Artist brings show to life-changing homelessness charity

David Tovey will bring the One Festival of Homeless Art to Islington this year

Friday, 15th September 2017 — By Emily Finch


AN artist whose life was saved by an Islington park attendant is returning to the charity which rescued him from the streets – this time to take part in an exhibition celebrating the talents of homeless people around the world.

David Tovey, 42, became homeless after suffering a stroke while working 14-hour days as a head chef in a gastropub six years ago. Just six months after his stroke, he was diagnosed with colon cancer and later HIV while retraining as a photographer. Mr Tovey was forced to live in his car and later on the streets while undergoing chemotherapy.

He reached a point where he decided to end it all by overdosing on crystal meth in Finsbury Park’s Isledon Road Gardens four years ago.

“I was killing myself on a park bench. Everything had got to the stage where I couldn’t see the next day. I was cold, wet and broken mentally,” he said.

“But Gavin, a park worker, stopped me. He stopped and talked. He said: ‘Look, why are you trying to kill yourself?’ He was the first person to actually ask me that question.

“It was amazing. He ended up getting a parking ticket while he was sat there. He got me some food, got me some money and he was the guy who phoned the Pilion Trust.”

The charity, based off Caledonian Road, has helped vulnerable people for nearly 10 years, offering short-term shelter over winter months and support for those facing homelessness. It was founded by Savvas Pannas, 55, who says Mr Tovey is now a member of his family.

Mr Tovey said: “They were the first call. The day after I was committing suicide I met Sav. I remember arriving there and the first thing they did was to say: ‘Do you want something to eat? Do you want something to drink?’

“It was such a warm welcome I was like, ‘Wow’. I was in their shelter for a week.

“They found out I was an ex-soldier so they contacted Veterans Aid and then they took over. Even though I was with the Pilion Trust for such a short period they had such a dramatic effect on my life.”

Mr Tovey still suffers from bipolar disorder but cannot take medication as it affects his HIV treatment. “The first person I phone is Savvas because he’s so calming,” he said.

His art has featured at Tate Modern, and will form part of an exhibition at the new offices of the Pilion Trust in Lough Road, Holloway, as well as at the Diorama Arts Centre, in King’s Cross.

“I want to prove that homeless people aren’t useless,” Mr Tovey said. “There are some truly amazing and inspiring homeless people.

“I want people to enjoy the artwork and I want to protest against homelessness.

“If you give someone something beautiful to look at and inspire them, people stay and get involved.”

The One Festival of Homeless Arts starts on October 10. More information at

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