post in 2015, ended up going a bit crazy, with nearly 8k likes and 6.5k sharing the post, and Bob and Skips story. It was pretty overwhelming as the total reach of the post ended up being about 70,000 people. The support for Bob and his story was unexpected to me and especially Bob, who couldn’t believe it when I showed him all the comments and people reaching out. These were just numbers in social media world though but even if it meant that one person who saw the post was a little nicer to someone on the streets then that’s a good thing right? The attention the post received did help get Bob and Skip into a flat but for a number of reasons it was only on a short term basis but that’s a whole other story about housing authorities and the hoops they have people jumping through!
Bob and I are still friends and, sadly, he and Skip are still living on the streets of Birmingham relying on the kindness of others. Despite not having the photography studio in Birmingham anymore, I try and see him as often as I can (I saw him a couple of days ago actually which made me think it would be a good subject for a blog post) and his warmth and energy are still just as infectious as the first time that I met him. Bob and I have discussed taking some more portraits together and attempting to try and tell a little bit more of his story, 4 years down the line from our first encounter. Homelessness is a difficult subject but one that, in my opinion, needs to be highlighted much more in the United Kingdom as numbers of people living on the streets is growing rapidly, you only have to look around any major city in the country.
Bob and Skip have had a huge impact on me as a human being and made me much more aware of the problem of homelessness in the UK. Everyone story is different and you should never judge a book by its cover, however hard that might be. I now volunteer, every week, for a charity called Let’s feed Brum (https://www.letsfeedbrum.com/) who provide food, drink, essential supplies and friendship to people living on the streets of Birmingham. Let's feed Brum are doing some great work and I am lucky to be a part of such a great group of people trying to do something good for the less fortunate in the city of Birmingham. If you get the chance check out what they are doing via the website or show some support by following their social media channels.
That’s all for this week folks! I’m never quite sure how to end a blog post so in light of this weeks subject matter, I will leave you with this simple message…