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Graham Kennedy, Directions Man

January 29, 2015
by the gentle author

“People often ask me what the ‘i’ stands for,” admitted Graham Kennedy proudly, “and I tell them it is the internationally recognised symbol for Information.” Everyone who goes through Liverpool St Station regularly will recognise Graham, he is the eager Directions Man who stands at the Bishopsgate entrance in all weathers, performing a public service by pointing out the way to visitors, those who are lost and anyone who needs guidance to find Spitalfields, Brick Lane and other local destinations.

“I approach people who are looking around and politely ask where they are looking for and are they ok,” he explained to me, “You’ve got to be able to read people and understand their body language, because you can’t just go up to anybody and ask if they need directions.”

When I first noticed Graham, I thought he might be employed by the railway station or the bus company or the tourist board, but then I quickly realised that his was a self-appointed role and I grew curious to know how and why he got there. So I asked the man who spends his days giving directions to others to explain his route to this particular point in his life, standing outside Liverpool St Station.

“I’d from Romford but I was born in the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel and I grew up in Dagenham, the car manufacturing city. I ended up in this situation after getting divorced eight months ago after being married for twelve years and having two daughters.

Me and my wife started fighting after she began to drink and became someone I didn’t even know. I ended up feeling like a bad person and my children became scared of me and I didn’t like that. I didn’t like myself. So I decided to leave and, for six weeks, I stayed on friends’ settees until I outstayed my welcome.

I got divorced from my wife and I signed the council house over to her, and applied to Dagenham & Barking to get rehoused. I’d been in a council house since I was eighteen years old until the age of thirty-nine and never missed paying my rent. They gave me an interview and, after a thirty minute chat, they said, ‘You’ll get your a decision in ten minutes.’ They said they couldn’t help me because I’d chosen to leave and made myself homeless. They gave me a list of homeless shelters and I was shocked. If I’d lied and said she threw me out, they’d have given me a council home. That was when I realised that it doesn’t always benefit you to be honest.

My parents have been divorced for twenty years. My mother lives in Dagenham and my father has just been put in prison for six years at seventy-three years old after being caught delivering a packet of cocaine. But I’ve always been working, I had a job ever since I left school at fifteen years old and I was an electrician for twenty-two years. It’s impossible for me to find a job now because my ex-wide sold all my tools. I did contract work for Tower Hamlets, Westminster and City of London Councils. That’s why I came up to London once I became homeless, because I know my way around the city.

I started living on the street and I got a fireman’s key from a hardware shop so I could sleep in stairwells, to keep safe and warm and charge my phone. But then I became part of a circle of people that I was taking heroin and crack cocaine with, which I’d never done before in my life. I was on heroin for six to seven months until I got myself medicated, and that went on for three months. I’m no longer on medication, so now I am clean.

I started giving directions four months ago. I didn’t want to beg and I’ve always thought about what people need, and I’m keen to be useful and of service to others. It’s quite legal as long as I don’t ask for money. So, once I have given directions, I say, ‘Excuse me, would consider buying me a tea or coffee?’ There are three things that will happen. They’ll say, ‘No,’ or they’ll give me their spare change, or they’ll buy me a tea or coffee. I’ve learnt that being helpful is a lot more appreciated than just hanging around asking for money.

On Sunday, I stand outside Aldgate East but mostly I am here at Liverpool St. Thursday is the biggest day, it’s been like that for a while. People work until Thursday then go for a night out to relax, and then they get through Friday and rest at the weekend. From four until eight, you will find me at Aldgate East then I go to Liverpool St until midnight, and afterwards I go to Shoreditch and wander around and give directions until six in the morning.

I meet people of all nationalities and walks of life. I’ve had people give me their number and say, ‘Call me if you need help or money,’ but I never call them, I don’t know why. After a year and a half sleeping on the street and in stairwells, I met a Christian and I gained a friend. For the last seven weeks, I’ve been living with him on Brick Lane and repairing his flat and mending all his appliances.

I’ve learnt that you don’t need to have money, you can find anything you want in the city if you know where to look. If you know what time to go round to the back of Tesco in Commercial St, you can find as much food as you want being thrown out.

In the next couple of months, I’ll start looking for a job and get my own place and start seeing my children on a regular basis. I talk to them on the phone but it’s not the same thing.”

Graham Kennedy

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19 Responses leave one →
  1. January 29, 2015

    What a sad yet hopeful and touching story. I’ve been reading the blog for many months, but this post stands out to me.

  2. sprite permalink
    January 29, 2015

    the council should employ this guy! and yes, what a shame that being honest can go against you sometimes.

  3. Ingrid Van Kogelenberg permalink
    January 29, 2015

    This story moves me. It is one many people must recognise. There is always a time in our lives when we loose directions. And there is Graham who has lost almost everything in life, pointing us out where to go or what to do. Isn’t that amazing and wonderful? I wish you good luck Graham. You are an example and a comfort to many, for sure. You show us what life really is about. We all need others and we are often stronger than we think. We are able to bounce back after a big defeat.

  4. January 29, 2015

    Graham seems to be a resourceful man, I wish him good luck and hope he soon finds work and a home. Valerie

  5. January 29, 2015

    You lovely man.
    Well done. What fortitude.
    The very best of luck for the future.

  6. Brian Weaver permalink
    January 29, 2015

    Good luck to you Graham, inspiring story.

  7. January 29, 2015

    Ah flippin’ ‘eck! What a guy!! Very touching indeed.

  8. January 29, 2015

    Resourceful, creative a model human being. Amazing guy

  9. January 29, 2015

    An amazing, moving und hopeful story…

    Love & Peace

  10. Bronchitikat permalink
    January 29, 2015

    Good for him! Hope ‘moving on’ works out well for him.

    Thanks for posting this.

  11. ROBERT GREEN permalink
    January 29, 2015

    I salute this man, for one main reason, in spite of his extremely difficult and unfortunate past he expresses not a hint of self pity, another reason I warm to him is because he clearly expects nothing for nothing, he does not sit on the floor asking for help, he clearly does not hold the view that he is owed anything, and most of all is still offering whatever he can not only just to help himself but also to help others to, I believe everyone is good at something, and this man is clearly trying his best to make the most of his particular talents and good luck to him, his idea of helping with local knowledge and information is in its own small way every bit as entrepreneurial as anything you will see coming from the people at the very top of society that we are so often TOLD we should revere, in my opinion, THIS man IS someone that I REVERE, because he is doing his best and making the most of his life IN SPITE of his background, NOT BECAUSE OF IT, and I wish him the very best of good luck.

  12. Vince permalink
    January 29, 2015

    I’ve known Graham a two years or so, an honest and diligent guy. I wish him the very best.

  13. Patty/NS permalink
    January 29, 2015

    Simply amazing. What a survivor! I hope he continues on his path and is committed to himself. Nobody can make a life for you, you alone are in command. I sincerely hope he does well, please give us a followup on him.

  14. Linda M permalink
    January 29, 2015

    What a moving and fascinating story. I so admire Graham for his resourcefulness and outgoing, helpful attitude in the face of adversity. All the very best of luck to him – which he surely deserves – and thanks GA for this inspiring post.

  15. Barbara permalink
    January 31, 2015

    What an inspiring story . Sounds as if Graham is one step ahead of TFL ! I wish him all the luck in the world , what enterprise . Iwill look out for that jacket next time I pass through Liverpool St and stop and say ” hello “. Keep warm , Graham .

  16. February 4, 2015

    What a character, bless ‘im. I hope life turns round for you Graham — though it sounds like you’ll make turn for you, regardless. Most of us deserve a second chance; some more than others — your one of them.

    May the Force be with you…

  17. John McVey permalink
    October 14, 2018

    “and I tell them it is the internationally recognised symbol for Information.”
    love that!

    reading this nearly four years later.
    moving story. hope all has gone well for Mr Kennedy since.

  18. Richard permalink
    October 1, 2021

    And I’m reading it today. It’s one I go back to.

  19. Hilary permalink
    May 26, 2022

    I hope that, Graham has got through the pandemic and is okay. Wishing you well Graham.

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