Young musicians buy heartbroken Big Issue seller a new puppy
Band of brothers spend their hard earned money to buy Bex, a seller of the Big Issue, a brand new therapy dog and companion.
Daniel, Buddy and Pacey Shephard first met Big Issue seller Bex Grass and her dog Poppy when she visited the town’s Folk Festival in 2022.
Bex is originally from Sidmouth. But after becoming homeless she was offered accommodation and help to get back on her feet at BCHA’s Gabriel House in Exeter, where she now lives while selling The Big Issue in the city.
Bex explained: “When I first met the boys I was blown away by their music. You could tell they were amazing, super talented and very kind-hearted. But I never realised how much until my dog died.
“Poppy was knocked over on December 29th last year. The car never even stopped and she was so badly injured, she had to be put down.
“I’ve never felt such grief. Poppy was my protector and had been with me when I was at my lowest points. Then she moved into Gabriel House with me where she continued to be my therapy dog when my anxiety was at its worst and she kept me sane – probably even alive. I went into a deep depression when I lost her.”
Unbeknown to Bex, the boys heard what had happened and were so sad for her they decided they wanted to help.
Their dad Ben Shephard explained: “I got to know Bex’s partner Mark quite well during Folk Week. I saw him in Exeter again one day, selling the Big Issue and he told me what had happened.
“I told the boys and they said they wanted to spend the money they had saved on buying Bex a new puppy.”
The three young brothers had first started using their music talents to fundraise because Pacey needed a new piano.
Ben explained: “We started off with a digital piano, which Pacey, who was aged four at the time, took to instantly.
“He blew us away, playing by ear and teaching himself. Over time the digital was showing its age (and use). We were very kindly gifted an old mini grand but that sadly succumbed to damp in our house. Then we found another one online, but that also didn’t last.
“A year later, thanks to the support of our musical friends who helped Pacey put on his own recital, along with donations from other generous supporters and folk week visitors, he had raised enough to buy his first upright piano.”
Daniel and Buddy pooled money they were saving to upgrade their guitars, with money Pacey had saved to further his education and hopefully get his own piano compositions released, to buy Bex a new puppy.
The boys and their dad looked online for a border collie similar to the one Bex had lost and found a litter for sale at a farm in Honiton.
Ben said: “I phoned the owner and explained the situation. When she heard what the boys were planning, she was touched, and wanted to help. When it came to going and getting the dog everyone was so excited - the thought of how much joy this was going to bring Bex. When we picked her out, we all wanted to keep her as she was so beautiful; a special dog for a special lady.”
The boys and their dad met with Mark secretly to get the puppy’s vaccinations and then went to Gabriel House in Exeter for the ‘big reveal’.
Pacey said: “The people called Bex downstairs, and when she saw the puppy I have never seen someone shake so much with happiness - it was amazing to see how much it meant to her.”
Daniel added: “I have never seen anyone so emotional! We could see how much it meant to Bex - a heartwarming moment I will never forget ”
Buddy said: “Bex has called her Rainbow and she is the cutest dog I’ve ever seen. We all felt so happy to be able to help Bex. It really is more of a blessing to give than to receive.”
Ben said: “The boys really have a heart for people.
“Performing, they get to see first-hand and appreciate what homeless people go through.
“They know things don’t always come easy in life, and have experienced how it feels to have complete strangers care enough about their music to support them, and they want to pass that on. This isn’t the first time they’ve given back, and it won’t be the last.
“As parents, to see them having compassion and a desire to help others, is worth more than any talents they have. My wife and I are beyond proud of the young men they’re becoming, and the example they’re setting to the rest of their siblings. They work so very hard at their music, and it’s what they hope to make a future out of.”
Bex said: “When I got a call to come down to Reception and saw the boys holding the puppy I didn’t know what to think. Then, when I heard what they had done I just felt completely overwhelmed.
“I can’t thank these wonderful boys enough for bringing a new puppy into my life. I have called her Rainbow and she is absolutely perfect!
“She is allowed to live with me here at Gabriel House and together and with the help of BCHA we are building a new life. I am selling the Big Issue and hope we will move into our own place eventually. I am just so grateful.”
Gabriel House is operated by the Charitable housing trust BCHA, on behalf of Devon County Council, and has played a central role in preventing homelessness and rough sleeping in Exeter for more than 10 years.
Employing 11 staff, 42 residents are supported 24/7 to address health problems, develop life skills and work with other services to build support networks, before moving into sustainable accommodation.
In the last year alone, 98 people have been housed at Gabriel House and provided with specialist support to develop independent living skills before moving on into independent accommodation.
Devon County Council is considering removing its contribution to the ‘Homelessness 18+ Prevention Fund’ from 30 September. This essential funding supports a number of organisations engaged in homelessness prevention, including Gabriel House.