‘Gentle giant’ Big Issue seller dies – friends launch crowdfunding campaign to pay for proper funeral

Pete Toulson. Photograph: John McGall
1 Dec 2016 @ 7.22 pm
| News

Not everyone knew his name, but he was one of York’s most familiar faces.

Pete Toulson sold Big Issue North outside Marks & Spencer on Parliament Street, and had a smile and a kind word for everyone.

Sadly Pete died on Monday. And now York is rallying round a crowdfunding campaign to ensure Pete is given the funeral he deserves.

Friends of Pete, Julie and John McGall, set up a Just Giving page in the hope of raising £3,000 to help his partner Karen with the funeral costs.

By 7pm on Thursday (December 1) it had already raised more than £400.

John described him as “a gentle giant who always had a smile or friendly banter with both his customers and the general public”.

Julie said: “York has lost one of its finest. It’s so sad he didn’t realise how highly he was thought of and loved by so many people.

“He would have been deeply moved by people’s kindness. Overwhelmed in fact.”

Still in shock

Pete's pitch: Marks & Spencer in York
Pete’s pitch: Marks & Spencer in York

Pete ended up selling the Big Issue after he was attacked after work one evening and nearly lost his leg.

He was in hospital for four months before he came out. He had no work and was evicted from his flat.

Julie would buy the Big Issue from him every week. After initially refusing to accept help from her, in time Pete began to accept her offers which included a laptop to help him create a CV and a bike to help him travel.

Julie and John also took him on his first day out in 30 years to the National Coal Mining Museum.

Julie said: “He was so excited just like a small boy. We just did what we could.

Tributes to Pete

‘From my daughter and I to the man who always had a smile’ Gillian Rhodes

‘That’s so sad. He was such a lovely man. I spoke to him every week’ Sue Wade

‘I will miss him. He was a lovely guy’ Caroline Foster

“We picked him up from Leeds when he had no bus fare so he could get magazines and sell them In York. He lived in Leeds but was given the pitch in York so had to find bus fare each day.

“Mostly we gave him friendship and a shoulder to cry on and a big hug in town every time we saw him.”

They hope the crowdfunding campaign will raise £3,000 to “give him the send off he deserves”.

“Pete had no money, I’m not sure if there is a funeral benefit from the government but if there is it will not be much,” Julie told YorkMix.

“We only found out 24 hours ago, so we’re still in shock.

“I guess we need a coffin, undertaker and cremation fees. And a memorial service in York.”

The Pete I knew


I am shocked and saddened to hear of Peter Toulson’s sudden death. Like many people, I always stopped by to chat to him at his ‘office’ outside M&S.

He always seemed to wear the same multi-layered clothing. This meant that he tended to be fine in the winter months but regularly dripping with sweat in summer.

Over the years I got to know Peter and he would share some of his hopes. He had got a flat in Leeds (a big thing for him) and, I believe, had a partner. Naturally, buying his stock of the Big Issue, standing outside M&S in all weather, travelling to York and back from Leeds was a massive ask. And yet I rarely heard him complain.

The thing that would upset him most, he told me, was the people who passed him by without acknowledgement, as if he didn’t exist.

On one occasion he told me that he used to play the guitar and sing and that he would love to be able busk for a living. Later, we went to Banks Musicroom and bought one. He said he was practising but I never saw him play in York.

When we met in town with my daughter he would always chat to her about school and ‘stuff’, as she put it. When I was on my own he would always ask how the ‘little un’ was doing.

Peter was a kind and thoughtful man. He deserved better than this. I shall miss him.

– Steve Crowther