Sunday, 21 Apr 2024

Millionaire buys a stairwell after sleeping in one while homeless

Entrepreneur reveals how he slept in a stairwell as a homeless 15-year-old and says he’s now bought his own for £25,000 to help make other people millionaires just like him

  • Aged just 15, Simon Squibb was forced to sleep in a stairwell after life imploded

A redundant stairwell, encased in dirty glass and backing on to a car park behind Starbucks in Twickenham, South London, is not something that would send most people’s pulses into a frenzy.

Not the view from the outside, anyway. Leggy weeds sway in the breeze near the big metal door. The remains of a couple of warning signs are yellowing on the walls. And the aroma of summer bins hangs in the air.

The inside isn’t terribly inspiring, either. Four flights of steel stairs, cluttered with dusty detritus — abandoned packing cases, an unwanted mattress. And, well, that’s about it.

But according to multi-millionaire and serial entrepreneur Simon Squibb, 49, who snapped up this 460 sq ft property for £25,000 cash at auction last week, it is the most exciting thing he has ever bought.

‘I’ve got a nice house and a nice car, but this is different. It’s a tower of hope! A stairwell of dreams! One step at a time and your dreams come true!’ he cries, sounding really rather zealous. ‘Everyone’s got dreams!’

Simon Squibb gestures as he is pictured with a stairwell in Twickenham he has just purchased for £25,000

Simon Squibb has purchased a redundant stairwell backing on to a car park behind Starbucks in Twickenham, South London, with the hope of making other people millionaires

Simon Squibb snapped up this 460 sq ft property for £25,000 cash at auction last week. He said it is the most exciting thing he has ever bought

He certainly does. For while his purchase has no loo, heating or permission for development, and is dominated by the staircase with just a tiny platform on each half-landing, Simon is bubbling with ideas — some his, but more from the public.

Perhaps a pop-up space for fledgling entrepreneurs? They could have a landing each, there’s just enough space for a desk apiece. Or maybe a series of teeny shops.

READ MORE: Disused staircase sells for £25,000 – as experts say it could be turned into a climbing wall, vertical farm or office pods

Ideas flooding in include a garden centre, a fireman’s pole for kids and a giant fish tank. Whatever happens, Simon will be offering the space free, along with his business experience. And, probably, given his track record, a wodge of seed money.

‘A quick clean and we’ll fix it up!’ he says. ‘Oh, the symbolism! I believe in fate, of course I do. And this is fate.’

From the minute he heard about the auction via Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant, one morning last week, his path was set. He didn’t care about the location or, within reason, the cost.

‘I said to my wife, ‘There’s a stairwell for sale and I want to buy it,’ I had to have it, and she was very supportive,’ he explains. So, just 48 hours later, he bought it. And, when the gavel crashed down, at £5,000 above the guide price — ‘I think I was being bid up, but I didn’t care’ — he threw his son Aiden, six, into the air.

‘We got it!’ Simon shouted, and has been warm and pink and glowy ever since.

‘It has made me very emotional!’ he says. ‘It really resonates.’

Because when Simon was just 15, he was homeless, penniless, jobless — and forced to sleep in a stairwell just like this after his seemingly solid, middle-class family life imploded without warning.

‘My father had a heart attack at home and died in front of me. It was horrific. I thought he was joking about, but he was dying,’ he recalls. Soon after, he fell out catastrophically with his mother and left home, and his three siblings, and never really went back.

Aged 15, Simon Squibb (pictured then) was homeless, penniless, jobless — and forced to sleep in a stairwell after his seemingly solid, middle-class family life imploded without warning

‘A quick clean and we’ll fix it up!’ Simon Squibb says of his new purchase in Twickenham (pictured internally)

Simon Squib’s new property is pictured in Twickenham. Ideas for the development include a garden centre, a fireman’s pole for kids and a giant fish tank

‘It was a traumatic time and I left with nothing — not even a bag. I had no money, no possessions. I begged for food and money. I slept rough in a park, then a stairwell like this. And later a squat.’

It sounds monstrous but, 34 years later, Simon sees it differently.

‘I almost look at it as a positive time. I had a chance to discover myself,’ he said. ‘I realised I didn’t need possessions. I went into survival mode and an entrepreneurial muscle awoke in my brain — all the important stuff that school doesn’t teach you — how to manage money, how to start a business, how to survive.’

And suddenly, despite being labelled ‘stupid’ at school due to his dyslexia and leaving with no qualifications, he discovered a talent. He started seeing opportunities others missed. He spotted a big house with a messy garden and then another and another.

He knocked on their doors offering help and, lo, within a few days, his first business, ‘Simon Squibb Gardening’, was up and running.

Since then, he has launched 18 other businesses and invested in 76 more. Some have been successful, others less so, including a comic business in which he lost a lot of money but learned many hard lessons.

‘You just dust yourself off and cry a bit,’ he says.

Jane Fryer is pictured at Simon Squibb’s new investment as she interviews the entrepreneur about his purchase of the stairwell

His most successful, Fluid, a marketing agency he set up in Hong Kong with his wife, Helen Griffiths, was sold to accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2015, netting them enough to retire and hang out on a yacht for the rest of their lives. But that wasn’t their style. Or not for long, anyway. Because in his early 40s, soon after their son was born, Simon had an epiphany.

He was rich (he won’t be drawn on exactly how wealthy he is), he was successful but he couldn’t sit idle. He felt strange and lacked purpose if he wasn’t busy.

His troubled teens came back to haunt him — how he’d been let down by the school system. And how the business world had refused him advice when he needed it most.

‘I asked a few people to help, but they wouldn’t. One person said they’d only help if I paid them. But I had no money! The people who need advice often don’t have money.’

Suddenly, he found himself developing a visceral need to give back. To help others. And to make sure he gives away every penny of his fortune before he dies.

‘I won’t leave Aiden anything. He doesn’t need it. I’ll give him all the tools he needs to make his own money,’ he says.

Simon decided to help from the outside — through TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, podcasts, a TEDx talk. Or, as he calls it, ‘the new classroom’, where he dishes out free advice to his several million social media followers.

Three months ago, after three years of preparation and a half million-pound investment, he launched Helpbnk.com, a free online community where fledgling enterprises assist each other.

More recently, he’s started videoing himself stopping people in the street, asking what their dream business would be and, then and there, transferring them the money — anything from a few hundred to a few thousand — to get them started.

‘Everyone seems to have a dream business,’ he says. ‘But they don’t believe in themselves. They put it off. So bumping into me can feel like divine intervention — fate, again! — and suddenly they do it.’

But according to multi-millionaire and serial entrepreneur Simon Squibb, 49, this property is the most exciting thing he has ever bought

The stair case to the the Twickenham property is pictured. Simon Squibb said it is the most exciting thing he has ever bought

His followers are certainly loyal. When he arrived to inspect his new property last Friday, he was greeted at 9 am by a crowd of more than 50.

‘We stood in a circle and everyone told their story,’ he says. ‘One man had found his purpose through having cancer and wanted to help others. Someone else wanted to start a pop-up clothing business. It was wonderful.’

He is not religious, and it is hard to work out exactly what motivates him. But he puts it like this: ‘I feel lucky to be able to help people. It’s a selfish act, I’m not a saint. I do it because it makes me feel so good.’

And, with that, I take one last look at Simon’s stairwell of dreams. The sun is shining through the dirty glass, making it look almost spiritual.

He stands in the foreground, arms aloft for photos, a cross between prophet, philanthropist and obsessive, determined to spend every minute of his life (and every penny in his bank account) doing good to make up for the hurt in his own life.

What an extraordinary man.

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