John Burgess was born on September 27, 1944, and died on June 17, 2022, at the age of 77.
Described as an ‘urban legend’ by his daughter, Louise Burgess, John has been homeless in Sheffield for around 40 years, spending the last 20 years in a little place next to the railway line on Cutlers’ Gate.
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John described himself as ‘electro sensitive’, and due to the difficulties he suffered from, he felt unable to remain in the family home.
Louise Burgess said: “His mind worked differently from other people and he did experience voices and had experiences that people that have a so called ‘normal life’ don’t have.
"It meant that, from when I was a child, he felt that he wasn’t able to stay in the family home due to the difficulties he was having. So he left and lived in various different places – he would have described himself as ‘electro sensitive’ so he couldn’t live in a house and he’d never stay in a hospital or anywhere overnight.”
John lived an outdoor life from then on and lived in various different derelict buildings. 20 years ago, he found the spot he would remain at ever since – next to the railway line at Cutlers’ Gate.
After he moved there, a network rail line developed around him, so John was able to take wood and resources from the skips to cook his food. He also grew vegetables and flowers there, perform yoga and exercise and swam in the River Don every day.
"He developed a routine and lifestyle that really worked for him – and he found a place in the world where he was safe,” said Louise.
"The guys at Network Rail looked after him so well. He wouldn’t accept anything from anyone, nobody could give him anything. People began to leave things in the skip for him, and he would just take what he wanted.”
John would also go to the Cineworld cinema at Centertainment every night – and he received support and care there from the ‘very kind staff’.
Over his time, John has received support from numerous charities, projects and individuals that have ensured he remains safe and cared for. These include St Luke’s Hospice, The Archer Project, Sheffield Homeless Service, Hallamshire Hospital urology department, Network rail, and tram and taxi drivers.
Nine days before passing away, thanks to the help and support he received, John felt comfortable enough to visit St Luke’s Hospice, where he later died.
"A lot of people would have know John and seen him around, he always dressed the same, he always looked the same – and I thought when someone has been around in your town and then just disappear it would be nice to let them know.
"The people of Sheffield have looked after him really well for him to survive to 77, when the average age of a homeless person is around 45 years of age – it is really remarkable.”
John Burgess’ funeral will be at the South Yorkshire Burial Ground on July 6.