At the beginning of 2013, Colin Rosie’s routine was : waking from his makeshift street bed made up of cardboard boxes and newspapers, he would dust himself down and carefully open his holdall. Slowly rising from his sleep, he would then don his full length overcoat and carefully place his treasured top hat on his head.
Packing up what was left of his belongings he would make his way to one of central London’s most prestigious hotels, walk past security guards in the manner of any businessman due to pass that day and make his way to the toilets to wash, shave and clean. Despite the fact he was sleeping rough, wandering the streets at night and begging shopkeepers for food he was adamant he, at least, “didn’t need to look homeless”.
“When I started sleeping rough, I had gone from travelling the world as a freelance photographer to having just 56p in my pocket and owning only a holdall containing an overcoat, some trousers, a pair of shoes and my top hat,” he says.“A business deal had gone badly wrong at the end of 2012 which meant my freelance company had folded.
“I was walking the streets at night and sleeping in Victoria or in a park during the day. I had gone from being well off and living in the US and Iceland to having a cardboard box for a bed. When I needed food, I would tell local shop keepers what had happened and, often, they would help.
“I think what was most important, however, was that I always did my best to keep my mood on a level field. I didn’t get too low, I didn’t mix with many people and I did my own thing. As hard as it was, all I could do was keep taking small steps away from the streets, bit by bit.”
The refuge, when it finally came, was swift and effective. Met by an outreach team one night when building his cardboard box bed, he was offered help to get into No Second Night Out. Colin was supported in our North assessment hub and helped to get housed in Walthamstow YMCA. However, for Orkney-born Colin, a roof over his head wasn’t enough – he wanted to progress and he knew how he wanted to do it.
” I wanted to start a business here, in London. When I went to the job centre I made them a guarantee: If they gave me £100 to buy some top hats, I would sell them and be off benefits in three months. So they gave me the money and instead of it taking three months, within three weeks I was off benefits and in profit.”
This happened thanks to Colin’s persistence as much as his own business acumen. On leaving NSNO in mid-June, Colin would visit Spitalfields Market seven-days-a-week and speak to stallholders about his idea of selling top hats. For nearly two-and-a-half months, he was unable to secure a spot until a vintage hats salesman decided to take a chance on him and offered him space on his stall one Sunday. By the end of the shift, Colin had sold out.
“The £100 I got from the job centre helped me to buy eight hats. I sold them in one day and with the profits I bought 14 more. It’s all gone from there,” he says. “It’s grown and grown and my life has utterly changed. I am proof that with persistence and by taking small steps every day, things can change”. Colin was also supported by the charity Borderline prior to leaving NSNO who assisted him in setting up his business.
“I see a homeless person each day in the market and I always take time out to speak to him. I can see he’s making the same small steps just like I did and he’s doing well. It’s good to see.
“For me the first steps were the most difficult. When I first started sleeping rough, I wanted to go to the job centre but I couldn’t email for an appointment because I had no email. And I couldn’t get to an email because I had no internet access and I couldn’t get into a library for internet access because I had no address with which to register. All I could do was keep going and wait for things to change. Thankfully for me, they did.”
And Colin has this to say of NSNO, which helped him take that first step; “they helped me take that first step and without them I wouldn’t be here today. It took just one organisation to say ‘how can we help you?’ for me to progress from the streets and for that I want to thank them”
Colin runs the Last Stop For The Curious stall with Mal Hallett, which is located in Old Spitalfields Market. It sells a range of vintage and modern hats.
Click below to read news articles about Colin’s remarkable story from homeless to hat seller: