By Helen March, News Investigations Editor
Big Issue vendor Jeff Knight is said to be facing future deportation from the UK after having lived in the UK for over twenty years.
Rumours of a threat of deportation for local figure Jeff Knight have been met with concern from the people of Bristol, many of whom consider Jeff to be an ‘inspiration.’ His pitch is normally outside the Canteen in Stokes Croft, where he is well known by many of those who live in the surrounding area.
He is described as ‘always smiling and wanting to bring joy to other people.’
The @BigIssue are requesting character references for Jeff Knight be emailed to Frankie.firstname.lastname@example.org. This will help Jeff's case for residency most. Here he is just now on Jamaica St - he's in good spirits, lawyered up & says thanks for all the support pic.twitter.com/LIHoieVZnc— James Koch (@dont4getthesun) February 10, 2022
Knight’s legal team is currently building up a case for residency in the UK to present to the home office. There has been a call from the Big Issue for character references to be presented by the public to support his case. Alongside this is a petition to ‘STOP deportation of a Bristol Legend,’ which as of 18 February has amassed over 23,700 signatures.
Knight is considered to be an integral part of Stokes Croft, with hundreds of people coming forward to share their stories of the ways in which he has impacted their lives across social media.
One of the most striking is that of Katie Little, who describes Jeff offering to walk her to her early shifts at the children’s hospital after she had been ‘approached by strange men in the dark’. She describes him as ‘a true Bristol gent, a Bristolian icon.’
This is not the first time the public has come forward to support Jeff. In November 2018, a crowdfund raised over £7,500 to help him to buy a motorhome after he had been suffering from illness.
Jeff has been a Big Issue seller for fifteen years and his presence in Bristol is widely known. Writing for the Big Issue, Knight said ‘When I came to Bristol I realised they’re loving, caring people who look after each other, so I stayed.’
He added: ‘I’m a celebrity here in Bristol - everybody knows me and loves me. [...] I treat everybody the same, no matter what you’ve got’.
Testament to his prominence in the area, a piece of graffiti art was created of Jeff in 2020. It was featured in the People’s Republic of Stoke’s Croft art show last summer. Artist Harriet Wood described Knight as someone who ‘never fails to make me smile.’
Thangam Debbonaire, Bristol West MP and Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, responded to the many emails she had received from the public calling for the prevention of his deportation. Debbonaire stated ‘I cannot discuss anyone’s individual situation on social media.’
Thread responding to tweets about Jeff Knight.— Thangam Debbonaire 💙 (@ThangamMP) February 10, 2022
1. lots of people have been in touch with me and other local MPs about Jeff Knight expressing concerns. I cannot discuss anyone’s individual situation on social media.
She added: ‘The home office makes the decisions about immigration cases and my caseworkers and I do everything we can to advocate for people whose cases we are asked to help with. I recognise the support from the community for Jeff and am proud the people of Bristol west care so much.’
She continued to emphasise that ‘I always welcome emails from my constituents but they will have no influence on the Home Office decision.’
Typed character references are currently being collected around Stokes Croft by businesses including The Canteen, Om Burger, That Thing and Bilbos.
Featured Image: James Koch | Instagram: @dont4getthesun
Have you met Jeff around Bristol?